Once upon a time, not so long ago, it was unusual for a Japanese woman to aspire to be anything other than a “good wife and wise mother”— an aspiration so predominant that the Japanese for it, ryosai kenbo, is a set phrase in the language.

The phrase describes a woman who has mastered the housewifely arts — cooking, sewing, household management — and devotes those skills and all her energy to maintaining a husband in fit condition for long days at the company, and to fostering children who, if boys, will succeed academically, and if girls, will become, in their turn, good wives and wise mothers.

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