Tokyo governor apologizes for calling quake divine retribution
Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara in 2009.
March 15th, 2011
02:23 PM ET

Tokyo governor apologizes for calling quake divine retribution

By Dan Gilgoff, CNN.com Religion Editor

The governor of Tokyo apologized on Tuesday for saying the earthquake and resulting tsunami that left thousands dead were divine punishment for Japanese egoism, a leading Japanese news service reported.

"I will take back (the remark) and offer a deep apology," Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara said at a Tuesday news conference, according to Japan’s Kyodo News.

On Monday, Ishihara had told reporters, "I think (the disaster) is tembatsu (divine punishment), although I feel sorry for disaster victims," according to Kyodo News, which translated Ishihara's remarks from Japanese.

“Japanese politics is tainted with egoism and populism,” Ishihara had said Monday, according to Kyodo News. “We need to use tsunami to wipe out egoism, which has rusted onto the mentality of Japanese over a long period of time."

Read about how Japan's religions respond to tragedy

The death toll from Friday's 9.0-magnitude quake off the east coast of Honshu grew to 3,373 on Tuesday.

John Nelson, the chair of theology and religious studies at the University of San Francisco, said Ishihara’s remarks about divine retribution hark back to Japanese Buddhist ideas that fell out of favor decades ago.

He said the Japanese term “tembatsu” could also be translated as heavenly punishment.

“The way [Ishihara] used it was a prewar understanding of the will of heaven or the gods to discipline the Japanese people,” Nelson said.

“That understating of the gods having an agenda was instrumental to the ideology of the prewar years, when it was said to be Japan’s divine mission to conquer Asia and establish an empire," Nelson said.

Ishihara, 78, had said he was leaving politics but announced after the earthquake that he will seek a fourth term as governor in this year's elections.

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: Asia • Buddhism • Japan

soundoff (1,146 Responses)
  1. Joel Weymouth

    Children of a Lesser God:
    Sir Isaac Newton was an evangelical Christian. Orville and Wilbur Wright were Christians. George Washington Carver, Gregor Mendel. I can go on....

    My favorite is Newton – not only an Evangelical Christian -he was a staunch creationist. He not only established the foundations for Einstein, he developed the discipline of Calculus. When atheists produce a thinker at that level (even Einstein wasn't an atheist) – then I will take you more seriously than I do now. Now – I consider you a bunch of petulant teenagers with a penchant for mass murder (see Pol Pot, Mao, Castro, Robespierre, Stalin, Lenin et al)

    March 15, 2011 at 8:04 pm |
    • Scott


      March 15, 2011 at 8:16 pm |
    • just saying

      Actually if one didn't proclaim themselves a christian, one could be executed. Of course outwardly many claimed to be christian but secretly studied astrology and the occult in almost every case. Big secret is....we came here, to america, to be free from religous fanaticism and suppression. Hello...

      March 15, 2011 at 8:23 pm |
    • Martin

      So very true. Kind of an odd qowinkedink don 'cha know:)

      March 15, 2011 at 8:23 pm |
    • Child of a Lesser God

      Joel... Stephen Hawkings is not religious (the smartest man alive?), Thomas Jefferson despised theology, Jon Adams thought that to build a church was a waste of money... I can acculilate lists just as you can. I am not an atheist. I simply want you to get off your high horse of pretentious religious minds being superior to all others. The very idea you suggest is more closed minded than you claim atheists to be.

      March 15, 2011 at 8:31 pm |
    • Scott

      Children of a Lesser God, are you jealous that Joel's horse is higher than yours? I think his point is that these morons continuously put forth that Christians are fools and that nothing we say or believe can be given any validity simply because we have a belief system that incorporates faith into our world view. The fact that Joel has cited historical examples of great thinkers that also happen to be Christians does not discredit that their are other great thinkers that are not people of faith. It gets a bit old hearing all these pumpkin heads going off when what they have to say would be discredited by a public high school teacher. They sound more ridiculous than a bad history channel doc.

      March 15, 2011 at 8:47 pm |
    • Child of a Lesser God

      Scott, you speak judgmentally of people who see Christians as fools. Is it any better for Christians to see others as fools? Hyprocrites might. This is the essence of what Joel has been saying, that any others than Christians are murderous and stupid. He has repeated in various comments his belief that atheists are ALL a negative influence on society. Do you agree with this Scott? I am not an atheist, but I associate with many who are. Some of them are closed minded and hold religious folks in contempt. However, most who I know do not. They simply don't see "God" as the same thing as most religious folks do. They call it "nature," and they consider it a higher power. I also associate with many religious folks, as I was raised very religiously and have studied theology in college. I see way more judgement from the religious folks toward the non-religious than the other way around. The truth is both religious people and non-religious people can be bad or good. There is no black and white on this issue. Those who think otherwise do not know humans very well.

