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“From birth to death, a woman must never forget to display fondness and affection … a woman will surely experience a life of sorrow without it.”

We tend to picture the late 1800s and early 1900s as eras of especially stuffy social etiquette and dress – men walking around blowing out their prodigious mustaches and harumphing at the sight of exposed shoulders, women treated as mere set-pieces and everybody generally just being incredibly boring and susceptible to typhoid or what-have-you.

In reality, though, the era was an exciting one of rapidly advancing technology and an increasing interest in fashion and other leisure activities that people of earlier time periods were too busy trying not to die prematurely to really bother with. This was especially true in Meiji Japan, where the bourgeoisie focused significant time and energy on fashion and decorum, the arts and education.

And now, thanks to the National Diet Library releasing a digitized copy of a circa-1907 women’s book, we’ve got a glimpse of just what the era’s people – specifically women – found important. Behold: the Meiji Shojo Setsuyou.

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The print mostly features dense, text-only articles that range from history lessons to etiquette tips, but interestingly, it also came with a bunch of full-color illustrations depicting musical instruments and cooking utensils of the time – the implication being these were essential items for Meiji women to familiarize themselves with – flags, insignia and various regalia from Japanese and other countries, as well as the latest seasonal fashions. Additionally, there’s a beautifully illustrated page dedicated to suggested hairstyles, with names like “The English Bun,” and “The Marguerite.”

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Otherwise, the print reads like a textbook on being a proper lady in the Meiji era, many elements of which, as you can imagine, have not aged particularly well, such as a passage that reads, approximately:

“From birth to death, a woman must never forget to display fondness and affection. It could be said that love [for a man] is a woman’s destiny, and regardless of talent and education, a woman will surely experience a life of sorrow without it.”

We imagine it’s a pretty dry read even if you do understand Japanese, but the National Diet Library, in their kindness, has published the entire thing for viewing in digital form right here.

And, if you were wondering, no, there appears to be no mention on which member of SMAP – who are clearly ageless vampires and were certainly alive during the era – was dreamiest. Perhaps there’s a revised edition floating around somewhere…

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Images: National Diet Library