Iemoto is a term used to refer to the family line which succeeds a school traditional Japanese art. It also refers to the head of such a family line.
These family lines or their heads are the highest authority on traditional Japanese arts. Before modern times, the position was generally hereditary, and this trend continues today. It cannot be said to be a pure blood lineage because influential members of a school may be incorporated through adoption. Iemoto usually takes control of politics within the school, conducts training, and is often considered the legitimate origin of the school's style. In some schools, there is a soke (grand master) instead of an Iemoto (although the hierarchical relationship and role division between iemoto and soke vary widely depending on the school).
The main roles of iemoto are to conduct political leadership of the school, maintain control and canonicity of the art form, issue licenses and qualifications, and train experts. However, in recent years there have been many cases in which expert committees of schools have assumed this position instead, and there exist varying power relationships between iemoto and schools. In fields such as noh theater, iemoto is customarily referred to as 'soke' and the word 'iemoto' may not be used. Iemoto exist in fields including various martial arts, practices and etiquette of the court or military households originating from Edo period court nobility professions, flower arranging, tea ceremony, calligraphy, bontei (tray gardening), noh, traditional Japanese music, and Classical Japanese dance.
The iemoto system once existed in fields including go (a Japanese game played with black and white stones on a board) and shogi (a Japanese board game resembling chess) but is no longer used.
The Iemoto system is the system in which Iemoto plays a central part and take a leadership role in the development of the style of the school. Although this system cannot be defined clearly because of its diversity, here are some characteristics: (1) hereditary Iemoto exists as a normative and legitimate model with regard to the school's accomplishments in order to preserve the identity of the style; (2) as a political authority, Iemoto leads and manages the school by top-down control system; (3) financially, Iemoto redistributes money collected from novices, experts, et al. to the entire school; (4) Iemoto has the authority to issue certificates; (5) Iemoto himself or herself is at the core of the school, and Iemoto's or his/her family's private matters and the school's public matters are not clearly differentiated.
The iemoto system is very effective at preserving a consistent artistic style and bringing a sense of unity by centralizing the power in the school.
In addition, there is a problem in terms of the tax code in managing the school's funds as well as a risk that the Iemoto family's traditional Shozoku (costume), Densho (books on the esoterica), etc. are scattered and ultimately lost under the burden of gift and inheritance taxes imposed when there is a generational change of Iemoto. Furthermore, there are problems such as the school's management in case when Iemoto cannot properly handle the accomplishments. Therefore, recently in many cases, while retaining the Iemoto system, the school's corporate body practically handles management of accomplishments and financial matters.
The origin of Iemoto goes back to ancient times, and in the Heian period the title "Kasenseito" (legitimate great poets) of the Mikohidari family was already introduced.
Some gagaku (ancient Japanese court dance and music), is known to have been established as iegei (family's specialty) in the Nara period. These were the allocated roles in the Imperial Court events, which were then succeeded by heredity. They temporarily declined with the rise of samurai, but later revived thanks to the trend where emerging samurai families sought to give themselves authority by means of accepting the court noble culture.
Conversely, authorities of ancient practices and customs, such as Ogasawara clan, were established even within in samurai society from the Kamakura period. From the late Muromachi period to the early Edo period, samurai families began to transmit their own various iegei. However, the Iemoto system as we know it today was established during the mid-Edo period when there was an explosive rise in the civilized population as a result of the rise of the wealthy merchant class.
Meanwhile, the title "Iemoto" first appeared in "kinsei Edo chomonshu"(a collection of stories about modern Edo) written by Bunko BABA in 1757. Earlier, in the Genroku period, family lines who produced chief priests of temples were called "Teramoto", "Iemoto" or "Satomoto."
One of the core elements of the Iemoto system is the monopolization of iegei through the hereditary succession of secret techniques. It is thought that this probably originated from the introduction of Buddhism, especially esoteric Buddhism. More specifically, becoming an iemoto disciple and passing on secret techniques is thought to be based on the pattern of becoming a follower of a Buddhist priest and transmitting the teachings. Injin (mystagogy certificates a Buddhist priest awards his followers) of esoteric Buddhism is viewed as a model of densho of various schools. Although it is not necessary that secret techniques are succeeded by heredity, the legitimacy of iemoto is emphasized by transmitting them only to a single pupil.
It is also said that Neo-Confucianism, legitimate thought in the Edo period, has exerted ideological influence on the iemoto system
The fundamental principles of Neo-Confucianism include dedication to one's master and acceptance of the absoluteness of iemoto. These and the iemoto system have a lot in common, such as how the feudal and hereditary governance structure headed by iemoto. One of the characteristics of the iemoto system is the hierarchy in which accredited masters, instructors, etc. mediate between iemoto and pupils.
It is thought that this originated from the hierarchy of Kumano Sanzan (three major shrines in Kumano), onshi (low-ranking Shinto priest) - sendatsu (guide) - danna (supporter), or the hierarchy of Jodo Shinshu (the True Pure Land Sect of Buddhism) Hongan-ji school, hoshu (high priest) - ikkeshu (one lineage group related to hoshu) - matsuji (priest of a branch temple) - monto (follower.)
In particular, Hongan-ji school is thought to bear a resemblance to the iemoto system, in that hoshu with hereditary religious authority collects almsgiving by monto and has the exclusive right to issue a kind of certificate called a 'goshogomen' (permission for happiness in the next life).