      March 15, 2011 at 9:24 pm |
  2. Logical

    Divine retribution is the same as saying "You were bad, so Santa's not coming." There is no God. We are the masters of our own fate. Stop being lazy and pinning everything on a higher power. It does not exist. Live your life as a "God-fearing" person or live your life as a moral person. The outcome is the same. Shame on anyone for saying God did this. Nature did this. It happens. It's not pleasant, but it happens.

    March 15, 2011 at 7:57 pm |
  3. FudgeMonkey

    It was all that shellfish they were eating.

    March 15, 2011 at 7:52 pm |
    • Martin

      Naw, it was the whales and dolphins that all grouped together and tail slapped the fault line, causing the quake.

      March 15, 2011 at 8:21 pm |
  4. Shintaro minus n

    This guy has a rich history of making outrageous comments. Google the stuff he's said in the past and you'll see that he's a waste of oxygen.

    March 15, 2011 at 7:48 pm |
  5. FudgeMonkey

    What it boils down to is arrogance on the part of man. So self important that he believes the acts of humans, can effect the Earths techtonic plate movement, and the oceans force. Do you think that the maggot on a dying elephant, thinks that because a tiger comes along and eats a few thousand of his buddies, was because of his actions? We are tiny little living specs, on a planet that does what it does, irrespective of our actions, or God's for that matter.

    March 15, 2011 at 7:36 pm |
  6. Rahula

    Some folks also believe the Holocaust, US Manifest Destiny against the Native American Indians, 9/11, etc. were also tembatsu (divine punishment). How little and petty human minds are in the face of Nature's power. Even the non-human animal kingdom is more compassionate than we are.

    March 15, 2011 at 7:35 pm |
  7. Mom of Three

    Religion does more harm than good anymore. Maybe at one time, no. But now, it's jumped the shark. And meanness like this is only one reason why.

    March 15, 2011 at 7:34 pm |
    • just saying

      Actually, you are right but religion has been the root cause of most wars throughout history. Nothing has changed but it looks like it's going to.....The truth is seeping from the cracks, so hold on tight.

      March 15, 2011 at 9:42 pm |
  8. steve

    God hates poor, black, and yellow people.

    March 15, 2011 at 7:31 pm |
  9. ItsRainingInSeattle

    The real issue is not whether God exists or not, which is pretty much impossible to prove one way or the other, but why people have so little tolerance for other people's views or beliefs. I do enjoy the comments on here that appear to be sarcastic or ironic humor – at least, I hope they're meant to be funny! If not, most are just sad...

    March 15, 2011 at 7:24 pm |
    • Norman

      Logic and an understanding of history about religion's creation (man's fear of death) point to no god...

      March 15, 2011 at 7:42 pm |
  10. brokenteeth

    Nah its just nature being nature.

    March 15, 2011 at 7:23 pm |
  11. Sam-I-Am

    He must be related to the rabbi who said the forest fire in Israel a few months ago was God's way of punishing Jews for failing to observe the Sabbath.

    March 15, 2011 at 7:21 pm |
    • PraiseTheLard

      They must both also be members of the Westboro Baptist Church...

      March 15, 2011 at 7:38 pm |
    • Bill Kilpatrick, Lakeland, Florida

      Exactly. It's exploitative and irresponsible to blame every hardship on an unseen tormentor. If anything, a disaster like this should make everyone ask how to prepare for the next time, not beat their chests and shout, "Mea culpa!"

      March 15, 2011 at 7:39 pm |
    • MashaSobaka

      They should get together with Rush Limbaugh and the Westboro Baptist Church and have a tea party.

      March 15, 2011 at 7:40 pm |
  12. myklds

    EGOISM and POPULISM combined, lacks substance to merit a "TEMBATSU", but ATHEISM does. IT has it ALL.

    They're already RIPE for "TEMBATSU".

    March 15, 2011 at 7:18 pm |
  13. Michael

    Shouldn't the word be "tenbatsu" not "teMbatsu"?

    March 15, 2011 at 7:14 pm |
    • Papa Pat

      Romaji allows for both spellings. While "teNbatsu" is the proper spelling, the pronunciation would usually be a lot closer to "teMbatsu", and many tend to spell it that way, too.

      March 15, 2011 at 8:19 pm |
  14. Jimbob

    Well said Tolerance and Common Sense....

