April 23: Toyohiko Kagawa, Prophetic Witness in Japan, 1960

Welcome to the Holy Women, Holy Men blog! We invite you to read about this commemoration, use the collect and lessons in prayer, whether individually or in corporate worship, then tell us what you think. For more information about this project, click here.

The Japanese evangelist, advocate of social change, and pacifist, Toyohiko Kagawa (1888-1960), was a major twentieth century religious figure often compared to Mahatma Gandhi.

Kagawa was the son of a wealthy Kobe Buddhist business entrepreneur-politician and his concubine, both of whom died when Kagawa was four years old. The youth was raised by Presbyterian missionaries and had a conversion experience at age fifteen. “O God, make me like Christ” he prayed repeatedly.

Kagawa studied at theological seminaries in Japan and at Princeton University and Princeton Seminary, but was increasingly drawn to an evangelism of social reform, seeking to apply Christ’s teachings directly to Japan’s poor in a theologically uncomplicated way. He lived for much of the 1910 – 1924 period in a six foot square windowless shed in Kobe’s slums. A skilled organizer, he helped found trade unions and credit unions among dock workers, factory laborers, and subsistence farmers. Trade unions were forbidden at the time, and Kagawa was twice imprisoned. He was also a pacifist and organized the National Anti-War League in 1928. Kagawa was arrested in 1940 for publicly apologizing to the people of China for Japan’s invasion of that country. An advocate for universal male suffrage (granted in 1925), he later became a voice for women’s right to vote as well.

A prolific author, his autobiographical novel, Crossing the Death Line (1920) became a best seller, and many of his other novels and writings in a Christian Socialist vein were translated into English.  He used the revenues from his substantial book sales to fund his extensive slum work. Although Kagawa was under police surveillance much of his life, the Japanese government called on him to organize the rebuilding of Tokyo after a 1923 earthquake and again at the end of World War II to serve as head of the country’s social welfare programs.

Although some knew him best as a social reformer and pacifist, Kagawa saw himself first of all an evangelist. “Christ alone can make all things new,” he said, “The spirit of Christ must be the soul of all real social reconstruction.”


I  We bless thy Name, O God, for the witness of Toyohiko Kagawa, reformer and teacher, who was persecuted for his pacifist principles and went on to lead a movement for democracy in Japan; and we pray that thou wouldst strengthen and protect all who suffer for their fidelity to Jesus Christ; who with thee and the Holy Spirit liveth and reigneth, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

II  We bless your Name, O God, for the witness of Toyohiko Kagawa, reformer and teacher, who was persecuted for his pacifist principles and went on to lead a movement for democracy in Japan; and we pray that you would strengthen and protect all who suffer for their fidelity to Jesus Christ; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.


Job 13:13–22

Philippians 1:12–20

Luke 22:47–53

Psalm 140

Preface of Saint (I)

From Holy, Women, Holy Men: Celebrating the Saints © 2010 by The Church Pension Fund. Used by permission.

* * *

We invite your reflections about this commemoration and its suitability for the official calendar and worship of The Episcopal Church. How did this person’s life witness to the Gospel? How does this person inspire us in Christian life today?

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23 thoughts on “April 23: Toyohiko Kagawa, Prophetic Witness in Japan, 1960

  1. This commemoration is for Trial Use. All elements (Title, Collect, Lections, and Proper Preface) are new.

  2. Hebrew reading. The verses from Job pose unresolved questions that make it an odd selection.

    Proper Preface of a Saint (1). Is Toyohiko Kagawa a saint? A Presbyterian saint?
    This is another instance where a new Proper Preface might be written. The precedent is already set in the new ‘Commons for Various Occasions’ that are part of HWHM. In fact there are eight new ones proposed for Trial Use to supplement the BCP’s.

    Bio: Listing his date of life in parentheses is inconsistent within HWHM. Instead he needs statements of his borth, birthplace, death, and burial.

  3. I am sure Toyohiko Kagawa was a devout man and great religious leader for the Japanese, although comparing him to Gandhi may be a bit over the top. He his rightly honored in Japan, but his significance in wider Christendom seems slight, and I question his commemoration on the Episcopal Church’s calendar. Twinning this pacifist with the patron saint of soldiers is bizarre. Besides, Andrew, David and Patrick have their own feast days, so why should George be made to share? “Cry ‘God for Harry, England and Blessed Toyohiko Kagawa'” just doesn’t resonate.

