Japan Defence Minister Toshimi Kitazawa said on Tuesday he would study sending military personnel to help rebuild war-torn Afghanistan, a day before he was to meet visiting US counterpart Robert Gates.
The month-old centre-left government has been mulling new civilian aid as a substitute for an Indian Ocean naval refuelling mission it plans to end next January that has supported NATO-led forces in Afghanistan since 2001.
But Kitazawa admitted Afghanistan was a daunting task.
"If you look at the opinions of the international community, including Europe, I have come to worry whether civilian help alone is sufficient as an alternative," Kitazawa told reporters.
"In what way can the Self-Defense Forces participate in the efforts? The government has not been able to engage in substantial debate, but I personally wish to study the matter by soliciting ideas from many people."
Japan's armed forces are barred by the country's post-war constitution from offensive combat operations, but they have taken part in overseas humanitarian and military support missions.
Kitazawa last week told AFP that Japanese military aircraft could potentially be used to fly relief goods to Afghan refugees in Pakistan.