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. Sandra

    More like nature's retribution for building nuclear reactors near fault lines. Don't blame G-d for human stupidity.

    March 16, 2011 at 12:49 pm |
  2. kite005

    I guess people with the Fred Phelps mentality is not limited to here.

    March 16, 2011 at 12:44 pm |
  3. Muneef

    Why is it that the so beloved country J..... Is not allowed to pass moderation filters?? Must be because of the bombs droped on them long ago??

    March 16, 2011 at 12:39 pm |
    • Muneef

      Think some time ago there was in the news about muslim residence and immigrants being ill treated in J.....

      March 16, 2011 at 12:44 pm |
  4. Masada1

    No need to apologize. Those who walk by faith and not by sight believe in God and what the Bible teaches. We also believe that the global chaos we are now experiencing will multiply in the coming months. The Lord Jesus Christ said that in the last days, "there will be great earthquakes, and in various places plagues and famines; and there will be terrors and great signs from heaven....There will be signs in sun and moon and stars, and on the earth dismay among nations, in perplexity at the roaring of the sea and the waves, men fainting from fear and the expectation of the things which are coming upon the world; for the powers of the heavens will be shaken." (Luke 21:11,25,26) Why? To get our attention. The Apostle Paul wrote, "For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now." (Romans 8:22, KJV) This will intensify towards the end.

    So there.

    In Christ we have eternal life.

    March 16, 2011 at 12:24 pm |
  5. Adam

    Glen Beck just said the exact same crap. And the ~150million Americans who are SURE that Jesus will return in the next 50 years, trailing clouds of glory, in order to oversee the destruction of the world... believe him.

    March 16, 2011 at 12:22 pm |
  6. skifru

    Interesting. People know the reason but... Shame on you for mentioning or talking about it! Apologize at once! Freedom of speech (only if it pleases particular ears), right?

    March 16, 2011 at 12:00 pm |
  7. Meh

    He is an older man who doesnt like the direction that his society has gone and wants to stick to simpler values of a time gone by...nothing wrong with that. The last 2 generations understood those values. This isnt to say that Im some bible thumper, very much the opposite but there was solace in the way things used to be where Im from and now its ruined by greedy politicians and a starving country full of folks who spent what the last 2 generations made by donating their lives in WW2.

    March 16, 2011 at 11:54 am |
    • JohnR

      Yeah, simpler values like let's go bomb the living bejeezus out of everyone. It's our RIGHT to rule the east and anyone in your way is fair game. Not unlike those wonderfully simple values of the US's own manifest destiny. None of that complicated stuff about respecting everyone's rights, even those very different from you.

      Reminds me of when Ronald Reagan recalled those halcyon days "before America had a racial problem". Funny how people who weren't allowed to eat in restaurants, drink from "whites only" water fountains, go to white schools, etc, etc don't remember those days. They remember race being a BIG problem. But hey, it was SIMPLE: We do the stepping and you get stepped on!

      March 16, 2011 at 12:08 pm |
  8. sue

    Seems there's a Glen Beck and a Rush Limbaugh in every country

    March 16, 2011 at 11:44 am |
    • JohnR

      There are oodles and oodles of them everywhere. The US has no monopoly of knuckle-dragging droolers.

      March 16, 2011 at 12:01 pm |
  9. Kwasi Broni

    This man has a very serious mental issues. He is not fit to be a mayor let alone make such a stupid comment. What kind of "sick" god kills people on such a large scale? It's about time we separate state holders from religion.

    March 16, 2011 at 11:34 am |
    • DobiDream

      The same god that allows ancestors to remain after their deaths?

      March 16, 2011 at 11:37 am |
    • DobiDream

      Speaking about killing people on a large scale.

      I'm one them that believe there's a use to evil and disease to this world...to regulate life. Part of that, I believe gays' role in this world is to help control population numbers/centers.

      March 16, 2011 at 11:38 am |
  10. DobiDream

    @arbman you're the main reason I believe "evil" exists in this world and that I'm glad it's here.

    March 16, 2011 at 11:29 am |
  11. DobiDream

    I don't have much faith in humanity. Sucks someone's died but...it's karma.

    March 16, 2011 at 11:28 am |
  12. ClosetIguana

    I thought remarks like this were only made by religious nuts.

    March 16, 2011 at 11:26 am |
  13. ric

    I see we are not the only ones with idiotic politicians who run at the mouth

    March 16, 2011 at 11:26 am |
  14. arbman

    This guy is an idiot. God doesn't exist on this planet. He can keep fooling himself or simply accept that they are living on one of the most active and violent fault line of all. This guy is reflecting his own selfishness and easy life, he can go and join to the rescue efforts, if he wants to do anything useful. Dummy.

