Multiple Japanese media reports say that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is poised to nominate an advocate of aggressive monetary easing to head the Bank of Japan. The yen fell to the lowest point versus the dollar since May 2010.
Japan's benchmark Nikkei index added 2.4%. But gains in Chinese shares were modest after a report on Chinese manufacturing fell unexpectedly. The Hang Seng increased 0.2% and the Shanghai Composite closed up 0.5%.
European markets were higher, with the DAX in Germany gaining 2.2% and France's CAC 40 up 1.8%.
The FTSE in London lagged, as traders responded to Moody's decision late Friday to strip the United Kingdom of its AAA credit rating, citing the country's rising debt burden and tepid growth outlook. The British pound fell versus the dollar and the euro in trading Monday.
"Officially we are now 'Good' Britain. No longer 'Great' I'm afraid," wrote Gary Jenkins, a credit analyst at U.K.-based Swordfish Research, in a note to clients.
In Italy, results of Sunday's elections are not yet known. But late polls showed center-left candidate Pier Luigi Bersani on track to defeat controversial three-time prime minister Silvio Berlusconi and ex-comedian Beppe Grillo, who is leading an anti-establishment movement. Markets could react badly if Berlusconi, who has promised to undo some austerity measures, or Grillo were to win, as it would raise new doubts about the future of the euro.
U.S. stocks rose Friday, capping the worst of 2013 for the S&P and the Nasdaq, though the Dow managed a slight gain.
In corporate news, shares of Barnes & Noble shot higher after Chairman Leonard Riggio said he plans to buy the company's retail operations, leaving the Nook electronic book segment a separate company. No price was disclosed in his filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission.
Lowe's reported lower sales and earnings, but both results were slightly better than forecasts and the company announced a $5 billion share repurchase.
Results are due later in the week from companies, including Home Depot, Macy's and Groupon.
U.S. investors looking for domestic news can focus on Capitol Hill for signs of progress in talks to avoid deep cuts in federal spending due to take place at the end of the week. But there were few signs of compromise in comments Sunday.