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. Sanat Attavar

    Everyone has heard of God – some believe in God some dont. Of the people who believe in God a few over a period in time start to understand that whatever happens good or bad is cos' God wills it. But to say that at the time of a tragedy is not wise, cos' most of others if not all, will start to question what did i do to undergo this? there are many others who are worse than i, etc Whats important is to start right at the beginning, to understand whats needed / whats not and go about building a system around it. We just get stuck with the situation we are in neither do we insulate ourselves from it nor do we work against it and then when disasters happen we wonder why. Its high time each one of us looked inside us and make a sincere attempt to cleanse our lives. Life is a paradox one can make much of it at the same time make nothing of it.

    March 16, 2011 at 2:15 am |
  2. bev

    the Tokyo governor never should have apologized; he is correct.

    March 16, 2011 at 2:10 am |
    • Sally Li

      The invariable sequence in the 21st century is: 1) tell the truth 2) apologize 3) do penance 4) be punished by the liars anyway.

      March 16, 2011 at 3:26 am |
  3. CMHA

    I'm sorry to hear that.

    March 16, 2011 at 1:58 am |
  4. RostamI

    Has he been taking lessons from the Ayatollahs???

    March 16, 2011 at 1:54 am |
  5. dd

    Please "Read your Bible. "It explains how man dominates man to his own injury, which is what we see today.It explains the reason why people display animalistic behavior towards one another (whether they are in their own country or not..)It tells us the eventuality of man and it also gives us a hope for a better world, one free from self-assuming, haughty people who have no regard for life or respect for the earth or themselves.There is only one solution to mankind's problems, and it does not come from an imperfect man or men..

    March 16, 2011 at 1:45 am |
  6. Anon

    The craziest ones are the followers of the three Abrahamic desert blood cults.

    March 16, 2011 at 1:29 am |
  7. Elaine

    I don't believe the Tokyo governor needs to apologize. I think his message is appropriate for all of us from every country. It's our egotistical beliefs in technology that have put our whole planet at risk. We need to live in harnony with the natural environment and each other. It's egotistical demands that create the gap between rich and poor. It's egotistical leaders that take their countries to war.

    March 16, 2011 at 1:06 am |
    • Turn to God..... it is time....

      Well said Eline....

      March 16, 2011 at 2:27 am |
  8. Kalo

    CNN...The sad thing is I don't know if half the people on here are trolling or are this stupid....

    March 16, 2011 at 12:38 am |
  9. Reflecting_Pools

    What he said was true about the egoism that has rusted onto the fabric of the human mentality generally. His main point expresses a cardinal truth about civilization that desperately needs to be heard. The hubris, swagger and impudence so brashly evident in the Bush and Reagan years and still epidemic today, must be undermined by Truth, Honesty, Humility and Compassion. Monumental Natural Disasters are fully capable of wiping our arrogant faces clear of the hubris. If we don't figure it out now, BEFORE that impudence leads to our undoing, we can wait until our swagger has resulted in a cataclysmic event, and then in the final act in our human life, it will permanently wipe that hubris from the land. Ishihara was talking about the ability of monumental Natural Disasters to humble us and about our great need to be more humble. HE WAS NOT WRONG. He deserves great credit for having the courage to speak out. He was NOT justifying the deaths of 1,000s of innocent victims. But I do realize that literalists are incapable of figuring that out, which is why they haven't a clue what poetry is.

    March 16, 2011 at 12:34 am |
  10. donald duck

    Just wait till you hear all the radical christians in the U.S. say something retarded. I'm betting on Pat at the 700 club.

    March 16, 2011 at 12:06 am |
    • Ruhlmann

      That's easy money.

      March 16, 2011 at 12:12 am |
  11. FrenchEric

    In the wake of what's going on we can forgive the governor.
    The very concept of God is to explain what we don't understand or comprehend.
    All We can do is show solidarity and compassion in ways according to our beliefs. But also learn a lesson and be humble.

    March 16, 2011 at 12:04 am |
  12. Raebo

    Your comment is awaiting moderation.

    And just why would that be?

    March 16, 2011 at 12:01 am |
  13. joe

    remember.. Pearl...

    March 15, 2011 at 11:58 pm |
    • Ruhlmann

      Baily ?

      March 16, 2011 at 12:11 am |
    • wow

      janis joplin?!

