A media report said that Japanese women would be allowed to keep their maiden names when they marry under a bill the new center-left government plans to introduce as early as next year.
The bill, to be submitted in a parliamentary session starting in January, would allow married couples to use separate surnames, changing the 1947 Civil Code, the Yomiuri Shimbun said in its English edition.
The change has been proposed many times in the past but was always blocked by conservative lawmakers who argued the idea of couples taking different surnames would hurt family unity.
Under current rules, Japanese men can and sometimes do take their wives' family names, but it is rare. Official data for 2008 showed that more than 95 percent of women adopted their husbands' surnames.
An advisory panel to the justice minister in 1996 issued a report that recommended revising the code to allow couples to use separate surnames.
Lawmakers from the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), which was then in opposition but took power this month, and other parties have submitted bills to that effect 20 times since 1996, according to the justice ministry.
The DPJ swept to power in the August 30 general elections, ending more than half a century of dominance by conservatives.
The only two female cabinet ministers, newly installed Justice Minister Keiko Chiba and Mizuho Fukushima, who is in charge of family issues, are both in favor of introducing the system.
Many Japanese women have argued that pressure to adopt their husbands' family names can harm their workplace prospects and violates gender equality.