    March 16, 2011 at 11:25 am |
  15. DobiDream

    I believe california will be hit hard. They forget to relay the information that radiation sticks to clouds as the trace amounts of electricity moves the radiation around and keeps it "alive."

    March 16, 2011 at 11:24 am |
  16. Claire Mclean

    Are we all seeing the beginning of the end of the World? At least a world as we knew it. Is there enough radiation from the 6 reactors (If one breaches after the other) to form great clouds of radiation that wilil travel with the winds and contaminate and kill all living life on this planet as well as infiltrate the entire food chain for years to come? Perhaps the sooth sayers predicting 2012 as the apocalypse are spot on. Ironic, isn't it that the radiation poison comes from man man energy souce, not a terriorist or natural disaster. The earthquake and the tsuami are mother nature, building 6 reactors on a fault line is a human thing and very, very dumb. There is no way now to stop the radiation from spreading over the world so enjoy your life; it is going to change.

    March 16, 2011 at 11:24 am |
    • ric

      Claire I have been hearing about the end of the world since 1963 and every few years after that ..The world has survived. Humans will assimilate as they have now and move forward in some form or another. Change is inevitable whether it be for the good or for the bad.

      March 16, 2011 at 11:28 am |
    • TampaMan

      12/21/2012 is merely the end of a cyclic period of the ancient Mayan calendar. Like New Year's Eve in our Gregorian Calendar it simply rolls over and starts a new cycle.

      On the other hand, 12/21/2012 is my wife's birthday. What sort of wrath should I expect should I forget that important date?

      March 16, 2011 at 12:25 pm |
  17. El Marco

    There have been earthquakes, tsunamis, floods, volcanoes, and hurricanes since before life existed on earth. These are all natural processes. They have nothing to do with any divine being. Did God cause a comet to collide with Earth to wipe out the dinosaurs, because they were evil?

    March 16, 2011 at 11:18 am |
    • Godless

      Yes, that is exactly what happened. Jesus Rex said unto the dinosaurs "Believe in me, and you will get into Dino Heaven – if you do not, it is Dino Hell for you." And when most dinosaurs ignored Jesus Rex, god got mad. But then when god saw a triceratops marrying a velociraptor, well, that's when he sent the asteroid to wipe them out. God doesn't put up with that g@y dino marriage stuff....

      March 16, 2011 at 11:30 am |
    • DobiDream

      I wish I could see Godless's face as he dies and see his amazing "o" face as he realizes then and there that according to his faith he will turn into nothing. It's an amazing sight.

      March 16, 2011 at 11:32 am |
    • no

      I wish I could see Dobidream's face when he learns how to construct a sentence.

      March 16, 2011 at 11:49 am |
    • Pius

      God was preparing for the arrival of humans on earth, hence the dinosaurs were wiped out.

      March 16, 2011 at 11:51 am |
    • David Pirtle

      Thats the thing though, Dobi. We aren't afraid of not living forever. Its the religious who are afraid of death.

      March 16, 2011 at 11:52 am |
    • Godless

      "I wish I could see Godless's face as he dies and see his amazing "o" face as he realizes then and there that according to his faith he will turn into nothing. It's an amazing sight."

      That's very Christian of you, Dobi. You are a gem.

      And to Pius, why did god have to wipe out the dinosaurs? He left plenty of other ruthless animals on earth – imagine how many families a dinosaur could feed? And wiping out a species 60+ million years in advance of another – kinda premature, isn't it? Does god have a problem with premature evisceration?

      March 16, 2011 at 11:56 am |
    • JJ

      Being ignorant of God doesn't make him nonexistent. Google 1 Corinthian 1 and read it carefully.

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

      You wrote: "Did God cause a comet to collide with Earth to wipe out the dinosaurs, because they were evil?"

      Couldn't have happened, because it's not in the bible... don't you think such a story would have served as a useful example of what happens when you don't worship whatever god happens to be in vogue at the time?

      March 16, 2011 at 12:00 pm |
    • Godless

      JJ – google "Harry Potter" and read it. Being ignorant of Hogwarts doesn't mean it doesn't exist.

      March 16, 2011 at 12:00 pm |
    • PraiseTheLard

      JJ – you wrote "Being ignorant of God doesn't make him nonexistent."

      What about just being ignorant? Most religions tend to promote that...

      March 16, 2011 at 12:02 pm |
    • filthburger

      Well, God put the dinosaur bones in the ground to test everyones faith. We all know that the universe was created 6000 years ago and just for us humans, well, maybe just the white, christian, american, ummm prolly southern baptist, humans. Come on people. It's almost science.

      March 16, 2011 at 12:12 pm |
    • Magic


      "Google 1 Corinthian 1 and read it carefully."

      Have read it. Why do you give credence to the ravings of the zealot, Paul of Tarsus?

      March 16, 2011 at 12:12 pm |
    • Godless

      Filthburger – you forgot "straight."