      • And he wasn’t even a particularly successful pacifist. Unlike Gandhi (with who he is egregiously compared), who freed a nation without a revolutionary war, Kagawa’s compatriots apparently mostly ignored his advice and bombed Pearl Harbor.

  4. My reaction on reading this narrative and collect (haven’t yet had a chance to look closely at the readings) was one of relief and joy. After a seeming stream of people whose narratives did not indicate much or any connection with Christian living, despite their other accomplishments and social contributions, this man was presented as forthrightly committed to Christ and also engaged in social issues in ways that brought the gospel to bear on individual, national, and international life. Excluding him on nationalistic or denominational grounds would be a loss to us all as Christians seeking the Kingdom of God above all.

  5. I’d drop this one: HWHM is the calendar of the Episcopal Church, not a dictionary of saints. Add too many Baptists, Presbyterians, and apostate Anglicans, and we present ourselves as a denomination that reads about other denominations’ saints rather than one that produces (and honors) our own. If he must be kept, give him his own date or pair him with another witness for peace.

  6. Oh, Steve, how narrow and cruel your commentary seems. And John, Gandhi did much good, but he had his flaws: he was in favor of maintaining the caste system in India. He wanted all castes treated with kindness, but the caste system itself is causing almost insuperable problems in India today, and some in India blame Gandhi for upholding it. Buddhists and Christians are opposed to it. About Japanese Christians: according to my Japanese neighbor, whose grandfather was converted to Christianity and suffered estrangement from his family because of it, it’s very hard to be a Christian in Japan today. The fear is that if any particular religion is emphasized, that makes one less Japanese. — Her father was an Episcopal priest and her first cousin is the Primate of Japan, who studied in Oklahoma. I happened to meet him in 2006 at GC–he had just been made the primate. Do we care about those whom our missionaries converted, and are doing their best to uphold and carry out the faith in their countries? To me that seems quite saintly. –A “Pearl Harbor” story about Koto, the nickname of the primate: when he was doing an internship at a church in Oklahoma, the senior warden of the vestry had a very hard time accepting him because of the atrocities Japanese had committed in WW II. However, when Koto was to be married and his bride came over from Japan (and my friend, married and living in the US at the time, was the only family member able to come), the senior warden asked to be Koto’s best man. In tears, he said “For me, the war is over.” — Perhaps Kagawa was not an Anglican, but he consciously did what he did in the name of Christ.

  7. I had never heard of Toyohiko Kagawa until I read his bio in HWHM. I wanted to read more about his life and work. It seems that a comparison to Francis of Assisi is more apt that Gandhi. I would suggest that the reference to Gandhi be dropped from the bio. Yes, he is Japanese and, yes, he is a Presbyterian by training. The model for his life was Jesus and as such his life and work is totally without denomination. I agree with John LaVoe that “Excluding him on nationalistic or denominational grounds would be a loss to us all as Christians seeking the Kingdom of God above all.” Toyohiko Kagawa defies catagorization as a pacifist, a social worker, a humanitarian, a labor organizer, or social reformer. He lived out what he professed and that was love of God and God’s children. His passion to serve those in need seemed to know no bounds. It seems a shame to have him share the day with George (or William Shakespeare. 🙂 ). Would it be wrong to suggest, July 10, his birthday instead of his death day, which is usual?

      • What?!!! Billy the Shake??? Why, he didn’t even belong to Actors’ Equity!!! Plus, he’s a FOREIGNER!

    • Suzanne I had the same reaction, that his spirituality seemed more Franciscan–radical vow of poverty, etc. As far as Gandhi comparisons, tend to agree, although economic justice and cooperative approaches were a hallmark of Gandhi. Kagawa didn’t seem to act much in the political sphere, although I have only read some about him. I have read an interesting article about how he was a unifier of American Protestants at a time when they were squabbling (the 30’s)–his evangelism pleased conservatives and his call for social justice liberals. He apparently called “denominations” “damnations.” He said things that needed to be said about capitalism and the cross alike. He was something of a “poster boy” in the 30’s, considered a global Christian and a success story for missionaries and you can find many articles about him from the 30’s in the New York Times, Christian Science Monitor, and the like.

