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Meijin is a title in Japanese Go, written 名人. Its original meaning is "master" or "expert" or "virtuoso" of any field, not just Go. Historically, during the Edo period in Japan, there was only one Meijin, equivalent to a 9-dan rank. This person had to stand out from their peers as the undisputed strongest player in the country, so there was not always a Meijin when there was no consensus.
The first Meijin was Honinbo Sansa in 1612. Honinbo Shusai was the last traditional Meijin, though in fact the system had necessarily changed after the Meiji Restoration. The rank of 9 dan was then separated from the Meijin title, and promotion to 9 dan was awarded through the Oteai, the first being Fujisawa Kuranosuke. The ten players who held the historic Meijin title were:
1st Honinbo Sansa 1612-1623 2nd Inoue Nakamura Doseki 1623-1630 3rd Yasui Sanchi 1668-1676 4th Honinbo Dosaku 1677-1702 5th Inoue Dosetsu Inseki 1708-1719 6th Honinbo Dochi 1721-1727 7th Honinbo Satsugen 1767-1788 8th Honinbo Jowa 1831-1839 9th Honinbo Shuei 1906-1907 10th Honinbo Shusai 1914-1940
During the Tokugawa Shogunate there was a government position known as godokoro, the go instructor to the shogun. There was a similar job for shogi. The Godokoro post was created by Tokugawa Ieyasu and appointed by the Commissioner of Temples and Shrines (jishabugyo). As only the strongest player in the country could hold the post, the Meijin title was a requirement to become Godokoro, however it did not guarantee the appointment, and the position was sometimes vacant for long periods of time.
Strong and ambitious Go players sought the job, sometimes resorting to scandalous political maneuvers. The Meijin Godokoro had significant power, prestige, and perquisites. In addition to having a government stipend and some access to the Shogun, the Meijin Godokoro was the highest official in the Go world, approving rank promotions, scheduling castle games, and adjudicating disputes between the go houses. It was practically a lifetime appointment because the Godokoro was exempt from competing in the Castle Games, and indeed barred from serious contests, since he was theoretically supposed to devote his every effort to helping the Shogun be a better player. This made it hard for other players to demonstrate that they were stronger, and therefore the rightful Meijin.
Because of this and other governmental support for Go (i.e. the Four Houses) during the Tokugawa period, the quality of play grew faster in Japan than elsewhere. Honinbo Jowa was the final Meijin Godokoro, as the Godokoro post was abolished in 1868 after the Meiji Restoration.
The modern Meijin title came about in 1962, as a successor to the former title of Saikyo (1959-1961). The title is the second most prestigious of the big titles in Japan, at least in terms of prize money, after the Kisei. The winner's prize is ¥37,000,000 currently.
The Meijin title has been sponsored by the Asahi Shinbun newspaper since 1976. The games can be found on their website (Japanese). They took over sponsorship from the Yomiuri Shimbun, and the Meijin tournaments played before then are now commonly referred to as the Old Meijin titles since the numbering of the titles started over with the change in sponsor.
Due to the importance of the Meijin as one of the "big three" titles in Japan (along with the Honinbo and Kisei), there are several paths of automatic rank advancement through it in the Nihon Ki-in new promotion system. Qualifying for the Meijin league warrants a promotion to 7-dan, winning the league to challenge for the title promotes to 8-dan, and finally winning the title itself gives an immediate 9-dan promotion.
As with each of the three Japanese big titles, the previous year's title holder is challenged by the winner of a league. Entry to the league is gained through a series of preliminary tournaments. The title is decided in a best of seven match, where each player is given eight hours of thinking time over a two day period. Since 1976, four players have won all of their league games, the most recent being Iyama Yuta in 2009. http://www.nihonkiin.or.jp/english/topics/09/topics2009_09.htm#090910
The Meijin tournament was established in 1962, sponsored by the Yomiuri newspaper, whose sponsorship lasted for 14 years. In 1976 the Asahi newspaper took over sponsorship and the numbering of the titles began again with one. The Yomiuri-sponsored tournaments are now referred to as the "Old Meijin" titles.
