Todoza (the traditional guild for the blind) (当道座)

Todoza was an autonomous mutual support group for the male blind that existed from the medieval period through early modern times in Japan.

Imperial Prince Saneyasu, a son of Emperor Ninmyo, was blind (because of an eye disease). He lived in seclusion in Yamashina and got the blind together to teach them biwa (Japanese lute), kangen (gagaku piece without dance) and poetry. According to the legend that after the prince's death the official court ranks of kengyo and koto had been given to the persons who served him, the highest rank in todoza was supposed to be kengyo.

In the Kamakura period, "Heike Monogatari" (The Tale of the Heike) became popular, and, in many cases, the story was told by the blind with musical accompaniment. Heike zato, the players who played "Heike Monogatari," came under the patronage and control of the Murakami-Genji (Minamoto clan) chuin-ryu school, the chief of the Genji clan. In the Muromachi period, Kakuichi AKASHI, a kengyo, compiled Kakuichi-bon Text, which would become a standard text for "Heike Monogatari"; AKASHI, belonging to Ashikaga clan, was protected by Muromachi bakufu (Japanese feudal government headed by a shogun) and founded todoza. The Koga family became honjo (proprietor or guarantor of manor).

Later, in the Edo period todoza was authorized by Edo bakufu and put under the control of jisha-bugyo (magistrate of temples and shrines).

The headquarters of the organization were called 'shokuyashiki' (the national organization of the guild for the blind) located near Bukko-ji Temple in Kyoto. Sokengyo, the chairman of the highest rank officials of the guild for the blind, was selected as the chairman and administered todoza. In Edo, Kanto sokengyo was founded temporarily and its headquarters were called 'soroku yashiki' (the organization of the guild for the blind in the Kanto area), which controlled Kanhasshu (the Eight Provinces of Kanto region). The official court ranks, called mokan (blind official ranks) in todoza, were from kengyo, the highest rank to betto, koto and zato in hierarchical order, and each rank was subdivided and there were 73 ranks. If the blind joined todoza and achieved good results in the fields such as sangen (a three stringed musical instrument) and shinkyu (acupuncture and moxibustion medical treatment), a rank was given one by one. However, in reality it took so many years to be promoted, and because it was not easy to reach the rank of kengyo, bakufu allowed the blind to sell and buy the ranks with money. In order to buy all the necessary 73 ranks from the lowest rank to kengyo, it is said that 719 ryo was needed.

Since the ranks were also official court ranks, the kengyo's social status was so high that the status holder of kengyo was allowed to meet seii taishogun (literally, "great general who subdues the barbarians"). In addition, sokengyo, the highest rank, had the same authority and formality as daimyo (the feudal lord).

In the Edo period, todoza internally had the feature of mutual organization to provide the blind with vocational training, and on the other hand it had its own jurisdiction to establish and maintain the order within the blind society. It is said that hierarchical order in todoza was very strict. Externally, the organization monopolized the rights of professionals such as heikyoku (the music played on Heike biwa as accompaniment for the recitation of Heike Monogatari), sankyoku (so [thirteen-stringed Japanese zither], jiuta shamisen [a genre of traditional songs with samisen accompaniment] and kokyu [Chinese fiddle]), shinkyu and anma massage. This was regarded as the welfare system by Edo bakufu for the blind. Especially, heikyoku which had been the typical profession in todoza since the Kamakura period became less popular among the blind, but the popularity subsided in the Edo period and instead the blind specialized in jiuta and so music was more common.

Besides such blind musicians and acupuncture and moxibustion practitioners, some of the blind established themselves as scholars and kishi (a go or shogi player). Also the blind who practiced as moneylenders were allowed to lend money with higher interest rates than normal from the Genroku era so that the blind could earn money for early promotion, which came to be recognized as a social problem in the late 18th century, because they lent money to poor gokenin (an immediate vassal of the bakufu) and bakufu hatamoto (direct retainers of the bakufu) and profiteered from them. Because of this, in the period dramas such kengyo are sometimes described as crass loan sharks.

In general, however, it should be noted that by the welfare system for the blind, the development of music and the medicine of acupuncture and moxibustion in the Edo period was advanced, including the formation and development of shamisen music, modern koto music and Chinese fiddle as well as the establishment of the acupuncture needle tube method.

It was necessary to bring quite a large amount of money to todo shokuyashiki in Kyoto for the blind in order to get an official court rank (during the period when soroku yashiki was founded in Edo, the blind in Kanhasshu were given the rank there). With such a background, the story of Zatoichi (blind Ichi) is described.

Todoza was an organization where only male blind were allowed to belong, and as for female blind there was the goze (blind women) organization. In addition, there was also another group called mosoza (the organization of blind biwa players in the appearance of a Buddhist priest), and the organizations often confronted each other.

It is estimated that the number of the blind who belonged to todoza was always nearly 3,000 through Edo period. In the Tenpo era it is said that there were 68 kengyo, 67 koto, 170 zato and 360 members who belonged to the lower rank. The number of the visually-impaired estimated from the total population in Japan at that period was about 50,000. While there is a theory that only a part of the visually-impaired belonged to a mutual support group including todoza, and there is a theory that in those days almost all visually-impaired belonged to some kind of group such as todoza, mosoza and the goze organization. Therefore, the details about the number are not known.

After the collapse of the Edo period, todoza was dismantled and disappeared in 1871.

But after the Meiji Restoration, there are some instances that some private organizations used the names of mokan (blind official). Or as the honorific title to the visually-impaired who achieved exceptional performance in music and other fields, kengyo and other titles are sometimes used.