Toyohiko Kagawa (賀川 豊彦) was a Japanese Christian pacifist, Christian reformer, and labour activist. Kagawa wrote, spoke, and worked at length on ways to employ Christian principles in the ordering of society and cooperatives. His vocation to help the poor led him to live among them. He established schools, hospitals, and churches.
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.
In 1909 Toyohiko Kagawa moved into a Kobe slum with the intention of acting as a missionary, social worker, and sociologist. In 1914, he went to the United States to study ways of combating the sources of poverty. In 1916 he published Researches in the Psychology of the Poor based on this experience in which he recorded many aspects of slum society that were previously unknown to middle-class Japanese. Among these were: the practices of illicit prostitution (i.e. outside of Japan’s legal prostitution regime), informal marriages (which often overlapped with the previous), and even the practice of accepting money to care for children and then killing them.
Toyohiko Kagawa was arrested in Japan in 1921 and again in 1922 for his part in labour activism during strikes. 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. After his release, Kagawa helped organize relief work in Tokyo following the 1923 Great Kantō earthquake and assisted in bringing about universal adult male suffrage in 1925.
Toyohiko Kagawa organized the Japanese Federation of Labour, as well as the National Anti-War League in 1928. Throughout this period, he continued to evangelize to Japan’s poor and push for women’s suffrage and a peaceful foreign policy. Between 1926 and 1934, he focused his evangelical work through the Kingdom of God Movement.
In 1940, Toyohiko Kagawa, made 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 a futile attempt to prevent war between that nation and Japan. He then returned to Japan to continue his attempts to win women’s suffrage. After Japan’s surrender, Toyohiko Kagawa was an adviser to the transitional Japanese government.
During his life, Toyohiko 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.
Toyohiko Kagawa’s economic theory, as expressed in the book “Brotherhood Economics,” advocated 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.
While studying at Princeton University, Kagawa read Tree Crops: A Permanent Agriculture by J. Russell Smith. Inspired by this book, he managed to persuade many of Japan’s upland farmers during the 1930s that the solution to their soil erosion problem lay in widespread tree-planting. Kagawa also advised that they could receive further benefit if they planted cropping trees, such as quick-maturing walnuts, to provide feed for their pigs.
The planting of fruit and nut trees on farmland aims to conserve the soil, supply food for humans and provide fodder for animals; the three “dimensions” of his system. Kagawa was a forerunner of modern forest farming and an inspiration to Robert Hart who pioneered forest gardening in temperate climates.