    March 15, 2011 at 7:11 pm |
  15. Shug

    Foolish statement by the Tokyo governor. The Universe is a swarm of random and chaotic events, and this disaster has nothing to do with divine intervention, punishment, or lessons. It's just part of plate tectonics. If such things actually happened for a reason, I can think of many other countries who deserved it more.

    March 15, 2011 at 7:10 pm |
    • just saying

      You must be young...some of us remember...what goes around comes around.

      March 15, 2011 at 9:36 pm |
  16. jewel

    How can we be so ignorant of reality and starting up a discussion upon religious standards?

    March 15, 2011 at 7:08 pm |
  17. Alex

    God has nothing to do with it

    March 15, 2011 at 7:07 pm |
    • PraiseTheLard

      Which god would that be?

      March 15, 2011 at 7:33 pm |
    • wikiIeaks

      there is only one true God. Psalms 83:18

      March 15, 2011 at 9:26 pm |
  18. Ray Hopkins

    Did anyone ask Ishihara if those "sangokujin and other foreigners" were rioting in the streets as he "predicted" in 1998:
    "Atrocious crimes have been committed again and again by sangokujin and other foreigners. We can expect them to riot in the event of a disastrous earthquake."
    The man is a grizzled old bigot that needs "tenbatsu" to happen to him on a very, VERY personal level.

    March 15, 2011 at 7:06 pm |
  19. John Erdmann

    Why do we take such offense when God is blamed as the cause of misery or disaster, yet feel quite comfortable praising God for perceived miracles?

    March 15, 2011 at 7:04 pm |
    • wikiIeaks

      with evil God cannot be tried, nor does he himself try anyone. What you're witnessing is life under Satan's rule. He is currently ruling this world. But God promises to bring his demise along with all that take sides with him. Don't blame God for Satan's mess. Rev 21:3,4.

      March 15, 2011 at 9:25 pm |
  20. Tolerance and Common Sense

    It's really unfortunate to see seemingly intelligent Americans arguing back and forth on a post about a tragedy of this magnitude about whether or not God(s) exist(s). The death toll is 3,000+ (and rising) and you're wasting each others' time and energy in a pi-ssing (spelled phonetically because of the auto filter) contest about whether or not there's a guy flying around in space, and if some dude who may or may not really have existed 2,000 years ago was his son. You embarrass me, yourselves, and your country.

    Atheists: stop wasting your time mocking religious folks...they're immune to the things you say, and they only see them as evidence that some Great Dracula Figure is running the whole show, and that you and your kind are wicked, confused and ignorant. You reinforce the beliefs you claim to find so delusional and damaging to society as a whole.

    Religious Zealots: whether or not you think you're on a mission from God to "save" the nonbelievers by threatening, scaring, ridiculing and condemning every criticism they mouth of your beliefs (like the Romans did to your Bossman) you only make yourself look like psychopaths and schizophrenics. You will never win converts by trolling and mocking them on a CNN message board. They just flat out do not believe in the things you believe in, and every threat about the pit of fire or patronizing, insulting offer to "pray for their forgiveness" only pushes them further away from the thing you are trying to convince them is the path to salvation. You foam at the mouth and ignore the teaching attributed to Jesus to "Let he who is without sin cast the first stone" and just further reinforce that religious folks are angry, intolerant and – above all – hypocritical.

    You're all acting like a bunch of id-i-ots, so shut up and go do something positive. Again, that death tolll is three THOUSAND human beings – and rising. Think about that a little more, and yourself a little less.

    March 15, 2011 at 7:01 pm |
    • Norma

      This is in reply to TOLERANCE AND COMMON SENSE
      Wow.......... sounds like you should practice what you preach. Your heading is good, now maybe you can show us all how to practice it. What ever you believe or do not believe about God and Jesus Christ, I don't know. But I will pray for you!!! I do hope you have a better day tomorrow.

      March 15, 2011 at 7:17 pm |
    • Joe Shmo

      You are correct in every section of your post.

      March 15, 2011 at 7:18 pm |
    • Joe Shmo

      To Norma... get a life, no-one here is interested in what you believe or not believe. 3 thousand peoples lives are lost.

      March 15, 2011 at 7:20 pm |
    • Tara

      Best post I've read on CNN!

      March 15, 2011 at 7:20 pm |
    • thebstock

      Nicely put!!!

      March 15, 2011 at 7:25 pm |
    • bnoyes

      Brilliant post. It's a shame it was tainted bu the foolish and childish response by Norma, but brilliant nonetheless. America and the world needs more level headed people.

