Christianity made in Japan : a study of indigenous movements


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Christianity as a Transnational Social Movement: Kagawa Toyohiko and the Friends of Jesus

Prior to this appointment, he was engaged in academic work in Japan for twenty-seven years and taught at Shikoku Gakuin University, Meiji Gakuin University, and Sophia University, where he also served a three-year term as editor of Monumenta Nipponica. He is currently writing a book on neo-nationalism and religion-state issues in contemporary Japanese society. Mark is supported by the Terasaki research travel grant, which was established by the Paul I.

Prange Collection microform set housed at the Richard C. Rudolph East Asian Library. The UCLA Library creates a vibrant nexus of ideas, collections, expertise, and spaces in which users illuminate solutions for local and global challenges. Hours Contact. Search this site. Site Search. Some Preliminary Findings from Archival Research.

Christianity Made in Japan

Tuesday, Nov 18, - pm to pm. In a recent book, Furuya Yasuo reminds us that Kagawa was once a household name and one of the best-known Japanese in the Western world. In his own time, however, there were others who regarded him as a dangerous social activist and rabble-rouser.

Kagawa was a problem for the authorities at various stages of his career and arrested a number of times because of his social and political activism and pacifist views. Although he is clearly a controversial figure, he was nevertheless recognized toward the end of his life for his wide-ranging contributions to both church and society. In , he still had many supporters and became one of the few Japanese to have ever been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.


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Shortly after his death in , he was also posthumously awarded the First Order of the Sacred Treasure. My concern here is with Kagawa in his role as a charismatic leader and founder of a new religious movement. Kagawa was born in Kobe in under less than ideal circumstances. His mother was a geisha, one of many his father kept for entertainment. Both parents died when he was only four years old. It is not surprising that he recounts his childhood as difficult and lonely in this rather awkward living situation.

Inauspicious beginnings to say the least. Life only became more difficult for the young Kagawa. Kagawa was only fifteen at the time and was having serious doubts about the meaning and value [72] of life. The financial support of an uncle allowed him to continue his education at a middle school in Tokushima, which is where he encountered two missionaries of the Southern Presbyterian Church, Dr.

Myers and Dr. Logan, with whom he studied English and the Bible. One consequence of his decision to receive baptism from Dr.

The Far East

Myers in was rejection by his uncle and the loss of the only remaining financial support from his family. Funds provided by his missionary mentors and the small Christian community in Tokushima made it possible for him to move to Tokyo in and enroll in the theology department of Meiji Gakuin, a college with connections to the Northern Presbyterian and Dutch-Reformed churches. Kagawa quickly earned a reputation as a voracious reader and extremely bright student, but also one who had difficulty fitting in. Myers, had joined the faculty. While spending the summer break preaching in the Toyohashi area near Nagoya , he encountered an impoverished pastor, Nagao Ken, who spent each day engaged in a ministry among the poor and disenfranchised.

Toward the end of the summer, after some forty days of street preaching, Kagawa became deathly ill with an advanced case of tubercular pneumonia. After days of high fever and coughing up blood, he and those gathered around him assumed he would not recover. In the midst of this situation, Kagawa had a powerful religious experience, one that was certainly more overwhelming than his initial conversion to the Christian faith.

I felt a great ecstasy and joy. After a month of recuperation, Kagawa began his studies at Kobe Theological Seminary.

He immediately resumed street preaching and, following the example of Nagao Ken, focused his efforts on the urban poor. For Kagawa, this meant the [73] nearby Shinkawa slums. The schedule of study and preaching was too much for him and he quickly had a relapse and spent almost a year out of school to recover.


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Upon returning to school, however, he immediately resumed his ministry in the slums and his relationships and activities there quickly became the primary focus of his life. On Christmas Eve of , at the age of 21, he moved out of his dormitory room and carried his few belongings into an old rented house in Shinkawa. He continued his ministry in the slums and in due course was able to attract a number of able supporters and collaborators, including a young woman by the name of Haru, who was also baptized by Dr. She married Kagawa and moved into his Shinkawa home in May The following year, both were given the opportunity to continue their education, Haru at a Bible School for women in Yokohama, and Kagawa at Princeton University and Theological Seminary in the United States.

The two years and nine months in the United States was a formative period for Kagawa. He completed an M. More important than his studies, however, was exposure to the labor movement in New York and his realization that labor unions and collective action represented important means for improving the living conditions of the working poor. He also gained some initial experience organizing laborers in the U.

In order to earn funds for his passage home, he moved to Ogden, Utah, and worked for the Japanese Association for some eight months before returning to Japan. During his stay in Ogden, he helped the Japanese and Mormon tenant farmers organize a union, an experience that would be put to good use in the years ahead.

Upon his return to Japan in , he resumed his work in Shinkawa. He was deeply disappointed and grieved to discover that many of the children he had cared for and worked with had either died, been forced into prostitution, or pursued various illegal means to survive.

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It was at this point that Kagawa shifted his efforts from a focus on evangelism and relief work to methods and strategies for the prevention of poverty, which meant involvement in the labor movement and the organization of cooperatives. For the next three years Kagawa devoted much of his time to the cause of the labor movement and was involved in efforts to organi ze workers in various industries.

In July he was elected by union members as one of the leaders to represent workers in connection with the Kawasaki-Mitsubishi Shipbuilders strike. After participating in a march with striking laborers, Kagawa was arrested with other leaders and spent almost two weeks in jail. It was during this time that he seemed to realize that he was in a movement beyond his control.

It became increasingly clear to him that [74] this was a movement that would not abide by his Christian principles of non-violence. His optimism regarding the potential for social change was seriously tempered as he faced this darker side of the human condition.

