Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Kagawa Toyohiko 賀川豊彦(1888-1960) - “Gandhi of Japan.”

Toyohiko Kagawa was a Japanese pacifist, Christian reformer, evangelist, leader of the cooperative movement, and labor activist. He wrote, spoke, and worked at length on ways to employ Christian principles in the ordering of society.

He was hailed as a modern Saint Francis, favorably compared with Mohandas Gandhi.

Kagawa agreed that individual salvation was one important dimension of the faith, he maintained that for Christianity to be faithful to its founder’s vision and example it must also be a social movement

He is also “founding father” of Japanese consumer cooperative movement. Kagawa spoke passionately of cooperation and cooperatives:

"The capitalistic system has four main difficulties: It is based on selfish profiteering motives. It has the power to accumulate money for the few because it is based on competitive principles. The few compete with one another so that they need big concentration of capital; and this results in class struggle and revolution. But with the Christian cooperative motives we can get rid of the profiteering motives. Then there will be no need of the concentration of capital, no fear of class struggle and revolution".

石川本社ビル 賀川豊彦生誕地

Kagawa was born in Kobe, Japan to a philandering businessman and a concubine. However, both parents died while he was young. He was sent away to school, where he learned from two American missionary teachers, Drs. Harry W. Myers and Charles A. Logan, who took him into their homes.

Having learned English from these missionaries, Kagawa converted to Christianity after taking a Bible class in his youth, which led to him being disowned by his remaining extended family. Kagawa studied at the Tokyo Presbyterian College, and later enrolled in the Kobe Theological Seminary. While studying there, Kagawa was troubled by the seminarians' concern for technicalities of doctrine. He believed that Christianity in action was the truth of Christian doctrines. Impatiently, he would point to the parable of the Good Samaritan. From 1914 to 1916 he studied at Princeton Theological Seminary. In addition to theology, through the curricular exchange program with the university he also studied embryology, genetics, comparative anatomy, and paleontology while he was in Princeton


“Jesus Band” was established in 1909 (Meiji 22) when Toshihiko Kagawa was 21 years old. It was initially called “Kyureidan”.

Toyohiko Kagawa rented a 5-mat-room in Shin-Ikuta and commenced his missionary activities and charity work. The funding of the activities and the work was covered by his own scholarship, the fee for translation and manuscript, and wages as well as contributions from understanding insiders and outsiders involved in church.

In 1910, the first chapel, or the rented 5-mat-room used as a houseand for engaging in missionary work (6-221 Kita Honmachi, Fukiai-ku, Kobe) was named “Kyureidan”. It changed to “Jesus Band” in 1914.

From 1910 to 1924 he lived for all but two years in a shed six feet square (about 180 cm) in the slums of Kobe. In 1912 he unionized the shipyard workers. He spent two years (1914-1916) at Princeton studying techniques for the relief of poverty. In 1918 and 1921 he organized unions among factory workers and among farmers. He worked for universal male suffrage (granted in 1925) and for laws more favorable to trade unions.

Song of Farmers(農民歌)

Kagawa was arrested in Japan in 1921 during Kawasaki-Mitsubishi Shipbuilders strike. It was during this time that he seemed to realize that he was in a movement beyond his control. What was concerned by Kagawa, was that strikers with legitimate concerns could be transformed into a violent mob. It became increasingly clear to him that it can develop into situation against his pacifism, and not abide by his Christian principles of non-violence.

At a gathering of fourteen young pastors attending the Presbyterian Pastors National Meeting on October 5, 1921, he launched the Iesu no Tomo Kai at Church of Christ in Japan (Presbyterian). He was the founder of the Friends of Jesus movement (Iesu no Tomo Kai イエスの友会).The five principles of the Friends of Jesus are: Piety (Devotion to God in Christ), Work (of Mind and Hand), Purity (including War on Vice and Liquor), Peace (including War on War), and Service (Social, Religious, Political).It was through the Friends of Jesus movement that Kagawa’s vision of individual and social transformation was expanded far beyond the Shinkawa slums.

He was arrested again in 1922 for his part in labour activism. While in prison he wrote the novels Crossing the Deathline and Shooting at the Sun. The former was a semi-autobiographical depiction of his time among Kobe's destitute.

Kagawa and Sugiyama Genjiro organized the Japan Farmers’ Union (Nihon NØmin Kumiai) to address the difficulties of peasants in rural areas and to slow down the flow of displaced farmers into urban centers of unemployment and poverty. His Iesu Dan イエス団 (Jesus Band) in Shinkawa served initially as the promotion headquarters of the union.

After his release, Kagawa helped organize relief work in Tokyo following the 1923 Great Kantō earthquake

In 1923 he was asked to supervise social work in Tokyo. His writings began to attract favorable notice from the Japanese government and abroad. He established credit unions, schools, hospitals, and churches, and wrote and spoke extensively on the application of Christian principles to the ordering of society.

He founded the Anti-War League in 1928

He began the Kingdom-of-God Movement in 1930 and traveled extensively overseas to preach and teach.

1930s was the difficult time, a pre war period where ultra-nationalism and militarism were on the rise. Despite that, Friends of Jesus Movement continued their social transformation work.

In 1940, he was arrested after publicly apologizing to China for the Japanese invasion of that country. He was arrested and held in prison for two particular crimes: 1) he organized the voiceless so that they might speak in unison to those with power and be heard, and 2) he apologized to the Chinese for the Japanese occupation of portions of China. Toyohiko's commitment to peace--one he felt compulsory for all who hoped to follow Jesus even if it cost them their lives--made him a dangerous criminal in the eyes of Military government of Japan.

In the summer of 1941 he visited the United States in an attempt to avert war between Japan and the Us. After the war, despite failing health, he devoted himself to the reconciliation of democratic ideals and procedures with traditional Japanese culture.

He died in Tokyo on 23 April 1960.

During his life, Kagawa wrote over 150 books. He was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1947 and 1948, and Nobel Peace Prize in 1954 and 1955. After his death, Kagawa was awarded the second-highest honor of Japan, induction in the Order of the Sacred Treasure. He is commemorated in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America as a renewer of society on April 23 of the same year.

"I read a book that a man called Christ went about doing good. It is very disconcerting to me that I am so easily satisfied with just going about" Toyohiko Kagawa

He lived like Jesus Christ.....

Suggested readings;

1. Toyohiko Kagawa Revisited - Think Kagawa 賀川豊彦を考える
2. Kawaga Memorial Hall,
3. 賀川豊彦献身100年記念事業オフィシャルサイト,
4. Naruto City Kagawa Toyohiko Museum,
5. Unconquerable Kagawa. 1951. Reader's Digest. pg.29-31
6. Telling The Stories That Matter: April 27 - Toyohiko Kagawa, Poet, Pacifist, Friend of the Poor, April 27, 2010
7. 賀川豊彦と中国, 劉家峰, (In Japanese)
8. The Legacy of Toyohiko Kagawa, /Kagawa_article.pdf
9 Toyohiko Kagawa Revisited, by Robert M. Armstrong,
10. Jesus Band,
11. Christianity as a Transnational Social Movement: Kagawa Toyohiko, by Mark R. Mullins ,

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