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. rose

    in times of trauma people say things to try to make sense of it all. and the truth is–we humans do not know as much as we think we do about many things.

    March 15, 2011 at 4:55 pm |
    • Fig1024

      Actually most religious people believe similar nonsense. Any time there's a disaster anywhere in the world, the religious people will say it's act of god.

      March 15, 2011 at 5:02 pm |
    • Floyd

      @Fig1024 – Insurance companies use "act of God" in their policies. Are they believers, or is it an excuse to get out of paying claims?

      March 15, 2011 at 5:18 pm |
    • PraiseTheLard

      Floyd: you wrote: "Insurance companies use "act of God" in their policies. Are they believers, or is it an excuse to get out of paying claims?"

      I'm sure they're true believers... They believe in the Dollar...

      March 15, 2011 at 9:43 pm |
  2. chesspoem

    Its the boggie man at play again, not.

    March 15, 2011 at 4:55 pm |
  3. KLR

    why do people say things and then apologize for it later knowing it's what they really meant. Dang it, it's how they felt and they are not sincere with the apology which makes the apology that much worse. If he fells that the disaster was for a reason then so be it, it is his opinion.....ugh...stop it

    March 15, 2011 at 4:55 pm |
    • mythfree

      commit your crime then apologize profusely and beg for forgiveness. it is easier to forgive than forget a fool.

      March 16, 2011 at 3:15 am |
  4. Nancy M. B.

    I couldn't agree more with "God Illusion." Have been saying the same things for years.

    March 15, 2011 at 4:54 pm |
    • His Noodly Appendage

      that argument is about 2,500 years old, and one of my favorites

      March 15, 2011 at 4:59 pm |
  5. Byrd

    If this is god's work, then that's who we need to declare war on. Why don't you try starting with me, god? Should be over in less than your last heartbeat.

    March 15, 2011 at 4:53 pm |
    • mythfree

      still looking for the answer to why god is a male?

      why did he create himself a penis? never used it...Mary is proof he didn't when he impregnated her with himself. she is still a virgin.

      no wonder the myth minded are so easily fooled by dogma... they will believe anything...

      like those eternal 72 m00zy virgins... now theres a myth men will di –e for..

      March 16, 2011 at 3:12 am |
  6. Ryan

    Every time something happens people cannot understand the cause of, they resort to the lazy answer: God did it.

    "Works in mysterious ways" is just code for "I don't know, but don't want to admit that."

    March 15, 2011 at 4:53 pm |
    • Craig the Critic

      Brilliant! Yes, that's exactly what happens. Stupid people who don't have the guts to stop and "THINK", resort to "God did it!" It makes humans look stupid and it makes those who have a genuine faith look stupid, too.

      March 15, 2011 at 5:02 pm |
    • mythfree

      thats why we are living in the Age of Stupidity...

      some of us see the joke.. others are still lost in it...

      March 16, 2011 at 3:06 am |
  7. chedar

    Rob, What plan?

    March 15, 2011 at 4:53 pm |
  8. Stan

    I am so sick and tired of CNN and many people who always try to discredit religion with articles like these. Fact is, yes indeed there are doctrines which preaches apocalypse and signs of the end of days. Just because some people find it offensive to link disaster with religious prophecies doesn't mean all religious people are evil. I have noticed how the PC police is now always trying to shut anyone who mentions religion in public up – which ironically is part of the bible prophecy.

    Yes this man may have been offensive but that shouldn't give anyone the right to attack people and their beliefs, and label religious people who truly believe in these things as CRAZY. Very soon everyone will have to shut up after any disaster happens so they don't offend anyone.

    March 15, 2011 at 4:52 pm |
    • PraiseTheLard

      Stan: you wrote: "Just because some people find it offensive to link disaster with religious prophecies doesn't mean all religious people are evil."

      No... it means that they're stupid.

      March 15, 2011 at 9:40 pm |
    • mythfree

      Thanks STAN.. you made my day a little brighter... lololololol...

      March 16, 2011 at 3:03 am |
  9. john

    Whales and Dolphins?

    March 15, 2011 at 4:51 pm |
  10. Derek

    If you belive in that nonsense then why doesn't a tsunami wash away the Taliban?

    March 15, 2011 at 4:49 pm |
    • mythfree

      that would be a baptism.. and the taliban's super daddy would not allow that.. thats why the evolved in the desert... when the earth shakes there, the just get rocks on their head... and sand tsunami's..

      March 16, 2011 at 3:01 am |
  11. Peter E

    Hey, even in our country Pat Robertson called 9/11, Katrina, Iraq, and pretty much every instance of an American dying a divine retribution. He never apologized. In fact, our right-wing continues to celebrate him.
    Of course, if it was anyone but a right-winger saying the same comments, they'd be called an America-hater traitor...

    March 15, 2011 at 4:49 pm |
  12. spoo

    then the next earthquake magnitud 10 will happen in israel

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

      If Israel deserves a 10 magnitude earthquake, I wonder what magnitude deserves the US! It will be the strongest of all 😀

      March 15, 2011 at 4:56 pm |
    • I.am.who.I.am

      On the west coast (California) is like a big kid that bullies other, having bigger economy, Hollywood = sin :), big EGO well one day GOD will take the kid aside (making it an island) and punish it so it can't play with the other kids anymore 🙂 ooh, does that sound bad?

      March 15, 2011 at 5:50 pm |
  13. Karl Blessing

    Ok, so that's his opinion... but there's a time and a place for that kind of thing. The only benefit to saying something like that now is getting the spotlight.