      Marianne, next time we need your full name. Thanks. — Ed.

  8. Sorry if my previous comment came across as cruel. I should have added this:
    My real complaint about HWHM isn’t so much that it’s added so many post-Reformation Roman Catholics, Baptists, and Presbyterians but that it has neglected so many equally worthy people who were faithful Anglicans or Episcopalians. And many these, and many of the pre-Reformation figures it has also left out, seem to me to have had a far greater impact on the development of our church and the nations it serves than many of those that have been given a date.
    Among the Americans (either by nationality or activity) who I think deserve a look are John Peter Gabriel Muhlenberg (priest and patriot); James Madison, George Mason, and (maybe even) Thomas Jefferson (vestrymen and fathers of religious liberty); John Marshall (church supporter and judge); Richard Channing Moore and William Meade (bishops, “the Ezra and Nehemiah” of the Diocese of Virginia), Sally Louisa Tompkins (nursing pioneer and philanthropist), Anna Ella Carroll (“the woman who saved the Union”); Elizabeth Van Lew (humanitarian); Robert E. Lee (churchman and post-war reconciler); John Johns (bishop, “twice savior” of Episcopal unity); Mary McLeod Bethune (educational pioneer); Franklin and Eleanore Roosevelt and Fiorello La Guardia (politicians); Emma Drant (deaconess and church planter).
    Neglected Anglicans include Lachlan Macquarie (penal reformer, “The Father of Australia”); Benjamin Jowett, Rowland Williams, and Henry Bristow Wilson (Biblical scholars and theologians); Thomas Arnold (educational and church reformer), John Colenso (theologian and defender of African rights); John Snow (medical pioneer); Edith Cavell (nursing pioneer and humanitarian); Cecil Frances Alexander (poet, hymn writer, translator, philanthropist); and Dorothy Sayers (author, Christian humanist, and Anglican apologist).
    As for important theologians and the like (mostly pre-Reformation), how about Origen, Cassiodorus (monastic founder and encyclopedist), Ulphilas (the “Apostle to the Goths”), Pseudo-Dionysius (mystical theologian), Leoba of Bischofsheim (abbess, missionary), Wuflstan of York (archbishop, royal advisor, reformer); Ethelwold of Winchester (bishop, monastic reformer, translator); Rhabanus Maurus (“Praeceptor Germaniae”), John Scotus Eriugena (theologian and translator), Gerbert d’Aurillac (Sylvester II, pope and scientist), Heloise and Abelard, William of Occam, and Peter Lombard (theologians); Christine de Pazan (poet, author, proto-feminist theologian); John Colet (humanist and educational pioneer); Desiderius Erasmus (humanist and translator), Marguerite of Navarre (humanist and peace-maker), Mechtild von Magdeburg (mystic); Michael Agricola (scholar, translator, and “the father of Finnish literature”) and Friedrich Daniel Ernst Schleiermacher (“the father of liberal theology”)?

      • Article XX says that things ordained even by ecumenical councils ‘have neither strength nor
        authority, unless it may be declared that they be taken out of holy Scripture.’ I know that PECUSA omitted Article XX, but only because ‘it is partly of a local and civil nature, and is provided for, as to the remaining parts of it, in other Articles’. Since this part of Article XX is neither local nor civil, it must be provided for somewhere in the other Articles, although since not in quite such succinct form I quote the original.

        I believe that any unbiased assessment of Origen in the light of Scripture means that he is at least a candidate for inclusion in any list of Christian heroes. Anyone inspired by the intellectual efforts of people like Anselm, Aquinas, Hooker, and others to give a rational account of Christianity without expounding one part of Scripture so as to be repugnant to another would support the inclusion of Origen, at least if the list wasn’t so overloaded already. I know some of Origen’s conclusions aren’t very persuasive to people of our time, but I don’t agree with all the conclusions of any of the others, either. It’s the effort that’s laudable, not the result.

