Saturday, April 22, 2006

April 23: Toyohiko Kagawa: Renewer of Society

On this day many Christians in the church commemorate Toyohiko Kagawa, renewer of society, who died in 1960, at the age of 71.

Toyohiko Kagawa was born in 1888 in Kobe, Japan. Orphaned early, he lived first with his widowed stepmother and then with an uncle. He enrolled in a Bible class in order to learn English, and in his teens he became a Christian and was disowned by his family. 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. Accordingly, 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.

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, and in 1940 Kagawa made an apology to the Republic of China because of Japan's occupation of China. He was arrested once again. 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.

At the end of the war, Kagawa was part of the transitional Japanese government that offered surrender to the United States. He was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1955. After his death, Kagawa was awarded the second-highest honor of Japan, induction in the Order of the Sacred Treasure. Despite failing health, he devoted himself to the reconciliation of democratic ideals and procedures with traditional Japanese culture. He died in Tokyo 23 April 1960.

Over 150 books were written by Kagawa throughout his career, most of the royalties therefrom being used to support his labour reform efforts. In English you may wish to read Living Out Christ's Love: Selected Writings of Toyohiko Kagawa (Upper Room Spiritual Classics. Series 2) (Paperback).

The church gives thanks to God for the witness of Toyohiko Kagawa with this prayer:

O God, whose blessed Son became poor that we through his Poverty might be rich: Deliver us from an inordinate love of this world, that we, inspired by the devotion of your servant Toyohiko Kagawa, may serve you with singleness of heart, and attain to the riches of the age to come; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.

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