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. James T

    Guess every society has their Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson that they have to apologize for.

    March 16, 2011 at 11:02 am |
  2. skeptic2

    If people want to believe in a God that was either so stupid or so cruel that it created this Earth with plate tectonics, knowing full well that in the centuries to come, millions of people would suffer and die from the earthquakes, volcanoes and tsunamis caused by plate shifting, then they'll have to do so with a faith blind enough to blot out any sense of reality.

    March 16, 2011 at 11:00 am |
  3. jocarbe

    tiki probaly comes closer to hitting the nail on the head... earthquakes and tsunamis along with tornados, mud slides, volcano eruptions, etc. are nothing new... we just happen to be in the way...

    March 16, 2011 at 10:59 am |
  4. Barry from Wisconsin

    Apparently not all the people with strange ideas reside in the USA...

    March 16, 2011 at 10:55 am |
  5. Frespech

    H: Just what is the origin of all that orderly matter you are describing. And supposing you have an answer why should I believe you anymore than the 40 writters of the Bible with regards to what they wrote about.

    March 16, 2011 at 10:54 am |
  6. Darwin

    PAT ROBERTSON made one of his frequent nutty comments when he attributed the HAITI earthquake to GOD'S displeasure, He claimed (falsely of course) that an 18th century Haitian leader made a pact with SATAN in order to gain and keep political power. Maybe it's time for Robertson to go back to school and learn a little geology, eh?

    March 16, 2011 at 10:52 am |
  7. keith

    Glenn Beck and Rush seem to think the same thing, yet you don't hear them apologizing.....

    March 16, 2011 at 10:46 am |
  8. Frespech

    Mike: Everyone keeps claiming it's just a book. It's not a novel, it is a collection of some 66 books written by roughly 40 authors over a period of almost 2,000 years.It wasn't written by Roddenberry.

    March 16, 2011 at 10:29 am |
  9. Kevin

    Well, They once said of African Americans and ALL BLACK PEOPLE "we were bad for the Atmosphere"....
    So Choke on that in the Land of the Rising Sun.....
    Wait until Godzilla gets there......

    March 16, 2011 at 10:29 am |
  10. Jacquelyne

    His statement is true in many ways. It is in our nature to want to be better than others and manifests itself in an egoism that is destructive and deceitful.

    March 16, 2011 at 10:26 am |
  11. Don

    I could not agree more with Mark. We really don't always stop to consider how others view us, our ideas, and beliefs until we force them on them. Neither side of the transaction is nice. The earth and the universe are ever changing. Period. The universe does not think about man. Man does not think enough about the universe....

    March 16, 2011 at 10:25 am |
  12. Paul

    It certainly should not have been said but it also certainly applies to most of the world today and is a sad statement about what mankind has "evolved" to. And we think ourselves the "superior" animal on the planet.

    March 16, 2011 at 10:25 am |
  13. brad

    I would politely urge atheists to leave this site. They themselves have provided the reason: the universe has no meaning. Therefore people have no meaning. Therefore people's opinions have no meaning. So waste your meaningless time posting your meaningless comments here?

    March 16, 2011 at 10:25 am |
    • Don

      Brad, because you don't have to believe in God, Satan, Buddha, or whatever. I am not atheist. However, I think, not believe, that the universe is just as important to atheists as anyone else and really you can't see that???

      March 16, 2011 at 10:29 am |
    • brad

      @ DON

      Point taken, Sir.

      March 16, 2011 at 10:49 am |
    • PeterVN

      brad, I politely ask you to reconsider what you said in your post, on the following grounds. It is very important to openly debate religion in the US because, sadly, relig-ious be-liefs have such a huge impact on laws and policies that the government enacts, and on society generally (despite a const-itution that demands otherwise).

      It's now very clear that many of the tenets of Chris-tianity, which is the dom-inant US reli-gion, are contradicted by readily observable evidence and scientific research. The stor-ies of the bi-ble are, for the most part, m-yth. It should alarm anyone that decisions are made on the basis of such m-yths. That situation necessitates an atheist response. Unless the power of the Chris-tian elements are constrained and ultimately curbed, we can expect our country to fall behind the rest of the world in science and technology, and to fall behind economically and soc-ially. We will even continue to have relatively hi-gh rates of vio-lent crime, since vio-lent crime goes hand-in-hand with religion.

      So, no, I personally will not cede to your request.

      March 16, 2011 at 10:54 am |
    • steveo

      Sounds to me like you have atheism and nihilism confused.

      March 16, 2011 at 11:00 am |
    • Bible Clown

      We impose our own 'meaning' on an essentially meaningless universe. Since you feel free to tell me "what atheists believe," can I admit that I think Christians believe they have the right to do or say any horrible thing to anyone, and to steal anything not locked up? Your life is meaningless, not mine; I affect real human beings every day, the kind with feelings, and I never ask someone to convert to my way of thinking before helping them out of a jam. I matter to my wife and child, and to my friends, and even to my country, but I don't mean anything to an invisible man in the sky.

