Meijin is a Japanese word meaning skilled person, expert, or master. Originally, the title Meijin denotes a Master of something esoteric or an art, for example, cha no meijin means tea master.
In feudal Japan, the title Meijin was first used in Go for an official government job for the Meijin Godokoro when Oda Nobunaga appointed Honinbo Sansa as his Go teacher. It is said that sometime in 1578 while Nobunaga was watching Nikkai play, he was so impressed with the latter's skill that he cried out "Meijin!". The titleholder was the official Go tutor of the Shogun and supposed to be the undisputed strongest player. Later, appointment was by the Commissioner of Temples and Shrines, and in years when it was unclear who was the best player, the position was left vacant. The position was practically a lifetime appointment, and was the equivalent of the 9th Dan in Go. As the Meijin was by definition the best player of Japan , the highest rank other players could achieve was 8th Dan, unlike today, where multiple players are ranked at 9th Dan. The first 9-dan who was not a Meijin emerged in 1949, (Fujisawa Kuranosuke), nine years after the death of the last lifetime Meijin.
The Meijin Godokoro also entailed significant power, prestige, influence and perquisites, as well as a government stipend and last but not least, access to the Shogun. He also controlled promotions and the issuing of diplomas. As he was supposed to devote his efforts to improve the Shogun's level of play, he was exempt from competing in the Castle Games, and other serious contests, making it hard for other players to demonstrate that they were stronger, and therefore the rightful Meijin. The Godokoro decided pairings for the annual castle games and was responsible for all ceremonies connected with go, such as games played before the emperor and games with foreigners.
The first Meijin ever was the buddhist priest Nikkai, who changed his name to Honinbo Sansa, the name of his priesly pavillion, upon appointment, and founded one of the four leading schools of go. Because of the governmental support for Go, and the emphasis on its play as part of high culture, the quality and level of of play grew faster in Japan than elsewhere during the Tokugawa period.
The last Meijin for life was Honinbo Shusai who died in 1940. He bequeathed his titles to the Nihon Kiin, which he helped founding. His last game was the subject of the novel "Meijin" by Nobel prize winner Yasunari Kawabata (english title: "The Master of Go") (The retirement game marked the last official game of a ranked player). This slightly fictionalised account of Shusai's famous last game against young star Kitani Minoru can be seen as an elegiac comment on the passing of the old ways in Japan.
The Meijin tournament:
Today, the title Meijin is awarded to te winner of a tournament is sponsored by the Asahi Shimbun newspaper. Previously, it had been sponsored by the Yomiuri Shimbun, which switched to the Kisei tournament, after a dispute over funding. Currently, the prize money is set at 36 million yen, making it the second most prestigious tournament in the Japanese world of Go.
The current titleholder (and last years winner of the final match) is challenged each Autumn by a challenger who emerged victorious from a nine-man all-play-all league (The three players with the worst scores are demoted from the league to make room for other players). To ascend into the league, which is an achievement in itself, a player has to win in the preliminary tournaments held in three stages, the last of which comprises of three separate knockout rounds, the winners of each take one of the vacant league places. Usually, these tournaments run more than one year before the final match, meaning that in a given year, the preliminaries for next year's league and final are held, while this years league and finals are already underway.
The title match, lasts two days, with 8 hours of hinking time for each player. Like in days of yore, each game of the final is played in a different city, usually in inns or hotels near scenic locations.
In the manga Hikaru no Go the father of Akira Touya is the current Meijin titleholder, referred to as Touya Meijin.
The Women's Meijin tournament:
The Women's Meijin Tournament, is sponsored by the Yukan Fuji newspaper, in cooperation with NTT (Nippon Telegraph and Telephone Corporation) and carries a prize money of 4.5 million yen for the winner.
The current system begins with a 16-player knockout round, with the losers crossing over to a parallel losers' knockout round. The winners of the two rounds play off to determine the challenger to the titleholder. Those who have won two or more games in the main round retain their places the following year, with the other eight players dropping back to the qualifying stage. At the qualifying stage, the event is open to all go professionals from the Nihon Kiin and the Kansai Kiin, with exceptional amateurs sometimes being allowed to join as well, marking the first event in Japan to allow amateurs and professionals to play together.
