Japanese social reformer and Protestant leader; b. Kobe, July 10, 1888; d. Tokyo, April 23, 1960. After being orphaned at the age of four, he was raised by an uncle and aunt in Awa and Tokushima. When he became a Christian in his teens, he was disinherited, but with the help of missionaries he studied at the Presbyterian College in Tokyo (1905–08). From 1910 to 1924 he spent all but two years in a small hut in the slum section of Kobe, called Shinkawa. Disturbed by the poverty and misery of the area, he went to the United States to pursue at Princeton University further studies in social techniques (1914–16) and then founded the Labor Federation (1918) and the Farmers' Union (1921). Kagawa was arrested during the rice riots of 1919 and the shipyard strikes of 1921, but he agitated successfully for universal manhood suffrage and modification of laws against trade unionism. In 1923 he was asked to supervise relief and social work in Tokyo. Within a year he reorganized entirely the Bureau of Social Welfare. His book Across the Death Line (1920), which drew on his experiences, won him enormous popularity. This and other books drew the attention of the Japanese government to the appalling conditions in the slums. Kagawa insisted that a reorganization of the world's economic structure through cooperative enterprise was necessary to realize the Christian ideal of the social order. Besides founding the Anti-War League (1928), he started the Kingdom of God Movement (1930) to promote the conversion of Japan. He established credit unions, schools, hospitals, and churches on the cooperative principle. On five occasions he visited the United States to gain support for his social reform projects. His pacifism caused his imprisonment in 1940, but he was released after World War II and became a leader in the attempt to adapt democratic institutions to Japan. Among the more important of his numerous writings, with dates of their translation into English, are The Religion of Jesus (1931), Christ and Japan (1934), Songs of the Slums (1935), Meditations on the Cross (1936), Brotherhood Economics (1934), and Behold the Man (1941).
Bibliography: w. axling, Kagawa (8th ed. rev. New York 1946). Kagawa nijû seiki no kaitakusha (Tokyo 1960), Kagawa, a pioneer of the 20th century, ed. at Meiji Gakuin University.