      March 16, 2011 at 11:03 am |
    • brad


      Peter, you agree with many others that the old bible stories are m_yths. True. But what is m_yth? It is not the same thing as fairey tale. Carl Jung said this" Myth is the earliest form of science." M_yth results from deep intuitions that need expression. Consequently, the literal truth of Adam and Eve is not important. The underlying truths found in it are important.

      March 16, 2011 at 12:44 pm |
    • brad

      Peter, I have to disagree about C_hristianity being excluded from government decision making. History shows that we have a hard time being good without God. A study of the American westward expansion proves this. As land, gold, oil, etc. became available, the first people to arrive were too often mu*rderers, swindlers, pro*st_itutes, bootleggers, so on. It wasn't until the courts AND churches were established that people became civilized. (The Native Americans already had civilization influenced by their religious beliefs.)

      March 16, 2011 at 12:57 pm |
    • PeterVN

      Actually, brad, the observable evidence shows that you are wrong. We are much better at being good without g-od. Violent crime rates are much lower in more secular countries than in the US.

      Furthermore, the bi-ble and the C-hristian religion cannot be taken as a standard of "good", because it contains so much guidance to do what any reasonable person would consider to be horrid violence and other awful crimes. Leviticus cannot be hidden, even though you might like to, and that is just a start.

      March 16, 2011 at 1:04 pm |
  14. K

    He's right.

    March 16, 2011 at 10:16 am |
  15. DRR

    My experience with apologies is that most times they simply either mean "I'm sorry I was caught" or "I now realize that the effect of what I said is going to affect me personally in a bad way". Despite his apology, I met this man still believes what he said.

    March 16, 2011 at 10:11 am |
  16. Pat

    Seems to me that everyone gets off course of the real issue....God does let things happen to people...Whether it's good or bad....He could stop it...It's like the cleansing of Solomon & Gomorrah...He will cleanse America and other countries who have turned to sin...He also blinds people to His word...So many of you will never understand the gospel or what Christ means when he speaks to His people..

    March 16, 2011 at 10:10 am |
    • oh yea?

      Ok Reverend Phelps.

      March 16, 2011 at 10:15 am |
    • Sabina

      Pat, according to your statement "...So many of you will never understand the gospel or what Christ means when he speaks to His people.."
      Does this mean we're too ignorant to understand?
      Does this imply that you understand because you are one of the chosen ones?
      If god could stop the diasters as you say he could but doesn't, then he is a bigger jerk than I thought!
      And we're supposed to worship him?

      March 16, 2011 at 10:20 am |
    • Believer

      @PAT: He also blinds people to His word..
      And why would God do that ???? Stop talking C**p as if you know how God thinks ! Human beings don't have the mental capacity to comprehend God's creation or his ways of Justice.. We cannot even predict the weather with 100% accuracy !!

      March 16, 2011 at 10:22 am |
    • Dan613

      This Pat is a good example of how devious and twisted this religious thinking can be. "You will never understand" ... of course, only the chosen ones, that conveniently Pat belongs to... no doubt, that is why he knows better and we know nothing.
      But you know Pat? honestly, I could care less about your belief. So... be my guest, keep it to yourself. Thanks for participating.

      March 16, 2011 at 10:27 am |
    • Ren

      It's Sodom not Solomon you moron, at least get your facts right.

      March 16, 2011 at 10:35 am |
    • Tiki


      Seems to me that everyone gets off course of the real issue....God does let things happen to people...Whether it's good or bad....He could stop it...It's like the cleansing of Solomon & Gomorrah...He will cleanse America and other countries who have turned to sin...He also blinds people to His word...So many of you will never understand the gospel or what Christ means when he speaks to His people..

      "Solomon" and Gomorrah? Sodom maybe, which was old testament... pre-Jesus... what I understand about Christ is that not many Christians today act very Christ-like. Jesus taught, that through Him, people would find their way to God. He taught that God is a loving God, not a vengeful one. The way I see it... earthquakes and tsunamis are the Earth's way of reminding us that we aren't invincible, and that the forces of nature are far stronger than anything created by Man... nothing sent by God to "cleanse" us. Those kinds of "cleansings" were ended the day Jesus was sacrificed at Golgatha. Believers in Jesus as the Son of God were, and are, cleansed through the blood of Christ... not natural disasters.

      Do you believe in the teachings of Jesus? Then how can you believe in a vengeful God?

