Kengyo (one of the officers governing Shoen manor) is the highest title of official rank for blind officers during the middle and early modern ages.
The term Kengyo originally referred to the manager who administered office duties in temples or Shoen (private estates) during the Heian and Kamakura periods, but from the Muromachi period onwards, it was established as the highest title for blind officers.
Kengyo were allowed to wear special clothes with a hood and carry a walking stick. Among the mokan (blind officers), there were betto (superiors of a temple), koto (the third title of official rank within the Todo-za - the traditional guild of the blind), and zato (the fourth title) in order of rank.
As the son of Emperor Ninmyo, Imperial Prince Saneyasu became blind while he was still young and entered the priesthood to live a cloistered life in Yamashina (present day Yamashina Ward, Kyoto City). As he entered the priesthood, Imperial Prince Saneyasu gathered the blind to teach them to play the biwa (Japanese lute), wind and string instruments and to recite poems. After the death of the Prince, the two blind retainers who had served at his side were each given the titles Kengyo and Koto. It is claimed that this is the origin of the blind officer named Kengyo. A stone called Biwaishi (Japanese lute stone), on which Imperial Prince Saneyasu allegedly sat and played the biwa, was enshrined in Moroha Shinto Shrine by the blind as a guardian for biwa hoshi (biwa players). The term 'hoshi' (biwa players in monk attire) derives not only from Kengyo shaving his head and wearing officially designated Kengyo clothing that was similar to monk attire, but also because a number of hoshi did in fact join the priesthood.
During the Muromachi period, Kengyo Kakuichi AKASHI compiled "Heike Monogatari" (The Tale of the Heike), and because he was from a family of the Ashikaga clan, he set up the Todo-za where he presided under the protection of the Muromachi bakufu (Japanese feudal government headed by the shogun).
During the Edo period, the bakufu encouraged the blind to join the Todo-za, consolidating the organization which started to enjoy considerable autonomy even though it was under the jurisdiction of the Jisha-bugyo (magistrate of temples and shrines). Kengyo began to have considerable power and authority with a substantially high rank, and when someone became a Soroku Kengyo (chief kengyo) who lead the Todo-za, they were given the level of authority and prestige comparable to a daimyo with a stipend of 150 thousand koku (a unit of a crop yield - one rice koku is 180.39 liters; one lumber koku is 0.278 cubic meters). There were 73 ranks between admittance to Toda-za and the rank of Kengyo, with the rank of Kengyo being divided further into ten sub-ranks from Ichi-ro (1st senior) to Ju-ro (10th Senior). Aside from clerical work, all accounting jobs at Todo-za were carried about by persons with visual and hearing disabilities, and it was revealed that their memory and calculation skills were so precise that not even the slightest inaccuracy could be found. As visual and hearing disabilities had almost nothing to do with heredity, once a member of the Todo-za was recognized for his achievements in heikyoku (a traditional musical narrative on the Tale of Heike), sangen (or samisen -a three ringed instrument) and acupuncture, the 73 ranks up to Kengyo were sequentially opened up to the blind officers after certain intervals of time. However, since it took a greatly extended amount of time to receive such a promotion, in order to accelerate the acquisition of higher ranks, blind officers were authorized to trade gold and silver currency for higher ranks, which lead to the ranks being certified by the Todo-za. To become Kengyo, one had to be able to perform heikyoku (a traditional musical narration on the Tale of Heike), jiuta sangen (a traditional Japanese song accompanied by a sangen) and sokyoku (music played on the koto - a kind of harp), as well as have skills in composition or acupuncture and massage. Later in the Edo period, however, heikyoku, which had been the exemplary accomplishment of Todo-za, had lost its popularity, and jiuta sangen, sokyoku and acupuncture became the practical skills required to become a Kengyo professional instead. Not all members of the Todo-za were talented in music and acupuncture however, and there were some who changed their profession or entered into the financial business as mentioned below. It is estimated that to become Kengyo by being promoted through each sequential rank from lowest to highest, it costed a total of 719 ryo (unit of gold currency).
