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  • Japanese: 助郷 (sukegou) or 助郷役 (sukegou yaku)

Corvée labor was one of the chief ways in which villages, towns, and domains paid their feudal obligations to the shogunate, alongside tax payments in currency or in goods.

Classical Japan

Medieval Period

Early Modern Period

In the Edo period, corvée took chiefly three forms. One was labor for public works projects, usually provided at the direction of a domain in order to contribute to construction or repair of castles or riparian (river-related) projects in shogunate-held lands. A second form was labor provided by towns and villages to aid in the travel and transport of official journeys, such as sankin kôtai, and Ryukyuan and Korean embassies to Edo. This included villagers & townsmen serving as porters, as well as providing horses, baskets, inns, and so forth. A third form of corvée was provided by fishermen and other peasant/commoner boatmen, who were obliged to use their boats to help escort or unload samurai vessels, among other similar tasks.[1]

Corvée could take up a rather considerable portion of a villager's time and efforts, taking him away from farming, fishing, or otherwise making a living for a very significant proportion of days of the year. This also pulled young men away from farming or fishing and into post stations or other large towns, where they would be exposed to and enticed by various entertainments, including prostitution. This was a serious concern for many village headmen, who complained and petitioned at times against the corvée and against official policies aiding the growth and prosperity of these towns, alleging that the towns represented a very serious threat to village prosperity, and to the very social fabric of village life. Post-station officials and brothel owners often countered, however, that prostitution (as well as other urban businesses and entertainments) were essential to ensuring that the town was prosperous enough to be able to afford to provide horses, inns, and men to fulfill the town's corvée obligations.[2]


  1. Arne Kalland, Fishing Villages in Tokugawa Japan, University of Hawaii Press (1995), 213-231.
  2. Amy Stanley, Selling Women: Prostitution, Markets, and the Household in Early Modern Japan, UC Press (2012), 157.