Ryōsai Kenbo

The Educational Ideal of 'Good Wife, Wise Mother' in Modern Japan

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Winner of the 2013 Choice Outstanding Academic Title Award

The famous ryōsai kenbo, or ‘good wife, wise mother’ role of women was not, after all, a traditional Confucian view but a modern construct. In fact, its first appearance in Japan, as Koyama Shizuko points out, was in the latter half of the nineteenth century – due principally to the influence of European ideas about women. Girls at the time were proud to fulfill their new role of contributing to not just the family but to the formation of the state. Koyama’s discovery has transformed how we see modern women’s history in Japan and the similar discoveries that have followed regarding China's ‘wise wife, good mother’ and Korea's ‘wise mother, good wife.’
Previous studies have interpreted ryōsai kenbo thought, which was widely recognized in nationally-sanctioned educational standards, as a ‘backward’, ‘feudal’ or even ‘reactionary’ view of women, and therefore peculiar to girls’ and womens’ education in prewar Japan. As a result, ryōsai kenbo thought was seen to be completely distinct from postwar views of women in Japan and Western Europe that have also emphasized the role of women as wives and mothers.
Here, however, ryōsai kenbo thought is examined as a mode of thought inseparable from such issues as the formation of the modern citizen-state and the formation of the ‘modern family.’ Instead of reducing it to a specific, pre-World War II Japanese ideal of womanhood, Koyama argues that ryōsai kenbo thought is, in fact, a modern mode of thought related to, and having much in common with, views of the qualities desirable in a woman both in postwar Japanese society, as well as in modern Western nations and beyond.

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Biographical Note

Koyama Shizuko, Ph.D. (2003), Kyoto University, is Professor of Human and Environmental Studies at that university. She has published monographs and many articles on the history of Japanese education and women.

Review Quotes

Winner of the 2013 Choice Outstanding Academic Title Award

Shizuko (Kyoto Univ., Japan) has produced a major contribution to the study of modern Japanese women. Originally published in Japanese in 1991, this important work has now been brought into crystal-clear English by Stephen Filler. There is much to admire in this book. First, the argument
is invariably laid out with great clarity, careful distinctions among categories, and sensitivity to seemingly small adjustments in nuance that nonetheless produce major changes over time. Second, the author provides clear and easily accessible explanations of the ways in which the meaning of the key phrase of the title has gradually evolved, as Japanese national experience moved through 150 years since the Meiji Revolution. Rather than falling into the many traps available for overgeneralization, Shizuko instead shows with sharp and clear examples how one or another steps led toward what became evolving new directions. This clarity is remarkable in its readability, and makes a convincing case for the author's argument. It is not too much to claim that this is a very important contribution not only to Japanese gender history, but also to the worldwide struggle for improved relationships between men and women. Summing Up: Essential. All academic levels/libraries.

--R. B. Lyman Jr., emeritus, Simmons College
[This review appeared in the June 2013 issue of Choice.]
Copyright 2013 American Library Association

Table of contents

Preface to the English Edition ... vii
Preface ... xi
List of Tables ... xv
List of Key Words ... xvii

Introduction: Approach to the Issues ... 1
1 The Formation of Ryōsai Kenbo Thought ... 11
1. The View of Women in Edo-Period Instructional Texts for Girls ( Jokunsho) ... 12
2. “Wise Mother” Theory in the Meiji Enlightenment Period ... 21
3. The Emergence of Ryōsai Kenbo Thought ... 35
2 Ryōsai Kenbo Thought and the Public Education System ... 53
1. The Emergence of a Discourse on “Home Education” ... 54
2. Home Education and the Public Education System ... 60
3 The Causes of Change ... 75
1. The Emergence of the “Woman Problem” ... 76
2. The Shock of World War I ... 89
4 The Reconfiguration of Ryōsai Kenbo Thought ... 97
1. The Reform of Girls’ Education ... 98
2. A New Image of Ryōsai Kenbo ...120
3. Revision of the Girls’ Middle School Act ...137
5 The Evolution of the Concept of Ryōsai Kenbo in Morality Textbooks ...157
1. Morality Textbooks up to 1911 ... 158
2. Morality Textbooks between 1912 and 1920 ... 165
3. Morality Textbooks between 1921 and 1932 ... 168
Epilogue: The Meaning of Ryōsai Kenbo Thought ... 181

Appendix 1: List of Morality Textbooks ( Shūshin Kyōkasho) Consulted for this Study ... 187
Bibliography ... 193
Index of Persons ... 211
Index of Subjects ... 215

Readership

All interested in the gender history of Japan, history of modern Japan and Japanese education.

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