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. chase

    Chicken?!? Cow?! (southpark)

    March 15, 2011 at 4:07 pm |
  2. Anne Chovey

    He knows what god thinks.....another one.

    March 15, 2011 at 4:07 pm |
  3. Christina

    He might as well have said that the victims deserved to die, because that's what it sounds like. It was a tasteless comment in a time of tragedy.

    March 15, 2011 at 4:06 pm |
    • sobekind

      Yes, well said Cristina and at this point radiation is in the air in Tokyo he could have put all the babies and children infront of him to dissipate before reaching him cause all of those babies and chidren are so pure and innocence to pay for his sin.

      March 15, 2011 at 4:48 pm |
    • Scott

      "We all got it coming, Kid."
      -William Munny

      March 15, 2011 at 8:14 pm |
  4. Jfen42

    It is nice to see we don't corner the market on idiot politicians. All joking aside, it is unfortunate that someone would use this tragedy for political criticism.

    March 15, 2011 at 4:06 pm |
  5. Sean

    This is something that happens when you mix religion with politics. People need to recognize that earth has its power... nature overpowers human beings. You can say God invents those or there's no God. And nature will kill.

    March 15, 2011 at 4:06 pm |
  6. Greenspam

    Even Pat Robinson was saying, "Calling human tragedy God's revenge for what people have done is just plain wrong!"

    March 15, 2011 at 4:05 pm |
  7. Intel

    Pat Robertson lives

    March 15, 2011 at 4:05 pm |
  8. xasthur

    It's egoism to think that humans are so important that it couldn't just be nature but divine will of god. What egoism!

    March 15, 2011 at 4:05 pm |
  9. Steve

    He got it all wrong. It is pretty obvious to me that it is an All Loving, All Powerful and All Knowing God that sent his mysterious love to us...

    March 15, 2011 at 4:04 pm |
  10. bes

    why do people say such stupid s*&^? I just don't get it.

    March 15, 2011 at 4:04 pm |
  11. John

    The misguided ones among us often think they can make a semblance of order out of unspeakable chaos by saying it's God's will. Doesn't matter what part of the world they're from or what belief system they ascribe to; their fear never lets them see reality. The public – also God's creatures – response makes it difficult for them to extract the shoe leather from their mouths. You can't ever take back what you've said. You can only choke on it.

    March 15, 2011 at 4:03 pm |
  12. Tom

    We have Beck, they have him. At least he apologized.

    March 15, 2011 at 4:03 pm |
    • Greg


      March 15, 2011 at 6:27 pm |
  13. sobekind

    Just one question to ask this great governor of Tokyo, are we people supposed to die to pay for the sin of politician? All the lives of babies, children and old people lost in this tragic just for paying sin of the greedy politician and sinned like him?????????

    March 15, 2011 at 4:02 pm |
  14. Debbie

    I believe you might have a prophetic point. The whole world needs to access the pride of man that walks the face of this earth. And humble ourselves under the mighty hand of God. Reorder our priorities and put God first.

    March 15, 2011 at 4:00 pm |
    • moornook

      which god though?.... there are so many to chose from

      March 15, 2011 at 4:05 pm |
    • Frank

      So true.

      March 15, 2011 at 4:07 pm |
    • brs

      Sorry Debbie, but putting God first will not prevent future earthquakes, and may actual hinder an effective response to future earthquake/tsunamis. The best we can do is learn how to deal with disasters like this. We can't prevent tragedy but we can learn to rise above it.

      March 15, 2011 at 4:08 pm |
    • Andrew

      Who do you think sent the earthquake?

      March 15, 2011 at 4:10 pm |
    • E Scott

      If you believe in an allmighty god than either he caused this to happen or did nothing to stop it. In either event, why would any logical person look at this tragedy as a reason to spend MORE of their time and energy worshiping him?

      March 15, 2011 at 4:11 pm |
    • I.am.who.I.am

      Too bad there is no reply button to (Andrew). Answer is Mother God. She is tired of doing the spin cycle and cleaning house for her disrespectful and un-ruling kids. she had enough so something gotta crack 🙂

      March 15, 2011 at 5:19 pm |
    • Greg

      Worship Zeus or face eternal hellfire!

