Two mind-sets seem to be catching on in Japan these days. They worry me. One is the notion that something has to be useful to be of value. The other is that anything is justifiable on the grounds that everybody else is doing it.

The theory of usefulness is driving the Abe government's promotion of better working conditions for women. They deserve longer maternity leave because they constitute an as yet inadequately utilized source of economic growth. To the extent that women are useful to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's new growth strategy, they will be placed at the center of the government's concerns.

But there might just possibly be an ulterior motive to all of this. Abe could well be looking at his extended maternity leave campaign as a useful way to keep women at home for longer parts of their lives. This government's conservative heart yearns for the revival of traditional family values, and they might be hoping to make good strategic use of the let's-be-nice-to-women campaign as a means to that end.