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Although he was re-elected to the Central Committee in October , Sumiya points out that he stopped attending meetings once he realized he was no longer needed in the labor movement and faced the fact that it was moving in a direction that was incompatible with his ideals and values. New movements, of course, require strong charismatic leadership and a compelling new vision and mission, not just a shared sense of alienation from the religious establishment. An individual may claim to have had direct contact with God or to have received new revelations or a vision of a divine mission, but a movement will not be born unless the new message meets the needs and aspirations of a significant audience.

The message must have some appeal, and potential followers must be convinced that the messenger has some special connection with the sacred.

Critical Readings on Christianity in Japan (4 vols. set)

While minor founders vary in the degree to which they reject existing traditions and introduce new elements, at the very least they claim to have direct access to the sacred and an independent basis of religious authority. By all accounts, Kagawa was a charismatic leader whose self-understanding was shaped by profound religious experiences. As noted already, Kagawa had a powerful experience of divine presence and healing as a young theological student. This was not a one-time event, but something he claims to have experienced over the course of his life.

It is an ecstasy that defies description. We feel intuitively an absolute joy, which neither sex nor selfish desire nor covetousness for fame can ever give us. Kagawa was still a young man of thirty-two. The initial 5, copies sold out quickly and by December an eighth edition was printed. Although the literary establishment was rather critical of the novel, very positive reviews appeared in the major newspapers of the time, including Asahi , Jiji , and the Kokumin Shinbun , which encouraged a wide readership. Muto reports that it went through over printings in a year and a half, which according to his estimate meant that over a million copies were in circulation.

The success of this novel made Kagawa a household name and he was thereafter able to attract large audiences to his lectures and evangelistic meetings when he traveled throughout the country. The royalties from this publication, likewise, provided Kagawa the financial means to support his various social projects and religious activities. After publishing his best-selling novel, Shisen o Koete, he was motivated to keep publishing books because the royalties provided the financial base for his many projects and activities.

In spite of his heavy workload as an evangelist, social worker, and union organizer, Kagawa was incredibly productive as a writer. Several points should be considered here. Like other Japanese minor founders, Kagawa was critical of the theology of the established churches, which he considered to be too abstract and disconnected from the realities of everyday life.

The whole of scripture, he argues, points to the conclusion that a biblical religious movement is a social movement of emancipation. The Gospel of Christ means not merely individualistic mental healing. It means a healing of everything. It means an emancipation from all sorts of evil. Kagawa reasoned that clergy were failing to cultivate lay leaders and mobilize them for ministry to the poor and the larger work of the Kingdom. The improvement of material conditions alone, Kagawa maintained, does not eliminate the need for spiritual transformation.

In spite of his Protestant Reformed theological training, he clearly recognized the richness of the Catholic tradition and even modeled his organization after the third order of the Franciscans. Kagawa recounts the early days and nature of the movement as follows: In I met with fourteen of my former schoolmates and we founded the Society for the Friends of Jesus. We have never been much concerned about having a large membership in the Society of the Friends of Jesus; we wanted to have only those who were really dedicated to Christ.

While personal piety and purity were central concerns, it would be a mistake to construe this movement as another example of a sectarian withdrawal from sinful society. In January , several months after the formation of the movement, Kagawa had attracted a membership of The movement attracted Christians from all sorts of occupational groups, and the list of new members in May of the first year included nurses, students, store clerks, carpenters, factory workers, teachers, bank employees, laborers, postal workers, and secretaries.

Needless to say, this was a more diverse membership base than one usually found in the established churches. Although the Friends of Jesus began with a core group of clergy, within several years it became a movement in which lay people constituted the majority of members. By , there were some 1, members. His intention was for the Friends of Jesus to revitalize the churches by training and mobilizing Christians to engage in the full range of activities implied by the Gospel of emancipation.

In the very first issues of his movement magazine, Kumo no Hashira , Kagawa writes with warm affection about his missionary mentors in the faith, Myers and Logan, and explains that he learned the true meaning of Christian love by the way he was welcomed in their homes over the years. Also, the name of a missionary from Kyushu appears in the listing of Friends of Jesus members in the very first year.

What is remarkable is that Kagawa had such a presence and compelling vision that many missionaries were attracted to his movement and supported his work. He gladly welcomed the support and cooperation of missionary colleagues. An examination of the Friends of Jesus seminar and conference programs through the late s and s reveals that missionaries were regularly included as lecturers Dr.

Harry Myers and Helen Topping, for example. Overseas trips and speaking tours include the United States , , , Europe , China , , , Canada , Philippines , Australia and Holland , Norway , and India The concerns and emphases of the movement also evolved in the process.

Several key developments deserve consideration here. This union expanded rapidly and by the second annual meeting in February it had grown to include some 10, members and branches throughout the country. The following year it increased to over 50, Not surprisingly, a struggle over leadership accompanied this rapid growth. He sensed even more keenly the need to cultivate people who would work for social reform according to the ideals and values of Christianity.

This is what brought him to the decision to focus his efforts more on evangelistic work. It included nation-wide evangelistic tours and strategies to reach out to many neglected groups in Japanese society, including the organization of Gospel Schools for farmers, which aimed at training lay Christian leaders for rural areas.

Christianity made in Japan : a study of indigenous movements Christianity made in Japan : a study of indigenous movements
Christianity made in Japan : a study of indigenous movements Christianity made in Japan : a study of indigenous movements
Christianity made in Japan : a study of indigenous movements Christianity made in Japan : a study of indigenous movements
Christianity made in Japan : a study of indigenous movements Christianity made in Japan : a study of indigenous movements
Christianity made in Japan : a study of indigenous movements Christianity made in Japan : a study of indigenous movements

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