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Confucian Morals and the Making of a 'Good Wife and Wise Mother': From 'Between Husband and Wife there is Distinction' to 'As Husbands and Wives be Harmonious'

Sumiko SEKIGUCHI
Social Science Japan Journal
Vol. 13, No. 1 (Summer 2010), pp. 95-113
Published by: Oxford University Press
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/40961243
Page Count: 19
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Confucian Morals and the Making of a 'Good Wife and Wise Mother': From 'Between Husband and Wife there is Distinction' to 'As Husbands and Wives be Harmonious'
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Abstract

The most important text in the 'Lessons for Women' genre of the Tokugawa era (1600-1867) was the 'Greater Learning for Women'. But this text remained too vague to be reliable. In the absence of clear norms to which 'womanly cultivation' could be referred, a need to replace it was strongly felt during the Tokugawa era's latter part. This project, however, came to fruition only in the wake of the Meiji Renovation. Fukuzawa Yukichi and Empress Haruko played pivotal roles in this regard. The Imperial Rescript on Education, issued in 1890, centered on an enumeration of virtues closely resembling the 'five ethical relations' of classical Confucianism. Here, however, the classical phrase 'Between husband and wife there is distinction' was no longer used; the stipulation 'As husbands and wives be harmonious' is found in its stead. Inoue Tetsujirö, in his semi-official commentary explained this phrase to mean 'obedience' of the wife to her husband and 'division of labor' between them. Subsequently, the phrase 'a good wife and wise mother' established itself as the standard for womanhood in modern Japan. But this cannot be understood simply as a 'product of modernity' owed to Western influence. It also had roots in the notion of a 'wise wife and wise mother' absorbed from Chinese thought during the final years of Tokugawa rule, against a background of marked ambivalence and fluctuation that had characterized gender norms in Tokugawa Japan.

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