1st 1962 Fujisawa Hideyuki (9-3, league play)  2nd 1963 Sakata Eio (d. Fujisawa Hideyuki 4-3) 3rd 1964 Sakata Eio (d. Fujisawa Hideyuki 4-1) 4th 1965 Rin Kaiho (d. Sakata Eio 4-2) 5th 1966 Rin Kaiho (d. Sakata Eio 4-1) 6th 1967 Rin Kaiho (d. Sakata Eio 4-1) 7th 1968 Takagawa Kaku (d. Rin Kaiho 4-1) 8th 1969 Rin Kaiho (d. Takagawa Kaku 4-2) 9th 1970 Fujisawa Hideyuki (d. Rin Kaiho 4-2) 10th 1971 Rin Kaiho (d. Fujisawa Hideyuki 4-2) 11th 1972 Rin Kaiho (d. Fujisawa Hideyuki 4-2) 12th 1973 Rin Kaiho (d. Ishida Yoshio 4-3) 13th 1974 Ishida Yoshio (d. Rin Kaiho 4-3) 14th 1975 Otake Hideo (d. Ishida Yoshio 4-3)
1st 1976 Otake Hideo (d. Ishida Yoshio 4-1) 2nd 1977 Rin Kaiho (d. Otake Hideo 4-0) 3rd 1978 Otake Hideo (d. Rin Kaiho 4-2) 4th 1979 Otake Hideo (d. Sakata Eio 4-1) 5th 1980 Cho Chikun (d. Otake Hideo 4-1-1)  6th 1981 Cho Chikun (d. Kato Masao 4-0) 7th 1982 Cho Chikun (d. Otake Hideo 4-1) 8th 1983 Cho Chikun (d. Otake Hideo 4-1) 9th 1984 Cho Chikun (d. Otake Hideo 4-3) 10th 1985 Kobayashi Koichi (d. Cho Chikun 4-3) 11th 1986 Kato Masao (d. Kobayashi Koichi 4-0) 12th 1987 Kato Masao (d. Rin Kaiho 4-0) 13th 1988 Kobayashi Koichi (d. Kato Masao 4-1) 14th 1989 Kobayashi Koichi (d. Awaji Shuzo 4-1) 15th 1990 Kobayashi Koichi (d. Otake Hideo 4-2) 16th 1991 Kobayashi Koichi (d. Rin Kaiho 4-1) 17th 1992 Kobayashi Koichi (d. Otake Hideo 4-3) 18th 1993 Kobayashi Koichi (d. Otake Hideo 4-1) 19th 1994 Kobayashi Koichi (d. Rin Kaiho 4-0) 20th 1995 Takemiya Masaki (d. Kobayashi Koichi 4-1) 21st 1996 Cho Chikun (d. Takemiya Masaki 4-2) 22nd 1997 Cho Chikun (d. Kobayashi Koichi 4-2) 23rd 1998 Cho Chikun (d. O Rissei 4-2-1)  24th 1999 Cho Chikun (d. Yoda Norimoto 4-1) 25th 2000 Yoda Norimoto (d. Cho Chikun 4-0) 26th 2001 Yoda Norimoto (d. Rin Kaiho 4-2) 27th 2002 Yoda Norimoto (d. Cho Chikun 4-1) 28th 2003 Yoda Norimoto (d. Yamashita Keigo 4-1) 29th 2004 Cho U (d. Yoda Norimoto 4-2)  30th 2005 Cho U (d. Kobayashi Satoru 4-3) 31st 2006 Takao Shinji (d. Cho U 4-2) 32nd 2007 Cho U (d. Takao Shinji 4-3) 33rd 2008 Cho U (d. Iyama Yuta 4-3) 34th 2009 Iyama Yuta (d. Cho U 4-1) 35th 2010 Iyama Yuta (d. Takao Shinji 4-0) 36th 2011 Yamashita Keigo (d. Iyama Yuta 4-2) 37th 2012 Yamashita Keigo (d. Hane Naoki 4-3)
 Game four of the 5th Meijin tournament was ruled void (or no result) due to some confusion with a ko. Both players were in byo-yomi and Cho Chikun asked the scorekeeper (Hikosaka Naoto) if it was his turn to take the ko. He agreed that it was, and Cho made the illegal move retaking the ko. Cho was not required to forfeit the game because the referree had erred, so the game was declared void.