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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 + (Godokoro 1710-?) 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
+ = Meijin Godokoro
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 (1956-1961). 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 ¥33,000,000 currently.
Time controls for the best of 7 challenge are 8 hours each, for the league it's 5 hours each.
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||none (league play) ||9-3|
|2nd||1963||Sakata Eio||Fujisawa Hideyuki||4-3|
|3rd||1964||Sakata Eio||Fujisawa Hideyuki||4-1|
|4th||1965||Rin Kaiho||Sakata Eio||4-2|
|5th||1966||Rin Kaiho||Sakata Eio||4-1|
|6th||1967||Rin Kaiho||Sakata Eio||4-1|
|7th||1968||Takagawa Kaku||Rin Kaiho||4-1|
|8th||1969||Rin Kaiho||Takagawa Kaku||4-2|
|9th||1970||Fujisawa Hideyuki||Rin Kaiho||4-2|
|10th||1971||Rin Kaiho||Fujisawa Hideyuki||4-2|
|11th||1972||Rin Kaiho||Fujisawa Hideyuki||4-2|
|12th||1973||Rin Kaiho||Ishida Yoshio||4-3|
|13th||1974||Ishida Yoshio||Rin Kaiho||4-3|
|14th||1975||Otake Hideo||Ishida Yoshio||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.