Imperial Pacifism: Kagawa Toyohiko and Christianity in the Asia-Pacific War

Imperial Pacifism: Kagawa Toyohiko and Christianity in the Asia-Pacific War
Bo Tao


This dissertation explores the relationship between the Japanese Christian social reformer Kagawa Toyohiko (1888-1960) and a number of state and non-state actors—including agents of the Japanese government, fellow Japanese Christians, American missionary internationalists, as well as, in the postwar era, the Allied Occupation—who tried to enlist him in their own, often competing, projects of reform and (re)construction. Based on multiarchival research that draws upon Japanese, English, and Chinese sources, it argues that, far from being marginalized for their adherence to a foreign religion, Japanese Christians were seen as a politically useful ally to the imperial state in its efforts to promote social stability and spiritual mobilization.

At the same time, this study brings together the historiography on Japanese Christianity, the international missionary movement, and Japanese American history to illustrate the creation of a transpacific religious community centered on Kagawa that aimed to promote the ideals of a multicultural, global Christianity shorn of its associations with Western imperialism.

Recognized initially for his work in the slums of Kobe—which earned him the epithet, the “Gandhi of Japan”—Kagawa achieved widespread fame in the United States for his advocacy of cooperative economics during the Great Depression, and became a hero among interwar pacifists for his public apology over Japan’s military invasion of China, winning him the approval of his American missionary supporters. His image as a “pacifist hero” was strained, however, once the Asia-Pacific War (1937-45) prompted the state to exhort Christian leaders to contribute to its project of empire-building and total war mobilization. Kagawa placed himself at the center of such efforts by establishing a Christian pioneer settlement in the puppet state of Manchukuo. Following the attack on Pearl Harbor, moreover, he began appearing on Radio Tokyo’s propaganda broadcasts that used his religiously-based moral authority to castigate the Anglo-American enemy. While his wartime cooperation called into question his pacifist credentials, he nevertheless emerged as a vital figure in General Douglas MacArthur’s efforts to promote Christianity during the Allied Occupation (1945-52). In this context, Kagawa advanced a distinct agenda that called for the retention of the imperial throne while also aiming to remake Japan into a Christian nation.

By examining the domestic and transnational networks centered on Kagawa that allowed him to achieve such outcomes—and be nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature (1947, 48) and the Nobel Peace Prize (1954, 55, 56, 60)—this dissertation seeks to re-envision our understanding of the history of Japanese Christianity and transpacific relations during this crucial time period.


Bo Tao

PhD defended at

Yale University, Department of History




Global Asia (Asia and other parts of the World)
East Asia


International Relations and Politics
War / Peace