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. Roger

    This purported prophetic religious drivel is so annoying... Jesus H, Christ!

    March 16, 2011 at 4:12 am |
  2. Helpless in San Diego

    It was physics, people. Earth's molten liquid core moved floating land masses. Wave formed, reached land, washed away houses built in valleys. God does palm to forehead when he hears religious jibberish, wants no part.

    March 16, 2011 at 4:08 am |
  3. C

    Shintaro Ishihara says some wacky things... :/ Glad he apologized for this one.

    March 16, 2011 at 4:00 am |
  4. Sir Crispin

    Where is Pat Robertson when we need him to pop up and make idiotic statements about God smiting people for their sins with natural disasters? Or maybe he already did; I don't listen to what that intellectually stunted half-wit says, so maybe I missed it.

    March 16, 2011 at 3:56 am |
  5. Andy


    March 16, 2011 at 3:40 am |
  6. Andy

    indonesians believe that this is a conspiracy of israel and america. they are making an experimental nuclear blast underneath of sea which causes a tsunami, similiar with the aceh tsunami years ago.

    March 16, 2011 at 3:33 am |
  7. God-fearing

    What is wrong with that?

    March 16, 2011 at 3:30 am |
  8. Me

    How insane. God doesn't inflict natural disasters. Nature operates all on it's own due to the laws of physics.

    March 16, 2011 at 3:27 am |
  9. Brian

    Religion is a disease of the Mind! Be part of the cure, not the problem!

    Help cure the religion disease!

    March 16, 2011 at 3:20 am |
  10. Sandra

    When I read fundamentalism rants I want to sit the ranters down in an Earth Science and Geology class, and make said fundies actually learn what plate tectonics, seismic fault lines. It has nothing to do with an imaginary man in the sky, but stress along continental shelves, one going north, one going south, suddenly shifting a several meters.

    The Pacific rim isn't called the "ring of fire" for no reason. It's rife with fault lines and volcanoes. When the earthquake hit New Zealand, it was only a matter of time before there were more tremblors or earthquakes further along the fault lines. Wait, and you will read/hear about more even further along the fault line.

    March 16, 2011 at 3:15 am |
  11. Reformjewishguy

    If this earthquake was caused by God, it wasn't likely because of anything that people did, but because God realizes the need to cause the earth to move every now and then, just like you have to breathe and go to the restroom. This has been going on since long before people existed and started building things that the earthquakes could hurl down onto the people, and it might be even more harmful to humanity if the earthquakes were to stop – if the volcanoes stopped venting and helping to recycle the air and water, if the plates stopped moving and changing the earth in their movements.

    March 16, 2011 at 2:57 am |
  12. Reformjewishguy

    If this earthquake is punishment for anything, it's for building inadequate buildings in a tsunami zone and for building nuclear reactors in a stupid manner without really planning for all contingencies.

    March 16, 2011 at 2:51 am |
  13. sockpuppet

    whenever I am looking for an atheist, I can always be sure to find them in abundance at CNN's BELIEF blog

    March 16, 2011 at 2:50 am |
    • Tia

      Funny, I feel the same way about finding idiots who still believe in fairy tales.

      March 16, 2011 at 3:43 am |
    • sockpuppet

      yeah I guess my point just flew over your head, genius

      March 16, 2011 at 11:55 am |
  14. sockpuppet

    whenever I am looking for an atheist, I can always be sure to find them in abundance at CNN's BELIEFblog

    March 16, 2011 at 2:49 am |
  15. Turn to God..... it is time....

    It is in deed very scary to see how so many people mock God in these posts
    It only gives once clear clue... the end days are near and there WILL surely be mourning and weeping all around us....
    This is why the blessed mother in her apparitions has mentioned about needing to repent greatly... I understand only now how wicked the human beings have become.
    We seem to have completely lost the very essence of our being human with love, passion and humility in their hearts…..Instead they are full of Ego, lust & lies….
    “Oh father, forgive them for they know not what they do…..”

    March 16, 2011 at 2:46 am |
    • Don DiMaggio

      Well put. And obviously true.How could they be so blind. The Bible was written so long ago but is prevelant today. Soften your hearts and pray.

      March 16, 2011 at 3:20 am |
    • Picklejuice

      shut up. no one is mocking god, we are mocking human arrogance such as yours who actually believe that god, who is the master of the universe, would be so vengeful and easily offended and cruel to his own creation.

      March 16, 2011 at 3:25 am |
    • Don Rocco

      There is divine order and no one can not understand God's judgments. This is a time where we have the chance to manifest mercy,sacrifice and giving help to our fellowmen.I say God definitely has nothing to do with this catastrophic event and this is the work of Lucifer, the destroyer and Evil force that works contrary to God ways. Men, a creation of God are in no position.to question to what is happening to the world, for in everything there is a reason. All we can do is pray and watch.

      March 16, 2011 at 3:26 am |
    • Prasad

      GOD is human's final reliance upon when he is in a position that is beyond human.... ONLY GOD has the answer as to why such disasters had to take place.... Human can only guess as to the why ...and not the actual why... The punishments for the inhuman killings and destructions committed by humans are faced by their future generations.... that is what happened...my guess...

      March 16, 2011 at 3:47 am |
    • Roger


      March 16, 2011 at 4:09 am |
    • Something

      @Don Rocco,

      ".I say God definitely has nothing to do with this catastrophic event..."

      Agree... nor does a god have anything to do with any good, bad or middling event which occurs.