In Edo, the blind officers of Todo-za, including Kengyo, were sometimes collectively referred to as 'Zato.'
During the Edo period, there were many Kengyo who became excellent musicians in the three capital cities as professionals of jiuta sangen, sokyoku, kokyu (Chinese fiddle) music and heikyoku, which lead to them having an important role as a driving power in the development of Japanese music in the modern ages. There were some Kengyo who were employed by daimyo (feudal lord) as in-house musicians with a stipend equivalent to an annual crop volume large enough to support several people, such as Kengyo Yatsuhashi in the Iwakitaira Domain and Kengyo Yoshizawa in the Owari Domain. Furthermore, there were also Kengyo who were successful as acupuncture doctors and others who became famous as scholars.
On the other hand, to facilitate the income of gold and silver needed to quickly acquire official ranks, the bakufu permitted them to be money lenders with high interest rates during the Genroku era. This money lending was referred to as Zatokin (Zato money) or Kankin (officer money), with some Kengyo lending money to gokenin (immediate vassals of the shogunate) or low-ranking hatamoto (direct vassals of the shogun) with a low stipend and making excessive profits. During the Anei era, there were Kengyo who accumulated a large fortune, such as Kengyo Nagoya, who accumulated more than 100 thousand ryo, and Kengyo Toriyama, who accumulated 15 thousand ryo and astonished society by going on a spree at Yoshiwara (the red-light district in Edo). In 1778, eight Kengyo and two Koto were banished from Edo after forfeiting all of their assets for their excessively underhanded means of making profits.
When known, 関名 (first name) is enclosed in parenthesis ().
Waichi SUGIYAMA (Waichi)
Established the method of Kanshin acupuncture (tube acupuncture)
Kengyo Yatsuhashi (Jodan)
Father of modern Sokyoku, and innovated the bow of Kokyu
Kengyo Ishimura / Kengyo Torazawa
Created the oldest artistic musical song with accompaniment of shamisen 'Shamisen suite.'
Kengyo Sawazumi / Kengyo Takino
Started the tale of Joruri story with the accompaniment of Shamisen.
Kengyo Ikuta (Ikuichi)
Founder of Ikuta school Sokyoku.
Kengyo Fujiue (Kikoichi)
Player of Kokyu
Actively performed in Edo, invented four-stringed Kokyu, and was the founder of Fujiue school.
Was active as a scholar.
Editor of "Gunsho Ruiju" (Collection of Historical Documents)
Kengyo Ogino (Tomonoichi)
Musician of Heikyoku, the first promoter of Heikyoku, and compiled 'Heike Mabushi.'
Kengyo Yamada (Toyoichi)
Actively performed in Edo, the founder of Yamada school Sokyoku
Improved the instrument Koto
Kengyo Matsuura (Kubonoichi)
Was active in Kyoto in the early 19th century, established 'Kyoryu tegotomono' in Jiuta, and left various masterpieces.
Kengyo Kikuoka (Somenoichi)
Active in Kyoto in the early 19th century, and developed 'Kyoryu tegotomono' in Jiuta, and composed various masterpieces.
Kengyo Yaezaki (Ikinoichi)
Actively performed in the early 19th century as an excellent player of Koto. Composed accompaniment music for the pieces of Kengyo Matsuura and Kengyo Kikuoka, and elevated their value as consort music.
Kengyo Yoneyama (Ginnoichi)
Grand-grandfather of Kaishu KATSU and Nobutomo ODANI
Was also called Kengyo Odani.
Kengyo Yoshizawa (Shinnoichi)
Was active in Nagoya and Kyoto at the end of the Edo period and left various famous songs such as 'Chidori no Kyoku' (The Song of the Plover).
Inventor of a shogi (Japanese chess) strategy called Ishida-ryu sangenbisha (Ishida-ryu 3rd file rook).
One of the best shogi players who was able to defeat Soho AMANO in a Hirate game (playing evenly without a handicap).
Exception: Kengyo Dokuro (a novel by Seishi YOKOMIZO), a specter