The real meaning of “The Woman should walk 3 steps behind her husband”

March 10, 2015 Juju Kurihara Culture, Lifestyle, Vocabulary Tags: 8 Comments


Ryosaikenbo (良妻賢母) is a theory to describe an ideal woman in Japan. This means literary, good wife, wise mother. This is based on the theory says that the nature of women is to organize the house, give birth to children of her husband and rise them. I know it´s very traditional but it´s true that even younger generations in Japan have this idea and expect their wives to be this way.





There is also a saying, 女は三歩下がって (Onna was sanpo sagatte) means the woman should walk three steps behind her husband. Traditionally, Japanese men and woman didn´t walk side by side. Recently there are woman who are called, Nikushoku-kei joshi (肉食系女子/ carnivorous women). They are active, lively, have their career, say what they think and know what they want. They are contrary to the traditional image of Japanese woman who always respect the men. 


"Traditional women" we say but in Edo period (江戸時代, 1603-1868), samurai would never walk with a woman in public. In Confucianism it says, "As a samurai, be with a woman in public itself is bad". A married couple have a walk would never happen back then.  

This saying appeared in Meiji period (明治時代, 1868-1912), when it became common for women to walk on the street. It was a new era and a man and a woman walking together wasn´t a bad thing anymore. However, it´s hard to change the society. Until now, 2015, it´s still not so good to be seen a couple walk together holding hands. 

Woman should walk three steps behind her husband is not for women to be humble, modest and supportive of their husbands but also for men to be look more manly. 



However, now a new description of this saying is presented. 

The "true" meaning of this is, when something happens, I will protect you. 

If your man is walking ahead of you, he will see the danger before you. He will fight with it to protect you and you can run away while he is in the battle. 

On the internet, now many Japanese women are impressed by this new interpretation and made comments like, "What a cool man!" or "Super manly!".  


My question is, what if they attack from behind? If the attacker attacked her, how would he prevent it? For me this sounds like they invented the new theory to change the current situation of herbivorous men and carnivorous women in Japan. What is your opinion?


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  1. Daniel 5 years Reply

    Most of my male friends in America still walk on the side nearest the street in order to show courtesy and protection for the women with us.

  2. sudhir 5 years Reply

    Its true, the attack will always be on men from front.

    Ifs and buts are after thoughts.

  3. Cate 5 years Reply

    I like it ‘the wife should walk three steps behind the husband’

  4. Reis 6 years Reply

    I believe that the former is true rather than the latter. When you walk forward, you encounter a lot of different things head on, it is just like going to a forest and you are the advance party to check for safety and security of your companion. Attack from behind are rare but do happen. Though most of the time attack happen in the front

  5. Babyssb 7 years Reply

    I think it is the same as wearing a helmet 24/7 so you don’t get hit by a pantile or to never cross the street because you never know if a car might all of a sudden run you over. Unecessary safety precaution that will make you feel vulnerable.

  6. Stacy 7 years Reply

    If a man is a warrior, he is the primary target, she is the prize. She will simply be passed over to kill her warrior. That may give her the opportunity to warn her defender of the attacker.

  7. Paul 8 years Reply

    In the US a gentleman holds a door open for a lady (at least in the old days), and she goes in first. However, while I was living in Germany, I learned then when a couple goes to a bar, the man enters first. I was told the man does this to check the environment and protect his companion. Perhaps Japan and Germany are like-minded in this regard.

  8. Jeff C 8 years Reply

    I have read elsewhere that in some places the rule is to have the women walk in front of the men. The joking (?) interpretation of that was: defense against land mines. But in reality, I see these norms as pure assertions of male social status — any expression is as valid as another.

    In traditional Anglo-American etiquette, men escort women walking side-by-side, but always on the side nearest the street. This had the useful effect of shielding a well-dressed female against garbage dropped from windows, dirt and water thrown by passing vehicles, and refuse in the gutter. But that custom is completely extinct among people I know personally.

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