      March 16, 2011 at 12:50 am |
  14. tim

    this is exactly why I hate religious people

    March 15, 2011 at 11:35 pm |
  15. Donttakethingssoserious


    March 15, 2011 at 11:11 pm |
  16. Gazork

    I would like to read a comment that is rational & respectful. Is there no way to disagree without being caustic & nasty? There is little or nothing to be learned from this antagonism. People of faith who act this way discredit their religion. I would get the impression that all non-believers are antagonistic. Something must be missing from your life.

    March 15, 2011 at 11:09 pm |
    • J EX

      Here, here Gazork!

      March 15, 2011 at 11:50 pm |
  17. share international prophet

    The maiterya is here. Look at the videos on YouTube with UFO over the dome of the rock and the horseman in Cario, Egypt. He is the 2nd coming of christ, 2nd coming of kirshna, 5th coming of buddah, and the messiah for both the jews and muslims all rolled in one. The world teacher is here. He will explain why all scriptures are 100% like fairy tales.

    March 15, 2011 at 11:08 pm |
    • Sally Li

      How did you know? You may be right, in a way – but not exactly as you describe.

      March 15, 2011 at 11:15 pm |
    • ohyeahproveit

      The UFO over the dome of the rock is a proven hoax. What else have you got, oh wise one?

      March 15, 2011 at 11:49 pm |
  18. Thomas De Mann

    I feel the same way. Karmic seeds don't always appear immediately. I feel bad for the people involved but repayment is assured.

    March 15, 2011 at 10:53 pm |
  19. ScaryDAve

    Ego is telling disaster victems it's their own fault because you believe in invisible people which there is absolutely no way to prove exist. THAT takes some serious EGO.

    The only thing wrong with religion is that people who engage in it keep opening their freakin mouths trying to justify reasons to screw over the rest of us.

    March 15, 2011 at 10:39 pm |
    • John Epsel

      You can not prove the creator does NOT exist, and I can mathematically prove in science that he does but you have nothing but criticism to offer,

      March 16, 2011 at 12:15 am |
    • Wow


      "I can mathematically prove in science that he does..."

      You can? Really? You'd better get cracking on that paper, man, and have it peer reviewed.

      p.s. Can you also prove that he is really a 'he' and has all of those little human personality traits?

      March 16, 2011 at 12:27 am |
    • jeff

      @wow. If there is a creator of the universe and it has human personality traits, we are in a lot of stinking trouble.

      March 16, 2011 at 12:34 am |
    • Nietzsche

      Jeff, we ARE in a lot of stinking trouble...

      March 16, 2011 at 1:18 am |
    • demonfeed

      Um, excuse me, I can prove YOUR creator does not exist. If he does, may he strike this post down.

      Either your god isn't real, or he is a forum moderator.

      March 16, 2011 at 1:19 am |
  20. ScaryDAve

    Dear God (god's) please protect me from your followers.

    March 15, 2011 at 10:35 pm |
    • beaulahg

      Divine Retribution, Tebatsu, Heavenly Punishment, Consequences of Our Behavior..........................,
      What difference does it make how we word it ?
      Human beings seem to be on a path of self destruction,
      Greed for more, more and more has caused us to abuse the planet and we are now paying the consequences.
      The disaster at the nuclear plant should be enough of a warning of what can go wrong when we want to much,
      if we did not want five computers per home, printers , a cell phone per family member, mutliple vehicles for each person, a TV in every room in the house and quite simply the newest product on the market every four months, we would not need the supply and demand of energy the population says it requires. Until we are willing to do with less, we will have more of these problems.

      March 16, 2011 at 12:20 am |
    • TheJessieSimone

      Get a new line already. And a life while your at it.

      March 16, 2011 at 1:22 am |
    • tony

      It is enough,, it is time to face reality and accept it before it is too late. There is God and there is justice and holiness....ALl the pervertion of live from abortion to liebralism has brought down Divine anger. It is because of people who mock and disrespect God that we all suffer.
      IF yo udo not care, at least have some respect to the Divine power and God is not to be mocked. If you do not believe in Him , not believe in heaven or in Hell, you will when you get there soon....in the meantime, have some respect, do not sin or make sinful laws that brings only sufferings to other people. Religious people do not persecute the liberals and bad people, so stay of religious people life by making evil laws. And you will see the world gets better. Nature, environmentalism is not GOd.

      March 16, 2011 at 1:26 am |
    • Observer

      "Religious people do not persecute the liberals". Nonsense. Of course they do. That's why they trash people who believe in laws like those supporting abortion rights and against discrimination against gays.

      March 16, 2011 at 1:40 am |
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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.