- Yasuhiro KurokiYasuhiro KurokiNagano University Graduate School of Social Work
Yamamuro (1872–1940) was one of Japan’s leading popular evangelists. He contributed to the founding and development of the Salvation Army in Japan. During his lifetime, he also established various social welfare facilities and played a major role in improving social welfare activities in Japan.
Personal History and Encounter with Christianity, Doshisha
Yamamuro was born in 1872 to a poor farming family in Okayama Prefecture. At the age of 14, he ran away from home and moved to Tokyo. He had a passion for knowledge, and while working as a printer at a letterpress factory, he became interested in Christianity’s roadside evangelism. He attended an English school at a Christian church. In 1888, at the age of 16, he was baptized. He had an encounter with Sooho Tokutomi, a famous journalist at the time. Tokutomi was a disciple of Jo Niishima, who founded the Christian Doshisha English School in 1875. In 1889, Yamamuro entered the Doshisha English School in Kyoto, where he studied theology but Yamamuro was financially disadvantaged during his time at the school. He also worked at the Okayama Orphanage, a children’s home founded by Juji Ishii. Yamamuro also learned about the Salvation Army from Ishii. In 1890, after the death of Niishima, whom he respected, he announced his intention to carry on Niishima’s will.
The Salvation Army
In 1895, Yamamuro went to Tokyo again and joined the Salvation Army. The Salvation Army’s first social welfare project in Japan was a relief center for people released from prison in 1896. The next work he undertook was the abolition of prostitution as a women’s relief project. Yamamuro helped women who worked in brothels to escape. He set up a shelter for prostitutes who had gone out of business. He was assaulted and injured by the brothel owners. However, he never stopped his campaign for the abolition of prostitution and was always at the forefront of the movement.
Activities Undertaken at the Salvation Army
In 1902, Yamamuro started the “Love Your Neighbor Movement.” Organized by female members of the Salvation Army, it was an activity to visit poor working families, the sick, and the elderly and provide them with counsel. In 1904, Yamamuro participated in the Third Universal Convention of the Salvation Army held in London. Here, he met William Booth, the founder of the Salvation Army, for the first time. During his stay at the conference, Yamamuro was able to meet many people and gather various pieces of information. He also had the opportunity to visit social welfare facilities and returned home with many “souvenirs.” Having learned firsthand about the practical activities of the Salvation Army, he was able to further enhance his leadership in Salvation Army activities in Japan (Murota, 2006).
In 1906, he started a project to distribute “comfort baskets” to needy families. The baskets were filled with food, toys, and other daily necessities. At first, the comfort baskets were distributed only in Tokyo, but later it expanded to a nationwide activity.
In 1907, William Booth came to Japan, and he and Yamamuro visited many places there. Welcome parties and lectures were held in various places. Booth’s lectures and Yamamuro’s interpreting activities had a great impact on the Japanese people and made the Salvation Army movement and its activities widely known. In 1908, Yamamuro started the University Settlement Project in Tokyo. The students lived in dormitories and engaged in various relief activities for the poor and working people.
In 1912, Booth and Yamamuro opened the Salvation Army Hospital. One of the hospital’s unique activities was the introduction of a “traveling relief system” that visited the slum areas of Tokyo to care for the needy. It also made people aware of the relationship between the poor and disease. In 1916, a tuberculosis sanatorium was established.
In 1915, Yamamuro became the first Japanese to be appointed commander of the Salvation Army and to receive the Founder’s Medal. After the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923, he was one of the first to launch rescue operations for the victims. He was involved in activities such as settlement, childcare, and medical treatment for those affected by the disaster.
In addition, Yamamuro was involved in the campaign against alcoholism, job referral, and job placement for the unemployed. For example, Yamamuro came up with the idea of the “social kettle,” a fund-raising campaign for mutual aid. Even in the 21st century, people hold fund-raising activities as a year-end tradition in major cities in Japan. After the Manchurian Incident in 1931, Japan was in the throes of war. The Salvation Army’s projects were also expanded to the Korean Peninsula and China.
However, it is said that Yamamuro’s stance made no mention of Japan’s war aggression against other countries. Even in the abolitionist and prohibitionist movements, the Salvation Army seems to have emphasized their efforts from the standpoint of morality and religion, without mentioning the social causes and factors (Murota, 2006). Thus, Yamamuro spent his entire life engaged in Salvation Army activities and pioneering social welfare facilities, activities, and movements.
Yamamuro edited the journal Toki no Koe (Voice of Time) and wrote many books, including The Common People’s Gospel (Yamamuro, 1899/1988), in order to convey the Christian gospel to people in a simple, easy-to-understand manner.
- Miyoshi, A. (1971). Gunpei Yamamuro. Yoshikawa-Kobundo Press.
- Murota, Y. (2000). Gunpei Yamamuro. Minerva Shobo.
- Rightmire, R. D. (1997). Salvationist samurai: Gunpei Yamamuro and the rise of the Salvation Army in Japan (Pietist and Wesleyan Studies, No. 8). Scarecrow Press.
- Takamichi, M. (1972). Gunpei Yamamuro. Nippon Christian Publishing.
- Murota, Y. (2006). Gunpei Yamamura, History through the Achievers of Japanese Social Work (pp. 114–120). Minerva Shobo.
- Yamamuro, G. (1988). The common people’s gospel (Classic Salvationist Texts, rev. ed.). Salvation Army. (Original work published 1899)