      March 16, 2011 at 10:38 am |
    • EX-Catholic

      Too funny! "Solomon and...", LOL!! It's "SODOM and Gomorrah"

      March 16, 2011 at 10:39 am |
    • Dan613

      Ren, good one! Actually Pat probably is another ignorant troll.

      March 16, 2011 at 10:41 am |
    • Janet

      Pat, Solomon was a person....It's Sodom & Gomorrah

      March 16, 2011 at 10:45 am |
    • Robert Comstock

      Pat,,,Solomon was a wise king. Sodom is the city to which you are referring ..

      March 16, 2011 at 10:50 am |
    • Dan613

      OK, OK, Ren spotted it first. We got it now, it is Sodom... how many more people will continue correcting this troll about the same??

      March 16, 2011 at 10:53 am |
    • Gog

      "He also blinds people to His word" He also deafens them and makes them stupid as far as I can tell. Why does religion make you all such fools?

      March 16, 2011 at 10:57 am |
    • Pat

      Oh, all of you can mock me, but you cannot mock Jesus Christ. I am covered by His precious blood and I am certain I will be with Him for eternity. But all those who disbelieve will go to the hell fire. Cinvert! before si too late!

      March 16, 2011 at 10:57 am |
    • Bible Clown

      Actually, I CAN mock Jesus Christ. He can't eat M&Ms because they fall through the holes in His hands. See? Nobody stopped me, and you can't burn me as a witch or put me in the stocks.

      March 16, 2011 at 11:07 am |
    • beezo's mom

      Was Solomon a Sodomite?

      March 16, 2011 at 11:07 am |
    • PRISM1234

      The only thing Pat said out of place here is "Solomon and Gomorrah, instead Sodom and Gomorrah (but that's easy to do when by trying to correct the spelling, one clicks on wrong word....) But low and behold, like the birds of prey, you gather to attack.....
      As for God hardening people's hearts..... What if God in His wisdom uses the truth of His Word to expose what's in human hearts?

      Take the brilliant light and heat of the sun. What does it do to ice? IT MELTS IT!
      What does it do to clay? IT HARDENS IT!
      The ef-fect of sun's heat and light differs , according what's the thing exposed to it is made out of....
      So it is with God's Word, Jesus Christ, who Himself is Word of God made flesh, and the Spirit of God who is the Spirit of truth.

      God sifts the human hearts by ex-posing them to THE TRUTH. Those who love the truth, and their hearts are made out of "good soil", will receive the Truth, and His word will take root in them.
      But those who because of pride, love of SELF and sin that's in their hearts, will not receive the Truth, and sin and darkness that's in their hearts will blind them.... Is God then at fault for their blindness? No, but He is exposing what's in them!
      But here are the words of Jesus Himself, to explain why so many don't dome to Him.

      “He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. ***And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed.*** But he who does the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been done in God.”
      Pay attention to the sentence between the asterisks (*)
      That's the real reason why so many evern here mo-ck God, and throw insults at thsoe who speak of a nd for Him....

      March 16, 2011 at 11:22 am |
    • Tiki

      Prism1234 wrote: “He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. ***And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed.*** But he who does the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been done in God.” Pay attention to the sentence between the asterisks (*)

      But isn't that referring to God's judgement at one's time of death... in determining if someone goes to Heaven or Hell? If that's the case, it still doesn't explain God's use of a natural disaster to cleanse a people of their sinful behavior. That type of "cleansing" does not exist if you truly believe in Jesus' story and teachings. It's no more than grabbing certain parts of the Bible to justify ignorance and hatred.

