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  • Juju Kurihara

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

Updated: May 10, 2023


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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