Kagawa Toyohiko (1888-1960) is recognized as Japanese Christian pacifist, Christian reformer, and labor activist whose achievements led him to be nominated to the Noble Peace Prize in 1954 and 1955 and Noble Prize in Literature in 1947 and 1948 for writing over 150 books.
However, what distinguish Toyohiko are not particularly his achievements as much as of his long life efforts holding into principles and believes rejected by his family, society and all traditional believes. Being orphaned early, he lived with his widowed stepmother and then with his uncle. He enrolled in a Bible class in order to learn English, and soon in his teens he was introduced to Christianity and converted to the religion with the belief that peace is the only salvation for all violence, militarism and wars. As a result, he was disowned by his family being left alone with no support. Later in his late teens, he attended Presbyterian College in Tokyo for three years. He decided that he had a vocation to help the poor, and that in order to do so effectively he must live as one of them. Therefore, between 1910 to 1924 he lived for all but two years in a shed six feet square in the slums of Kobe. In 1912 he succeeded in unionizing the Japanese shipyard workers.
Toyohiko –then- went to the United States to continue his studies for the relief of poverty studying its techniques at Princeton. He returned back to Japan with a huge experience and became involved with the labor movements and with social welfare work while living –again- in the slums of Kōbe. Between 1918 and 1921, he organized unions among factory workers and among farmers. In 1922 he was briefly imprisoned for his labor activities. While in prison in 1921 and 1922 Kagawa wrote his first two novels, Crossing the Deathline and Shooting at the Sun; both became best sellers. In fact, Toyohiko was one of the sympathizers of “Tolstoyism” in the course of 1880s world poverty sufferings. Tolostoy’s writings on social and ethical problems in Russia and outside became known as a doctrine by itself. It found its way all through England, United States, Holland, Austria-Hungary, far to Bulgaria and Japan (Brock, 464). Being affected by Tolostoy, other writers and his own experience and sufferings inside and outside Japan, Toyohiko wrote more than 150 books, including several novels, such as Before the Dawn (1924); sociological studies and religious studies; and translations of the works of Albert Schweitzer. Besides, as expressed in the book Brotherhood Economics, Toyohiko expressed and launched his economic theory advocating that the Christian
Church, the cooperative movement, and the peace movement unite in a ‘powerful working synthesis’ to provide a workable alternative to capitalism, state socialism, and fascism.
Toyohiko began conducting great evangelistic campaigns after his release from the prison in the chief cities of Japan and other countries. Japan’s government started to reverse its hostile attitude toward Kagawa after the 1923 earthquake in Tokyo, leaving him a responsibility to help reconstruct the city. Partially and as a result of a trip to Britain and Denmark in the mid-1920s, Kagawa devoted more of his time in creating diverse economic cooperatives, especially in rural areas. He has used his international relations in many countries in the favor of his message inside and outside his country. He participated in the campaign for universal adult male suffrage that was achieved in 1925, and helped in organizing the Japanese Federation of Labor working to achieve rules favorable to trade unions.
Although Toyohiko was converted by a Presbyterian missionary, he disdained denominational differences and led the “Kingdom of God movement” in the early 1930s, an unsuccessful effort to bring one million Japanese into the Protestant fold. Furthermore, Toyohiko was courageous enough making an apology to the Republic of China for Japan’s occupation of China, and was arrested again for this. After his release, he went back to the United States in an attempt to prevent war between United States and Japan. Toyohiko “made a well-publicized and very successful tour of the United States in 1935 and 1936, preaching his socialist, pacifist, and cooperativist version of the gospel to hundreds of thousands of people at a time when the United States, and Western society more generally, was in crisis. Kagawa, one observer wrote, was “a missionary (in the best sense of that grand title) from the East to Western pagans,” and perhaps 750,000 Americans attended Kagawa’s addresses (and others heard him on the radio) as he appeared in about 150 cities and towns from coast to coast. The hosts for Kagawa’s tour, the Federal Council of Churches of Christ (FCC), hoped that his visit would help transform and revitalize U.S. society and Christianity, as well as to ameliorate U.S.-Japanese relations. Perhaps it did so briefly, but ultimately Japan’s growing militarism in China and then in the Pacific basin as a whole led to war between the two nations. Toyohiko was often unsparing in his criticism of the United States, and of Western Christianity, in the years before his 1936 visit. He deplored the 1924 Asian Exclusion Act, which barred the immigration of Japanese to the United States, declaring the following year that with the passage of this act “the United States is no longer a Christian nation.” In his 1934 Christ and Japan, for which missionary Axling served as translator, Kagawa interspersed ethnographic material on Japan and arguments for Christianity with indictments of Western imperialism (Wily Online Library).
After World War II, he returned to Japan to continue his attempts to win women’s suffrage. After Japan’s surrender, Toyohiko was an adviser to the transitional Japanese government. In March 1955, Toyohiko suffered a collapse due to a deteriorating heart. However, he continued writing, preaching, overseeing projects, and hosting guests, despite concerns of all those close to him. In 1959, he was hospitalized again for three months at Sanit Luk’s Hospital in Takamatsu after a worsening condition of his health throughout the years. Then he kept staying at home in Matsuzawa. Over a period of improving and then deteriorating health condition, on April 23 1960, his last words to his wife and those around him were “Please do your best for world peace and the church in Japan”.