        The original 1571, 1662 text of this Article, omitted in the version of
        1801, reads as follows: “General Councils may not be gathered together
        without the commandment and will of Princes. And when they be gathered
        together, (forasmuch as they be an assembly of men, whereof all be not
        governed with the Spirit and Word of God,) they may err, and sometimes
        have erred, even in things pertaining unto God. Wherefore things
        ordained by them as necessary to salvation have neither strength nor
        authority, unless it may be declared that they be taken out of holy

  9. Thank you, Mr Lusk for the reminder that there are more saints and worthies than we might count or recognize in a formal fashion. Dr C P Price, teacher of liturgics at Va Seminary, once remarked (re
    calandars) that we have a long time habit of filling it up and then purging it. Seems like we’re busy with
    the filling up part right now. That our succesors will do the purging is appropriate, in due season. I suspect that we need more caution and more stringent criteria as we add to the schedule.

  10. Kagawa
    COMMENTS: I don’t like having two separate commemorations on any one day because I expect it will be impractical to observe more than one set of propers (and one narrative), and therefore one or the other will likely end up being ignored in many instances. Why include them to be ignored? With regard to (St.) George and Kagawa being put on the same day, specifically, I don’t know what a “sop to pacifists” means, but tomorrow is Easter Day and the lectionary reading from Acts (at 10.36) mentions “the message [God] sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ–he is Lord of all.” That could be another one of those sops to pacifists, I suppose. I rather see it as having something to do with that gospel stuff – reconciliation and all that crazy stuff (“the church pursues its mission as it prays and worships, proclaims the Gospel, and promotes justice, peace, and love” – the kind of sop in BCP 855.) Of course, maybe George is the sop to some other group, although it’s the traditional day for (St.) George, and so many churches are named for St George I’d hate to think of either emphasis as less than worthy, or regard either with disrespect.
    We’ve long had chaplains for the military and have never ostracized Episcopalians for their military service even though the early church did (although note John the Baptist at Luke 3:14, and Jesus’ regard for the centurion in Matthew 8:5ff.). As a church we have honored their courage, service, and principles. One of those principles, I believe, is fighting not for the sake of mere pointless belligerence, but in defense of things like human rights, security of life in and among nations, and peace. I don’t see that as being a sop. If Kagawa HAD prevailed in his pacificism I can’t help but marvel at all those, combatants and civilians, who could have been spared indescribable sacrifice, cruel or extended suffering, or premature loss of life stemming from war in the Pacific. That seems more a desirable aspiration than a sop (I just learned a sop is “something given to pacify or quiet, or as a bribe”).
    It is regrettable, however, that we’re adopting a policy with HWHM likely to result in the ignoring of some of the commemorations we so carefully add to the calendar in the first place.
    COLLECT: Philip is right – too much biography, as if either God or the congregation wouldn’t be able to remember the one just commemorated. The petition, asking God to strengthen those suffering for their faithfulness, seems oddly circumscribed. We could be asking for the vision to work for Christ’s vision of peace – and we could add a “so that” clause that says something to the effect of, “so that your people may pray, worship, proclaim the Gospel’s new life, and in our several opportunities and circumstances, promote justice, peace, and love.” Praying that suffering people get grace to suffer really really well strikes me as an underwhelming prayer.
    READINGS: The Job reading seems acceptable in a commemoration where issues hotly contested and institutional self-interests can bring power to bear – often cruelly — on the voice speaking for values not embraced, or even tolerated, by the status quo. It is not a transparently self-evident choice: Job is the speaker, some verses are spoken to the “friends” while others are about God. None of this explained or obvious without the wider context (or the footnotes in an annotated Bible). There may be a better selection, but this one is not, in itself, inappropriate.
    The epistle made me realize St Paul was affirming the “gospel” (and its propagation) as more important than his own self-interest (imprisonment) – i.e., that his personal misfortune was serving his higher commitment! It’s not an oft-quoted passage, but it fits the commemoration well. Good choice, in my opinion.
    The Gospel passage seems chosen because of the violence about the sword and the ear, and Jesus’ upbraiding of violence, but that is so peripheral to the actual meaning of this familiar passage I don’t think it carries much weight as a Q.E.D. for pacifism, or for Kagawa’s commemoration. A possible substitute is Luke 1:68-79, Zechariah’s prayer at the naming of John.
    Psalm 140 is a regrettable selection. Recognized as such or not, it is almost entirely a curse psalm – praying retaliation on enemies – all the way through! Hardly a fit choice for commemorating a pacifist! John Eaton (The Psalms, Historical and Spiritual Commentary, p. 461) entitles Psalm 140 “Prayer Against the Poisoners of Society.” It sounds almost paranoid, so preoccupied with the machinations of deadly enemies is it. Instead of expressing anything positive in relation to the commemoration, it is entirely consumed with lex talionis: “let the evil of their lips overwhelm THEM; let hot burning coals fall upon THEM; let THEM be cast into the mire never to rise up again…. Evil shall hunt down the lawless.” By contrast, Psalm 120, in Eaton’s commentary, is titled “Living with the Enemies of Peace” – and while there are still hot glowing coals, they are not so specifically aimed! The focus is on “lying lips” rather than on people, the psalm ends with the apropos words, “Too long have I had to live among the enemies of peace. I am on the side of peace, but when I speak of it, they are for war.” The psalm is 7 verses (compared to 13), and it is a prayer for deliverance rather than retribution. I’d love to see Psalm 120 appointed for this commemoration, and (most emphatically) NOT Psalm 140.
    AFTERTHOUGHT: Some of the other comments on the blog note individual words that strike me as pejorative choices. I agree with them. I do feel there is some bias expressed subtly, and perhaps even unconsciously, towards Kagawa in this commemoration.