      March 15, 2011 at 6:27 pm |
  15. Citizen Kane

    If it is your sincere opinion, how can it be wrong?

    March 15, 2011 at 3:58 pm |
    • Greg

      Um...because it's nonsense?

      March 15, 2011 at 6:26 pm |
  16. wow

    dude looks great for 78

    March 15, 2011 at 3:57 pm |
    • God

      Asians don't age

      March 15, 2011 at 4:01 pm |
    • Hiechawa

      You are racist 😛

      March 15, 2011 at 4:08 pm |
    • I.am.who.I.am

      Must be eating all that seaweeds 🙂

      March 15, 2011 at 5:15 pm |
    • Cherokee

      He does look good for his age. He isspeaking from wisdom as he knows it maybe he is right who knows after all he has being knowing how to take care of his body I am jealous I wish I knew his secret. I don't think I look like a whatever but I can always use some improvement LOL.

      March 17, 2011 at 12:06 am |
  17. Chuck

    Sue the pope for being an accomplice.

    March 15, 2011 at 3:55 pm |
  18. Greg

    Wow. And I thought only a Christian would say something that ignorant.

    March 15, 2011 at 3:54 pm |
    • moornook

      too funny

      March 15, 2011 at 3:57 pm |
    • Lee

      Greg, do you realize how 'ignorant' your statement is?

      March 15, 2011 at 4:12 pm |
    • KC

      Greg, you certainly have a right to air your viewpoint. Given your answer, I would only hope that you have thought long and hard about whether God exists or on your view of religion (whatever that is) before making that statement.

      March 15, 2011 at 4:18 pm |
    • Greg

      Lee and KC, touched a nerve, did I? I guess you don't remember the comments by the religious right after 9/11....

      KC, I don't have to think "long and hard" about whether or not a god exists – I figured out that religion was a scam when I was five. It's a fairy tale (and not a very good one, at that), but you're more than welcome to believe it if you want. Just do us all a favour, though, and leave the serious decision making to us grownups, ok?

      March 15, 2011 at 6:24 pm |
    • Floyd

      Greg, you could never be in a position of responsibility as your bigotry will impede any and all of your decision making you sad sack. You should never be in a position of authority, law, teaching, hiring of any kind, politics, government etc etc. Your schoolyard bullying style is hardly mature enough to make any informed, well-intended decsion for the betterment of mankind.

      March 15, 2011 at 11:29 pm |
  19. Terry

    I don't think what he said is offensive or accurate. It's just an opinion and one of many ways people respond to devastation and loss. It's natural to want to find reasons why such things happen. But in reality, this isn't the beginning or the end of anything. The earth is greater than us self-important humans, and will take care of itself as it sees put. We should learn to respect the power of nature and learn to live within its laws the best we can because if it decides to be finished with us, it will. That's all we can take from this.

    March 15, 2011 at 3:53 pm |
    • Neal Kelley

      IIt is insensitive and stupid. So let me guess, if you work hard and lived a successful life then it was divine will that my entire family is killed and all my belongings was destroyed. Because of "divine redistribution". What ever that is..

      March 15, 2011 at 3:57 pm |
    • Mark

      Pretty much sums it up as to how we all respond to personal or natural disasters. People try to make sense of things the best they can, but sometimes there is no reason, things just happen.

      March 15, 2011 at 3:58 pm |
    • urafool99999

      So we caused the earthquake?

      March 15, 2011 at 4:13 pm |
    • chedar

      Things happen for a reason. And this catastrophy is one among the many.

      March 15, 2011 at 5:07 pm |
    • I.am.who.I.am

      Well said.

      March 15, 2011 at 5:14 pm |
  20. Rasputin

    Rebuild after high colonic? DaveK?

    March 15, 2011 at 3:51 pm |
    • DaveK

      I should have separated them! First part was response to post about "cleanzing" of the earth.
      Second part was to the people claiming the end days and divine retribution. Disasters have happened countless times in the past and will continue to the end of humankind. There's a lot more people to effect than there were in the past so of course more will be hurt and killed. Seeing the tragedies first hand in real time greatly increases their psychological impact on the rest of the world.

      March 15, 2011 at 4:13 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.