1888-1960. Japanese Christian leader. Born at Kobe, he was an illegitimate child of a wealthy cabinet minister and a geisha; yet his father took a liking to him and formally adopted him, but both his parents died before he was five. His childhood in the ancestral home was filled with bitter loneliness and tragedy, but when he was at school in Shikoku the first ray of hope and love entered his life through the friendship of a Japanese Christian teacher and two missionaries. His conversion at fifteen brought disinheritance from his family, but an overpowering experience of the love of Christ moved him to dedicate his life to serve the destitute in the slums. In his second year at the Presbyterian College in Tokyo he was stricken with tuberculosis, and all but succumbed. The appalling conditions of prostitution, poverty, and exploitation impelled him to his God-given mission, and despite poor health he entered Kobe Theological Seminary, soon to exchange his living quarters for the city's slums, where 10,000 people lived in cell-like houses six feet square.
For fifteen years from 1919 he toiled in the slums, striving to improve labor conditions and the laborers themselves. In 1921 he became the leader of the nascent labor movement, and he formed also the first peasant union. Fired by a passion for social righteousness, Kagawa preached, wrote, and worked unceasingly for the cause of Christian socialism; in 1925 trade unions were given legal right to organize, and in 1926 legislation was finally passed for abolishing the slums. Kagawa made his mark as a mystic, ascetic, and pacifist, but it was as a soldier of movements that his influence was greatest. He once stated as his aim “the salvation of 100,000 poor, the emancipation of 9,430,000 labourers, and the liberation of twenty million tenant-farmers.” Prominent as a church leader and patriot, he continued as Japan's apostle of love to the end. Among his many books are Before the Dawn (ET 1925), Christ and Japan (1934), and Love, the Law of Life (1930).
See W. Axling, Kagawa (1932), and J.M. Trout, Kagawa, Japanese Prophet (1959).