- Old (Yomiuri) Meijin Titleholders:
- 1962 - Fujisawa Hideyuki (won League 9-3)
- 1963 - Sakata Eio (defeating Fujisawa Hideyuki 4-3)
- 1964 - Sakata Eio (defeating Fujisawa Hideyuki 4-1)
- 1965 - Rin Kaiho (defeating Sakata Eio 4-2)
- 1966 - Rin Kaiho (defeating Sakata Eio 4-1)
- 1967 - Rin Kaiho (defeating Sakata Eio 4-1)
- 1968 - Takagawa Kaku (defeating Rin Kaiho 4-1)
- 1969 - Rin Kaiho (defeating Takagawa Kaku 4-2)
- 1970 - Fujisawa Hideyuki (defeating Rin Kaiho 4-3)
- 1971 - Rin Kaiho (defeating Fujisawa Hideyuki 4-2)
- 1972 - Rin Kaiho (defeating Fujisawa Hideyuki 4-2)
- 1973 - Rin Kaiho (defeating Ishida Yoshio 4-3)
- 1974 - Ishida Yoshio (defeating Rin Kaiho 4-3)
- 1975 - Otake Hideo (defeating Ishida Yoshio 4-3)
- New (Asahi) Meijin Titleholders:
- 1976 - Otake Hideo (defeating Ishida Yoshio 4-1)
- 1977 - Rin Kaiho (defeating Otake Hideo 4-0)
- 1978 - Otake Hideo (defeating Rin Kaiho 4-2)
- 1979 - Otake Hideo (defeating Sakata Eio 4-1)
- 1980 - Cho Chikun (defeating Otake Hideo 4-1-1)
- 1981 - Cho Chikun (defeating Kato Masao 4-0)
- 1982 - Cho Chikun (defeating Otake Hideo 4-1)
- 1983 - Cho Chikun (defeating Otake Hideo 4-1)
- 1984 - Cho Chikun (defeating Otake Hideo 4-3)
- 1985 - Kobayashi Koichi (defeating Cho Chikun 4-3)
- 1986 - Kato Masao (defeating Kobayashi Koichi 4-0)
- 1987 - Kato Masao (defeating Rin Kaiho 4-0 )
- 1988 - Kobayashi Koichi (defeating Kato Masao 4-1)
- 1989 - Kobayashi Koichi (defeating Awaji Shuzo 4-1)
- 1990 - Kobayashi Koichi (defeating Otake Hideo 4-2)
- 1991 - Kobayashi Koichi (defeating Rin Kaiho 4-1)
- 1992 - Kobayashi Koichi (defeating Otake Hideo 4-3)
- 1992 - Kobayashi Koichi (defeating Otake Hideo 4-1)
- 1994 - Kobayashi Koichi (defeating Rin Kaiho 4-0)
- 1995 - Takemiya Masaki (defeating Kobayashi Koichi 4-1)
- 1996 - Cho Chikun (defeating Takemiya Masaki 4-2)
- 1997 - Cho Chikun (defeating Kobayashi Koichi 4-2)
- 1998 - Cho Chikun (defeating O Rissei 4-2-1)
- 1999 - Cho Chikun (defeating Yoda Norimoto 4-1)
- 2000 - Yoda Norimoto (defeating Cho Chikun 4-0)
- Women's Meijin Titleholders:
- 1989 - Miyazaki Shimako
- 1990 - Aoki Kikuyo
- 1991 - Sugiuchi Kazuko (defeating Aoki Kikuyo 2-1)
- 1992 - Sugiuchi Kazuko (defeating Aoki Kikuyo 2-0)
- 1993 - Sugiuchi Kazuko (defeating Aoki Kikuyo 2-0)
- 1994 - Sugiuchi Kazuko (defeating Ogawa Tomoko 2-1)
- 1995 - Kato Tomoko (defeating Sugiuchi Kazuko 2-0)
- 1996 - Nishida Terumi (defeating Kato Tomoko 2-1)
- 1997 - Nishida Terumi (defeating Ogawa Tomoko 2-0)
- 1998 - Nishida Terumi (defeating Ogawa Tomoko 2-0)
- 1999 - Aoki Kikuyo (defeating Nishida Terumi 2-0)
- 2000 - Aoki Kikuyo (defeating Kobayashi Izumi 2-0)
A number if tournament games in .sgf format are available here: http://www.xs4all.nl/~rongen17/zips/meijin.zip