      March 15, 2011 at 7:28 pm |
    • rinney

      Excellent post! Hit the nail right on the head...good job!

      March 15, 2011 at 7:29 pm |
    • Bill Kilpatrick, Lakeland, Florida

      Nicely put.

      March 15, 2011 at 7:35 pm |
    • Psht

      I'd agree if this post wasn't so intolerant and lacking common sense in itself. Really sounds like you're saying-

      People who believe in God are complete idiots and every bodies wasting their time for arguing in the midst of a tragedy.

      March 15, 2011 at 7:35 pm |
    • Ray

      Sobering.... However, please do yourself and others a favor and study up on science and reality. Stop chasing fairytales and wasting your time and ours. Its not hard to see that through science that there is no invisible creator. It clearly shows scientific FACT about how we all came from the magic sea monkeys which magically appeared outta nowhere one day into the nothingness and made a meatball from nothing which exploded into the big bang which in turn created everything.

      March 15, 2011 at 7:48 pm |
    • Phonetics:

      U R A P -nus

      March 15, 2011 at 7:52 pm |
    • william

      Your ignorance is exceeded only by the certainty of your self-deceit.

      Nah. Let me correct myself: Your ignorance prevails.

      Nope. Wrong again! Self-deceit comes out on top!

      Final correction: They both are in a dead heat!

      Yeh. That's it. A dead heat-–

      March 15, 2011 at 7:56 pm |
    • Paul

      Thanks for wasting my time with your rant. I like Phoenetics' comment.

      March 15, 2011 at 8:01 pm |
    • Lawrence

      It's so refreshing to read a comment from someone who knows the difference between its and it's, there their and they're, and your and you're. Thank you!

      March 15, 2011 at 8:03 pm |
    • Non-conformist

      Very elegant post! We should be focused on helping people rather than our own agendas.

      March 15, 2011 at 8:04 pm |
    • Lisa Simpson

      @ Non-conformist

      "How [original]...in a conformist sort of way."

      March 15, 2011 at 8:11 pm |
    • HotAirAce

      It's certainly possible to argue about religion *and* help with the relief effort in Ja-pan, and do other things, at the same time. I managed to find the time to make a donation and encourage all to do so via richarddawkins.net.

      March 15, 2011 at 8:15 pm |
    • Jeff S

      You really accomplished what you set out to accomplish there, Tolerance...The beginning of your post was worth typing, the rest was nothing but the rant of a moderate atheist, hell-bent on igniting a fresh round of religious/non-religious bickering.

      Also keep in mind, that not everyone is either an atheist, or a devout, fundamentalist southern baptist. There are those of us who understand both religion and science, and see deeper into both than most of the loudmouths on either side of the "debate" (if you want to call it that.) To those who think science disproves religion, I say go take an elementary school science class again. To those who think God is sitting on a cloud dictating what shall and shall not be...well, to you I say, try reading the bible with an IQ over 60. Its a whole different experience.

      March 15, 2011 at 8:23 pm |
    • Tolerance and Common Sense

      @ Jess S...not that it matters, but your incredibly shallow skim of my post and subsequent...oh, I'm gonna guess MAYBE 15-20 seconds at best (and I'm actually being generous there)...is completely wrong. You don't know what I believe, and though you did impress me with your ability to actually spell words in the English language correctly, you really need to take a page from your own book there, and try and read between the lines a little more and cast judgement a little less. Your assessment that I'm a "moderate atheist" is way off. And you're right, not every single member of the religious community is a Southern-Baptist Fundamentalist, and though my red light is blinking while trying to give you the benefit of the doubt (due to you already being reactionary and completely wrong) I will say that I appreciate hearing from someone claiming to be a spiritual person who doesn't liken anyone who doesn't claim (usually not much more than that) to follow Jesus to Joseph Stalin or Pol Pot.

      Then again...yikes, that's a compliment? You might wanna reconsider the company you've decided to keep.

      Just a suggestion from an Above 60 I.Q.

      March 15, 2011 at 8:37 pm |
    • PARTIAL and BIAS Opinion

      Tolerance and Common Sense...You don't have both.

      But I Love You Dearly that I'm willing to give you my moniker, it suits you best. It's the best you've got so far.

      March 15, 2011 at 8:38 pm |
    • Tolerance and Common Sense


      March 15, 2011 at 8:38 pm |
    • AzGirl

      Thanks for articulating what I've been thinking.

      March 15, 2011 at 9:11 pm |
    • wikiIeaks

      I have information that can bring down tolerance and common sense

      March 15, 2011 at 9:23 pm |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.