Kiefer reports that Kagawa was born in 1888 in Kobe, Japan. Orphaned at an early age, he lived with relatives. Kagawa enrolled in a Bible class in hopes of learning English and when in his teens, became a Christian. For this he was disowned by his family. In Kagawa's late teens he went to the Presbyterian College in Tokyo for three years. He decided that he would help the poor. To effectively serve, Kagawa thought he must live as one of those he was trying to help. From 1910 - 1924, he lived for all but two years in the slums within a shed six feet square. During this time (1912) he unionized the shipyard workers. The two years Kagawa spent out of the slums (1914-1916) were spent at Princeton studying techniques for poverty relief. The years 1918 and 1921 were spent organizing unions among factory workers and farmers. Kagawa worked for universal male suffrage that was granted in 1925 and for laws more favorable to trade unions.
In 1923 he was invited to supervise social work in Tokyo and his writing attracted positive attention from the Japanese government and abroad. Kagawa established credit unions, schools, hospitals and churches. He wrote and spoke on the application of Christian principles to the ordering of society.
Kagawa founded the Anti-War League. In 1940 he was arrested after publicly apologizing for the Japanese invasion of China. He tried to avert war between Japan and the U.S. by traveling to the United States in the summer of 1941. Following the war he worked on the reconciliation of democratic ideals and procedures with traditional Japanese culture. Kagawa died 23 April 1960.
Description prepared 24 August 2011 by Jeanine M. Wine.