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I was looking up the meaning of スマ婚{こん}, when my mouse happened to roll over the kanji 婚{こん}, and this definition popped up in Rikaichan:

婚 よばい ancient practice of creeping at night into a woman's bedroom (lit: night crawling); stealing into a girl's bedroom at night to make love; sneaking visit

Say what? Putting aside the fact that this sounds like a whitewashed description of sexual assault, at what point in history was this "practice" so common that it was given a name?

Is the definition accurate, or is it just another case of WWWJDIC and its occasionally misguided and erroneous community contributed obscure definitions?

If it is accurate, what is the history behind this word?

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Have you seen 「[辻]{つじ}[斬]{ぎ}り」 yet? –  Ignacio Vazquez-Abrams May 17 '12 at 4:36
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@IgnacioVazquez-Abrams: Nice! I hadn't heard of that word before, but it's a fun one. I have, however, heard of the practice. –  Questioner May 17 '12 at 5:27
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Absolutely can't help on the Japanese word, but regarding the cultural context and your surprise, I would point you to words like "ravish", their 17th~19th century meaning and the fact that when people said "taking a woman against her will", they often meant "against the will of her father", making "ravish" a common face-saving euphemism for "eloping"... I wonder if your word is not of a similar nature. –  Dave May 17 '12 at 5:51
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@istrasci: Right... except I'm not asking about historical practises. I'm asking about how a word came to be. The word describes a historical practise, so I think it's pretty unavoidable to learn about what that historical practise is. Just like you can't learn what the word "sushi" means without learning how the food is made, even though this is not a cooking site. –  Questioner May 18 '12 at 2:52
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@DaveMG: OK, you convinced me! –  istrasci May 18 '12 at 8:10

1 Answer 1

up vote 17 down vote accepted

Say what? Putting aside the fact that this sounds like a whitewashed description of sexual assault, at what point in history was this "practice" so common that it was given a name?

I don't know when it started, but the word originally comes from [呼ばう]{よばう} and is more commonly written as [夜這い]{よばい}. It is an old Japanese custom that was common up until the Meiji or Taisho Period and originally was thought of as a way to propose to a girl (I use the word "propose" very loosely here). However, in very local areas, it supposedly lasted up until around World War II.

Is the definition accurate, or is it just another case of WWWJDIC and its occasionally misguided and erroneous community contributed obscure definitions?

It is misleading. The way we think of two people meeting, falling in love and getting married is very different from what went on in the olden days in Japan. There was also no concept of "cheating on your spouse", etc. the way we think of nowadays. Basically every small village had a set of customs or rules which everyone would abide by. よばい refers to a custom were men were allowed to go to the place where a girl was sleeping, and if the girl approved, make love. Now, if the girl refused, you were supposed to leave or else the father would come and haul the guy away. However, sexual assault did occur sometimes, and よばい sometimes does implicitly imply that. Also, in some villages, if you didn't abide by the rules, there would be some kind of punishment involved.

However, every village was different. In some areas it was common for women to sneak into guys rooms, or they would hold a festival of girls (or guys) who "became of age" where older people would teach them how to have sex. Also, a lot of times you would have sex with so many different people, nobody really knew who their real father was. The examples I'm giving are just some of the customs that were present, but I'm sure there are a lot more. Also, the idea of "marriage" in Japan was when you could regularly go to a girl's house without sneaking. The word 結婚 itself didn't actually exist till the Meiji Era because there was no word to translate "marry"*

*: It should be noted that there were words that meant "becoming a couple" in Japanese, such as [婚姻]{こんいん} that existed before the word 結婚, but they didn't mean the same thing as the word "marriage" in English.

References

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+1 for a really well written answer. The only thing I'd add to this is that this practise is referenced in the introduction to this (amazon.com/Genji-Penguin-Classics-Deluxe-Editions/dp/014243714X) version of 源氏物語. I can't remember the exact passage, otherwise I'd add it. –  Jamie Taylor May 17 '12 at 7:43
    
I'd love to see some references, especially for the marriage/結婚 bit. I believe 夜這い, between one thing and another, but I've never had any references I could swear by for this kind of thing. –  SomethingJapanese May 17 '12 at 12:49
    
@SomethingJapanese: I added some references. However, they are all in Japanese. –  Jesse Good May 17 '12 at 21:04
    
Now there are "rabu ho" for that. So what has changed, really. –  Kaz May 17 '12 at 23:38
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@Jesse: Ah. My brain sometimes doesn't parse romaji, even when it should be obvious... ;) –  Questioner May 18 '12 at 2:45

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