The second Meijin - Oohashi Souko II

Posted 2021-04-04 00:00

Upon the death of the first Meijin Oohashi Soukei I in 1634, the next in line, his eldest son Oohashi Souko II (大橋宗古, 1576-1654), took the mantle of Meijin at the age of 59. Following his father’s footsteps, Souko presented his 100-problem collection, the Shogi Chi no Mi (将棋智実), to the shogunate in 1636. It is also the first record of the nifu, uchifuzume, and illegal drop rules.

In 1635, with the blessing of Souko, two new shogi houses were created. Souko’s younger brother, Oohashi Souyo I (?-1648), split away to head the Oohashi branch house. At the same time, Souko’s son-in-law, disciple of Soukei, and 17-year-old future Meijin Itou Soukan I (1618-1694) founded the Itou house. These three shogi houses – the Oohashi main house, the Oohashi branch house, and the Itou house – were officially recognised by the shogunate under the iemoto system, and would produce many strong players and Meijin over the generations.

The iemoto system

The iemoto (家元) system was a way to preserve Japanese arts and traditions across the generations. The term iemoto is both used to refer to the whole system, as well as the single person at the top of the art (“the iemoto”).

Strictly speaking, the term iemoto only arose in the mid-Edo period (somewhere around 1757), but the practice of having knowledge and mastery passed down bloodlines is far, far older; Noh theatre can trace its roots back to the 14th century, and for Japanese poetry and court music, all the way back to the Heian period (794-1185).

Under this system, one or multiple houses would dedicate themselves to a single domain of the arts, honing their craft and ensuring it gets passed on to succeeding generations. These houses would often be bloodlines, although outsiders demonstrating great talent could be adopted into the houses as potential successors.

Each house would be headed by a single iemoto, a “Grand Master” of that art form. The iemoto would lead by a mix of decree, adherence to tradition, and of course display of skill.

A broad range of arts came under the iemoto system, including Noh and kyougen theatre, sadou (tea ceremonies), koudou (incense appreciation), shodou (calligraphy), ikebana (flower arrangement), classical Japanese dance, and various musical instruments (like the shamisen).

In the Edo period, the Tokugawa shogunate would support the houses financially, and politically if necessary. The houses would in exchange provide support where applicable. Shogi and go were also similarly supported by the shogunate, some say due to the preference of the first shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu for these games.

The roles of the iemoto vary by field, but broadly speaking, they would be:

The houses would also teach amateurs and take in disciples for a fee, the primary method for obtaining funds, especially when not supported by the government.

The iemoto system has been very effective in preserving tradition through the centuries, albeit in a relatively strict and top-down manner. It persists today in some fields, but the day-to-day management of funds and operations generally falls to the corporate body of the respective school, run more like a business than a family operation.