      March 16, 2011 at 4:20 am |
  16. Amy

    I am so tired of people attributed natural disasters as punishment from GOD for whatever THEY themselves distain. As if they have personal knowledge of God's plans for vengence. Talk about egoism.

    March 16, 2011 at 2:36 am |
    • SLTsherey

      but don't forget they attribute all the "miracles" to him, too! Right, a genuine miracle your house is still standing while everyone else's around yours is flattened. Truly hard to fathom the logic, eh?

      March 16, 2011 at 3:25 am |
  17. Alan in LA

    Why would God punish guilty and not guilty in such a sever way? If he is capable of such amazing punishment can't he enact it to each person according to their guilt. The answer is that this is our imagination of what God does.

    March 16, 2011 at 2:25 am |
  18. Ooob

    The truth hurts. IF u watched zeitgeist you'll love this article:

    March 16, 2011 at 2:25 am |
  19. Muhammad Yousef Abu El-Rub

    I think that life will become meaningless without religion. Therefore, calling to a freedom from religion is asking for a beastly society which is governed by the jungle laws. The world is full to the brim with injustices. So it is self-evident that there must be an afterlife so as to have absolute justice administered. Logically speaking, any call for freedom from religions reflects a depravity and debauchery which aim at reducing the human being to a creature that is inferior to a beast.

    March 16, 2011 at 2:22 am |
    • paganguy

      Yousef, you are not very bright. Religion was invented to enslave women, because women are smarter then men.

      March 16, 2011 at 2:34 am |
    • X39

      @Muhammad Yousef Abu El-Rub: I enjoy the humor of you using the word "logically" to make your religious argument, when the core premise of religion is itself a logical fallacy. "God exists. How do we know? The bible/koran/torah says so. How do we know the bible/koran/torah is right? Because it says it's right." Amen, dude.

      March 16, 2011 at 2:40 am |
    • guslv

      Religion has for ages been justification for wars, torture and enslavement. A live and let live ideology would be much better!

      March 16, 2011 at 2:41 am |
    • Reformjewishguy

      Both of you made me laugh. Freedom from religion is okay because religion isn't the only thing making us intelligent beings, we also have language and ethics, art and beauty and culture, and we are builders and we create things. However, religion is nice to have around because it guides and teaches us. And, no, religion wasn't made to enslave women. While the feminine half of humanity may be the smarter half, there were other social structures hampering women's rights which have affected women, and religion was often the excuse put forward by societies with those social structures.

      March 16, 2011 at 2:45 am |
    • wolffb

      get over it. religion should be an individual personal choice. keep the universal crud and the depravity stuff to yourself. there are many very fine humans who are atheists.

      March 16, 2011 at 3:03 am |
    • Sandra

      You would think that, seeing as your flavor of religion claims women are only worth half of men. Religion has cause more strife, war, murder, abuse than any other reason. The world would be better off without it, people judged by their accomplishments, not by some imaginary man in the sky, or the rants and ramblings of a purported 'prophet' who disliked dogs and women, but really liked little girls.

      March 16, 2011 at 3:09 am |
    • Doug

      So, as long as you can enslave someone else you find it ok and believe this should continue unabated.. I believe you should be outlawed .. Religion = haters...

      March 16, 2011 at 3:20 am |
    • Billo

      You are a complete tool.

      March 16, 2011 at 3:36 am |
    • Tia

      How many wars and massacres would not have happened if there had been no religion involved? Answer: all of them!

      March 16, 2011 at 3:42 am |
    • Roger

      While I can appreciate your thoughts in principle, history has repeatedly shown that religion is the basic common denominator ir man's inhumanity to man...

      March 16, 2011 at 4:03 am |
    • rudulph poppkin

      Based on the elaborate fantasy you have just outlined, it would not surprise me if any beast thought man was inferior to them. the only value religion has in this world is to keep the simple minded busy with notions about god and the afterlife that have nothing to do with realtiy. it ceases to amaze me that while we've gotten men to the moon we can not seem to find a way to get rid of whack jobs like yourself from pontificating about the value of religion while limping to the finish line vis a vis a mentality that is out of the dark ages, when even chimps had more wisdom to impart. than the mumbo jumbo of religion

      March 16, 2011 at 4:26 am |
    • Truth

      So, you mean to say that afterlife needs to exist to administer absolute justice. But, what if life on earth doesnt deprive anyone of any justice, then your reason for after life is meaningless, as there has been no injustice. Now, you said that without religion there will be jungle laws, which means, with religion there will be justice right ? but why do you need afterlife then ?

      So, its appears to me you need religion, but then that would obviate the need for afterlife.
      Or the other option is you dont have religion at all, hence jungle laws, and hence need afterlife for justice. See the paradox ?

      First of all, laws can be created by people and enforced by people. No need to have a God to do that.
      God in your case seems to have a role of the police, which is meaningless, because, guys who commit crimes are not necessarily atheists and your so called religion isnt stopping them a bit.

      March 16, 2011 at 4:26 am |
  20. Chinu

    The view of John Nelson, chair of theology in the University of San Francisco, is worth a ridicule.
    Does he mean to say that people should believe in only Christianity. This is insane and non-sensical
    idea. Hope such catastrophe doesnot befall USA and more so in San Fransisco area.....

    March 16, 2011 at 2:19 am |
    • david

      Chinu: No, you idiot, it does not mean that people should believe only in Christianity.

      March 16, 2011 at 2:25 am |
    • sockpuppet

      where did you read anything like that? You completely misunderstood the article if that is what you believe he said.

      March 16, 2011 at 2:44 am |
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