Yuriko Koike will run against four men in the internal party vote for leader. The party leader is all but assured of becoming prime minister because the ruling party controls the powerful lower house of parliament.
"We would like to find out if the glass ceiling for women is actually an iron plate or not. We will see," Ms Koike, 56, said on Friday.
"Unless we put more women in decision-making positions the potential of Japanese women can't be fully realised," she said.
Former foreign minister Taro Aso is widely expected to win the leadership contest.
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