  11. Sorry for the pejorative word choices. My feelings are strong because of my Japanese neighbor and what I know about her family, and the present primate of Japan, and the importance of overseas missions and the joy I should think we’d feel when they “take.” What I don’t understand is that there seems to me to be a competitive atmosphere for whom we commemorate. I must admit that that’s because I just sit at my desk and read them, and don’t have to lead a church service. Maybe what we’re working toward is a book of exemplary Christian men and women that I’m very glad to know about. . –Of some of the people mentioned above, I’d agree that Muehlenberg would be a good addition. Not so sure about Thomas Jefferson, though. Beautiful words, great contributions to the phrasing of American ideals. Imagine getting to read for six years, as he did–six years of comparative leisure, getting to soak up all that good writing going on in America and in Europe at the time, and before. Good political contributions, like separation of church and state esp. in Virginia. Too bad his scientific and artistic tastes overrode his financial common sense, leading him to be so indebted that he could not free his slaves w/o making it very difficult financially for his heirs. . In any event, I don’t think following Christ was of first importance in his life.

    • Actually, Celinda (and everybody else) I got my commemorations mixed up. The pejoratives (and the comments by others pointing them out) are in the St George narrative. Sorry. Guess that was pejorative of me 😦 –John L.

  12. This is a general comment for the whole of Holy Women, Holy Men. With the addition of many people from different cultures and places, it would be most helpful to have a pronunciation guide for names and places, similar the guide found in the Lector’s Guide and Commentary, published by St. Mark’s Press.

    We enjoy the additions and read the bios day by day in our daily worship, but find reading difficult with the strange (and wonderful) names.

    • Art R. Wormald

      Interesting comments on Kogawa. Now here is my take on this, this coming from a former Anglican/Episcopalian from Canada. When we all get to heaven the good Lord won’t ask if we were Anglican and held to the propers.

      He will ask whether we loved HIm and loved our neighbour.

      Secondly, it is easy to castigate someone from our armchairs as to whether they were ” successful ” in ministry from our comfortable North American contexts. You try living as a Christian in a hostile enviornment which is anti-Christian whether it be a Buddhist society,
      Communist society,, Muslim society, or South American society as my wife has. Once you have walked in the sandals of these people and then you can criticize them..

      Most of us here in North America have no idea what it is like for Christians in Japan, the former Soviet Union, Africa, Latin America, South-East Asia. Walk the walk by living in these areas first, and then tell me about how ineffective Kogawa was.

      After all ,contemporaries of our Lord jesus would not think much of Him being successful with an unscrupulous taxman, fishermen, or women and some prostitutes and then some, and all of them being uneducated.

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