Despite dominating possession early on, England had Karen Bardsley to thank for keeping the scores level ten minutes in. Kumi Yokoyama lined up a 35-yard free kick and sent a fizzing effort heading towards the top corner only for the Manchester City goalkeeper to fling herself to her right and make a fine diving save.
From one end to the other, the Lionesses found the all-important opening goal after some fine work from Georgia Stanway. Turning smartly in midfield, she held off Hina Sugita and played a fine through ball for White, who did her part by clipping a cute finish over the onrushing Ayaka Yamashita.
England drew a string of fine saves from Yamashita in the aftermath of the opener, but their grip on the match waned as the Nadeshiko grew in confidence and began amassing more possession as the first half drew to a close.
The first chance of the second period fell Englands way, with the impressive Rachel Daly finding Lucy Bronze down the right, with the cross met by Toni Duggan whose volley was scrambled clear by Yamashita.
England survived a scare with 15 minutes remaining as substitute Yuika Sugasawa failed to connect with Hina Sugitas through ball with the goal gaping.
Japan began asserting their dominance on the match and came within inches of drawing level as Sugasawa poked wide with Bardsley stranded.
However, Whites fine finish from substitute Karen Carneys perfectly-weighted ball through the centre put an end to any late nerves as Nevilles side held firm to seal top spot in the group - no matter how unconvincing it was in the end.
Key Talking Point
With progression to the knockout stages already assured, Wednesday night provided the platform for a number of Englands fringe players to give Phil Neville a selection headache ahead of the round of 16.
Of those given their chance to shine it was Stanway who had the most impact, acting as the link between attack and defence in an impressive opening for the Lionesses.
On the wing, Toni Duggan struggled to have any serious impact, although she wasnt helped by Demi Stokes unwillingness to overlap. Across the pitch, Rachel Daly performed well in the front three, showcasing the one and two touch play that makes England very easy on the eye.
12 – When scoring the opening goal of a Women’s World Cup match, England have never lost, winning 10 and drawing two of the 12 previous instances the Lionesses have done so. Masterplan. #FIFAWWC #ENG #JPNENG
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) June 19, 2019
The Lionesses were at their best when getting close to each other, linking up well in the final third with their slick passing play on show for all those inside the Allianz Riviera.
In equal measure, however, their inability to play out from the back was cause for concern as Japan failed to capitalise on a handful of defensive errors, leaving Neville with plenty to ponder before the knockout stages.
Starting XI: Bardsley (7); Stokes (5), Bright (5), Houghton (6), Bronze (7); Walsh (5), Stanway (8*), Scott (7); Duggan (6), White (8), Daly (8).
Substitutes: Moore (6), Carney (6), Parris (N/A).
Star Player - Neville handed Georgia Stanway her first ever World Cup start on Wednesday, and the City star performed superbly in the number ten role.
With the security of Kiera Walsh and Jill Scot behind her, the 20-year-old revelled in the freedom between the Japan lines, repeatedly threatening in the final third and looking every bit the player who netted 15 goals for her club last season.
A special mention must be made to Rachel Daly too, who shone down the right hand side and equally warrants a spot in their next match after an impressive display in her first start of the tournament.
Starting XI: Yamashita (8*), Shimizu (6), Kumagai (6), Ichise (6), Sameshima (7); Kobayashi (5), Nakajima (7), Sugita (6), Endo (7); Yokoyama (6), Iwabuchi (8).
Substitutes: Miura (6), Sugasawa (7), Takarada (N/A).
Star Player - The scoreline could very well have been embarrassing for Japan had it not been for the trusty gloves of Ayaka Yamashita.
At just 23 years old, the goalkeeper has an exciting career ahead of her, with the multitude of fine saves she made, particularly in the first half, stopping England being out of sight before the half time whistle.
The Lionesses victory means they will now face one of the best third-place finishers in the last 16. While momentum is key, it arguably poses the more difficult route to the final for Nevilles side as they are now on the same side of the draw as hosts France and most likely the USA, the current holders.
Japan still achieved qualification to the knockout stages as the second-place side but face a more favourable route into the latter stages of the competition on paper. They will take on either Euro 2017 winners Netherlands or 2015 World Cup quarter finalists Canada, but face an easier route beyond that.