      March 16, 2011 at 11:59 am |
    • PRISM1234


      There are certainly things which we people don't understand. It was not given to us to understand. Sure we can't understand why so much suf-fering is allowed in this world, in some places, yet not in others... but we know that the world we're living in , even the creation itself, is under the cur-se, because of man's sin and disobedience.
      Yes, we live in New Tes-tament, and God is dealing with (hu)man kind different way then in the Old Tes-tament before Christ Jesus came. I believe that the moment Jesus died, and the veil in he temple sp-lit in two (not from the bot-tom, but from the TOP, because God sp-lit the veil), something changed in realm of the Spirit, and even the Earth, and the whole creation felt impact of was was done on the cross, and acc-omplished by Jesus death and resur-ection. But to think that God's wrath is not poured out any longer on the earth, because of the evil that's walking upon it, especially in this day and time, the way it is , it is just simply not knowing the Word of God and the nature of God.
      People need to know, that this world is still under the law, and those who are not hidden in Christ Jesus by put-ting their faith in Him, they are still subjected to the law of God and the wr-ath of God. You can see that clearly in what God says to those who turn against His people Israel, whom He brought back after many years of ex-ile into their own land. When they're mes-sing with Israel, the apple of God 's eye, they are invo-king cu-rse of God uponn themselveses. And then, you look at those nations which have given themselves over to idol-atress, materiali-sm (which in itself is idol-atry), per-ve-rsions, and those who use their blessings to indul-ge in sin, and take pleas-ure in spre-ading their evil ab-road to others who have not yet been so po-lluted by it..... This is where this country needs to really take heed, because our fil-th is being spread all over the world, so much that even those of false religions call us evil, because even they recog-nise the corr-uption of this country and it's society.... Indeed, this country has given itself over to so much sin and corr-uption, that it's leaders and mas-ses of popula-tion are so blind not to see it! Pat was right in what he/she said! ...... That's why this country has not seen what it will see, because it has forsaken the God of it's forefathers whom they publicly and privately honored, and were not ashamed to ack-nowledge .
      When some years ago Columbine tragedy happened, every TV station broadcasted prayers and the Name of Jesus Christ was openly ack-nowledged, and no one mo-ck-ed and dared to raise their voices against those who spoke... Then, as I was watching in sorrow the things that happened this is what God said to my spir-it...." I will be honored, my Name will be honored in midst of these people.! If not in good times, and times of blessing, then in times of tragedy and cala-mity. But my name WILL BE honored!"
      So, maybe you can see some answers to you questions here... You and I, and all other people need to understand that God is the God of love , but also of cons-uming fire. He never changes. Yet He is long suff-ering and merciful and gives time to those who opp-ose themselves. If you still have some things you don't understand, then read the Book of Revel-ations. There is much written in it, which will show you about God's dealings with the humanity that turns away from Him.
      Blessings and peace to you! 🙂

      March 16, 2011 at 5:18 pm |
  17. Chickens

    Burning witches? They have already condemned themselves to eternal fire, so what's the complaint about the few minutes of heat while helping them on their way?

    March 16, 2011 at 10:06 am |
    • DrG

      Please castrate yourself or just don't reproduce!

      March 16, 2011 at 10:17 am |
    • Chickens

      DrG: Intelligent response. Teacher's going to catch you goofing off! Go back to your proanografic searches, adults are speaking.

      March 16, 2011 at 10:34 am |
    • Just Saying

      What word is proanografic? I cannot seem to find it in any dictionary. Adults do not make up words. Oh, and there is no such thing as "witches".

      March 16, 2011 at 10:46 am |
    • Nonimus

      "Burning witches? They have already condemned themselves to eternal fire, so what's the complaint about the few minutes of heat while helping them on their way?"

      A perfect example of how religion or belief in the supernatural is used to justify the worst atrocities. You're logic and the resultant actions, although incorrect, seem less heinous only if you believe in witches, an afterlife, and that witches go to hell in said afterlife. If any of those beliefs are incorrect you are essentially torturing someone for no reason.

      March 16, 2011 at 11:56 am |
  18. canopy

    As a person studying Buddhist ideologies I can understand why he would have such an opinion. Theres no difference in his opinion and our President stating "God Bless America". Such statements create ethnocentric egotism.

    March 16, 2011 at 10:06 am |
    • Martin

      Saying "God bless America" is simply asking your god (if you believe in one) to watch over the nation. Interpreting a random, natural event as divine punishment is presumptuous as well as hateful and ignorant.

      March 16, 2011 at 10:38 am |
  19. Dan613

    The belief that earthquakes, tornadoes, hurricanes, volcanic eruptions, and all of the sort are divine punishments is simply ignorance. The Earth is old. Our planet has been through earthquakes and volcanic eruptions since the beginning, and actually has become less active overtime. To claim punishment is stupid. Who God was punishing in the pre-historic times when our planet was so active? Earthquakes and volcanic eruptions among others are important (although with a terrible effect to humans in other way). They constantly renew resources, and reshape the Earth. A completely still planet would be equal to a dead planet, like the moon.

    March 16, 2011 at 10:03 am |
  20. Mark

    Tolerance is sure fun to talk about; however when put into anonymous situations most people do the opposite. Studies have shown being anonymous shows peoples true nature. So to everyone, do not lump together atheists and satanic, do not lump together the crazy Christians and crazy Muslims with the normal people. Enjoy your religion, whatever it may be. Understand this last thought, to preach to someone of a different religion comes across as an insult, that person must tolerate your actions, but a small word of advice, if we wanted to be (your religion here) we would make that decision on our own.

    March 16, 2011 at 10:01 am |
    • shani

      I agree.

      March 16, 2011 at 11:08 am |
    • GENE

      Buddhist believe in the scientific and real life phenomena of cause and effect called karma as taught by Buddha. You believe something if its provable. Buddha taught that there is no supernatural or divine. Human beings created the divine and supernatural powerful beings in their minds to explain things they do not understand.

      March 16, 2011 at 11:10 am |
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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.