The custom of night crawling in rural areas


Japan is a country with a long history. However, even if you study Japanese history, all you will learn about is the government in power at the time and incidents that occurred in urban areas. Information on rural areas, which didn’t have much influence on Japanese society as a whole, is almost completely excluded.

One must note, though, that until the Edo period, 90% of the Japanese public were farmers. In other words, it is not unfair to say that rural areas account for the origin of 90% of the Japanese population.

In order to understand those rural areas, first we must understand the culture of yobai, or night crawling. Night crawling was the most common procreation ritual in Japanese rural areas of the time.

Misconceptions about night crawling

Night crawling is a term that describes the act of a man sneaking into a girl’s bedroom at night and having sex with her. As the name implies, it was as though the man would crawl through the cover of night to reach a girl.

It appears as though the public has rather incorrect perceptions about this act of night crawling. The term, itself, has a bit of an erotic tone, leading to the misconception that the man would have sex with the girl without her consent, effectively raping her.

The truth is, though, that the final decision was in the hands of the girl. If the man raped her without her consent, the man would be ostracized in his own village.

Even though the modern term night crawling leaves an odd impression, it was an extremely important system that supported village society.

Details of night crawling

Night crawling fundamentally occurred during the night. In many villages, there was a young men’s association known as a wakamonogumi. Members of these associations would visit the houses of girls who were being considered as night crawling candidates.

Each village had a night crawling agreement that laid forth rules such as “night crawling would be deemed OK if the girl liked the man,” “night crawling would be permitted in exchange for a certain amount of rice,” etc.

The girl would eventually become pregnant from the night crawling activities. When that happened, the man who was the baby’s father became able to openly marry her. It is said that the majority of women who participated in night crawling had multiple partners and were unable to tell who the child’s actual father was.

There were also a number of parents who stubbornly resisted their daughter’s participation in night crawling. Some say that this is the source of the Japanese term hakoiri musume, or “sheltered daughter.”

The significance of continuing night crawling

Night crawling continued to be performed with the objective of filling in the collective community of a village exclusively with elements of that village. For instance, if all children born in a village belonged to someone in that same village, there was no need to divide out assets like land between residents of other villages.

Another consideration in imposing the night crawling system was that it stopped sex crimes in a village before they became a problem.

That being said, if night crawling was the only system in place, there would be cases in which the majority of a village were all relatives. When two relatives procreate, there is an increased probability of genetic defects and disabilities in the resultant child.

Foreseeing this issue, there were times when measures were taken to actively introduce new blood into the village. Such measures included inviting wives to participate from other villages, holding joint festivals with other nearby villages, etc. Keep in mind, though, that Japanese festivals in ancient times were like sex orgies – a far cry from how they are held today.

When night crawling was abolished

The time period when the practice of night crawling declined varied from place to place, but, even in regions that held on to it the longest, it faded away after World War II.

It is presumed that, under the rule of the GHQ and subsequent proliferation of a cultured lifestyle including TVs and cars even in rural areas, the value system of the villages underwent a transformation.

Assuming that they are not part of some very famous family and lineage, present-day Japanese people are all descendants of people who participated in these types of night crawling procreation activities. Just because these activities are not in line with modern values does not mean they should be thought of as unclean, but rather should be considered an interesting piece of history.