      March 16, 2011 at 12:13 pm |
    • filthburger

      My bad. Sorry, godless. The thing that is really interesting with debating religious people is that there are people who actually believe what I wrote. It frightens me that these people vote. I'm agnostic. There is much more out there than i can see and feel, but I'm not so arrogant to create my own reason for the universe. The earthquake was a NATURAL disaster. They happen all the time, guys. If God really gave a crap us, and he really wanted us to punish the heathens, then he'd prolly blink and they'd be gone. But who am I to attempt to understand the will of God. My bad again. Now, where's the lightning?

      March 16, 2011 at 12:19 pm |
    • TampaMan

      Natural disasters are referred to as 'acts of God' by insurance adjustors. Whether or not God weighs in on this one, we can all be sure that the wrath of the insurance industry will be visited upon us.

      March 16, 2011 at 12:21 pm |
    • Choconet

      If I'm wrong and there is no God then nothing happens, but if you’re wrong? Heathen bar-b-que FOREVER!!!

      March 16, 2011 at 12:37 pm |
    • Rebecca

      God is an epic troll.


      March 16, 2011 at 12:40 pm |
    • Magic


      "If I'm wrong and there is no God then nothing happens, but if you’re wrong? Heathen bar-b-que FOREVER!!!"

      What if the "real God" is Allah, or Zeus or any of the thousands upon thousands of others?

      What if the "real God" rewards independent thinkers more highly, and relegates mindless worshippers to KP duty?

      March 16, 2011 at 12:45 pm |
    • Showtime

      @Godless: YOU are why I love free thinkers. Classic response, LOVE IT!

      March 16, 2011 at 12:47 pm |
    • James Brummel

      " And wiping out a species 60+ million years in advance of another – kinda premature, isn't it? Does god have a problem with premature evisceration?"

      You know there is a cream for that.

      March 16, 2011 at 12:54 pm |
    • Godless

      "If I'm wrong and there is no God then nothing happens, but if you’re wrong? Heathen bar-b-que FOREVER!!!"

      Again, how very Christian of you. What if your god is fake, and the real god is the old forgotten Roman god, Mars, who is no longer worshipped? Maybe all the earthquakes and tsunamis and floods and ice storms and fires and hurricanes are all Mars punishing us for not worshipping him anymore?

      March 16, 2011 at 1:16 pm |
    • Cherokee

      In order for God to make a new world then the old has to be destroyed including all the creatures upon it. The old and the new will go together because the old is contaminated. The old will try to influence the new that the old way is the right way and this is not the way god wants it to be . He wants a complete new creation earth,man and all that dwells upon it. Sometimes I wonder if God will contiune to wipe out and create new until he gets to the perfection that is sastifying to him.

      March 16, 2011 at 11:14 pm |
  18. 73tokyo

    Don't forget, Ishihara has been making lots and lots of racial comments
    in his 12 years of governor of Tokyo.

    March 16, 2011 at 11:16 am |
  19. HempLover

    I think they're being punished by the sea gods for killing and eating whales.

    March 16, 2011 at 11:10 am |
    • phoenix39

      Hey, I said the same thing. It's a shame one of their own kind knows the ego of his own people.

      March 16, 2011 at 1:11 pm |
    • Cherokee

      They are being punished because they made the run-a-way Toyotas that killed innocent people. They did it out of greed to make a profit and now it is causing some them their lives.

      March 16, 2011 at 10:54 pm |
  20. Steve

    To me this is nonsense, if you say what you mean and mean what you say, then there is no need to apologize. This is what the guy believed and he said it, there is NO need to apologize for anything or to anyone.

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

      II disagree. If he's an elected official, he should keep that type of opinion to himself. If he doesn't, he should apologize. Elected officials should never turn a natural disaster into a theological statement, especially if that statement says it happened as punishment.

      March 16, 2011 at 11:45 am |
    • Choconet

      I agree with you Steve it has NOTHING to do with politics and everything to do with everyone being so "politically correct" that it’s made everyone overtly sensitive to every word that comes out of a person's mouth. Jesus says in Matt 24:10 that as the "signs of the times" that many would be offended. People are easily offended now days! There use to be a time when people said hurtful or unpleasant things and you let it slide off your back like water, but now people take it to heart and are literally shaken by a person's words. The truth is the truth and just because you don’t want to hear it doesn’t mean it stops being the truth. Toughen up people it’s going to get a lot worse than a few choice words. How will endure the tribulation then?

      March 16, 2011 at 12:32 pm |
    • Rebecca

      I agree. In response to @scott, elected officials (at least in America) are elected due in part to their religious faith. What about Obama's recent speech on his faith in Christianity? Was that uncalled for? I would say yes, but many Americans would probably say it was necessary and/or even expected.

      March 16, 2011 at 12:38 pm |
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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.