    March 15, 2011 at 4:48 pm |
  14. Bill S.

    I never believed all that plate tectonics stuff anyway. In 2004, those poor Indonesians must not have sacrificed enough virgins into their volcanoes. And in New Orleans, too few voodoo dolls were deployed to bless the defective Corps of Engineers defective levees, so the city flooded. Problems explained.

    March 15, 2011 at 4:47 pm |
  15. Justme

    I think Jerry Falwell is speaking through this man. I remember Falwell said that that God was punishing gays with AIDS.

    March 15, 2011 at 4:46 pm |
    • mythfree

      when god ki-lled Farwell, what was his reason?.. good guess is was for telling lies perhaps? or bilking millions from fools?

      March 16, 2011 at 2:55 am |
    • mythfree

      opps.. thats Falwell..late night sleepy drunk... .

      March 16, 2011 at 2:57 am |
  16. Erky

    Let's get Pat Robertson's take on all of this. There mush have been a Gay parade involved to the Lord's reaction

    March 15, 2011 at 4:45 pm |
  17. meee

    Karl you cant be black ur a viking

    March 15, 2011 at 4:45 pm |
    • Karl the Viking

      Arrrr! But I like black things 🙂

      March 15, 2011 at 4:46 pm |
    • Karl the Viking

      LOL, sounds like a SNL skit... Karl the black Viking 🙂

      March 15, 2011 at 4:49 pm |
    • mythfree

      ever wonder why most bibles have black covers... must have something very dark and scary inside...

      March 16, 2011 at 2:52 am |
  18. Justen

    It is very possible that the governor of Tokyo was absolutely right.

    March 15, 2011 at 4:44 pm |
    • Krissy

      It is vey possible that you are a primitive village idot...........

      March 15, 2011 at 5:00 pm |
    • mythfree

      krissy.... hahahaha.. thanks that was brilliant!!!

      March 16, 2011 at 2:50 am |
  19. Earth

    He is just being honest by telling the truth

    March 15, 2011 at 4:44 pm |
  20. God Illusion

    These events (and thousands of others) refute the concept of the existence of a god on their face.

    God is supposedly all knowing so he knew the earthquake was coming.
    God is supposedly all powerful so he could have stopped it.
    God is supposedly all loving so he would not let thousands of his loved children die needless, agonizing deaths if he could avoid that.

    I protect and care for my hamster better than that.

    Either he is all powerful – but not all loving – so he allows it to happen. Or he all loving – but not all powerful – so he can't stop it.

    He cannot be both – ipso facto he does not exist – next topic?

    March 15, 2011 at 4:43 pm |
    • Rob

      " It's all part of his plan for us."

      March 15, 2011 at 4:46 pm |
    • David

      Could not have said it better – Thanks You !!!!

      March 15, 2011 at 4:49 pm |
    • God Illusion

      LOL yea, the worst (but you're right, the most predictable) cop-out answer ever! If this is his plan he's no god of mine, the guys a total sadistic psychopath!

      March 15, 2011 at 4:49 pm |
    • pourquoi pas

      Not a believer myself, but "God is supposedly all loving so he would not let thousands of his loved children die needless, agonizing deaths if he could avoid that" sounds a lot like "God" would have to intervene CONSTANTLY with lives of mortals; that, supposedly, is not why mortals were created by "God."

      Again, it seems all nonsense, but I'm not sure your "syllogism" disproves the existence of "God."

      March 15, 2011 at 4:50 pm |
    • Ricky

      To God Illusion:
      Just because you don't believe in God or the Devil doesn't mean they don't exist 'cause you're going on an express elevator to hell like most of the world is going! Good luck surviving the time of reckoning here on earth!!! LOL!

      March 15, 2011 at 4:50 pm |
    • leukram

      Or, it could be there is far more to it all than just this existence. Our lives here on Earth may not be the end all and be all. Don't "logic" yourself into a box.

      March 15, 2011 at 4:50 pm |
    • KlausVos

      if god's plan is to kill thousands of innocents, he's not a god worth believing in
      having no god is better than having a malevolent one

      March 15, 2011 at 4:51 pm |
    • Hui

      Our other God Illusion is that we think we KNOW what God even is. If we admit that we may not know what God is then God could exist.

      March 15, 2011 at 4:52 pm |
    • Shalom

      Your attempt to box God in and suggest what He could, should, and must be is futile and down right ridiculous. Who can understand God to the point of suggesting what He should have done. And just because God does not behave as you suppose He should, your conclusion that He does not exist is foolish at best.

      March 15, 2011 at 4:52 pm |
    • KlausVos

      Ricks, please remove yourself

      March 15, 2011 at 4:53 pm |
    • God is here...

      God is not an illusion, but I will pray that you find something in this life to believe that before you die. God probably did know about the earthquake before it happened. He did not cause it, nature did....Yes, he could have probably stopped it, but who are we to question the plan that God has for us or the world. Countless blessings will eventually come from this horrible tragedy. Perhaps there are lessons we need to learn from this before we end up blowing up the whole world and each other. God is loving...in His eyes, it is not terrible to die...it is a reward to be given the chance to be in Heaven with God. How do we know that God didn't already take the souls of those who died before the agonizing pain. Sometimes the things we go through in death and destruction are part of the lessons we are here to learn in this life. In the big scheme of things, our time here on Earth is just a blip on the radar. If you believe that this is all there is and then there is nothing....I am very sorry for you and will continue to pray for you.

      March 15, 2011 at 4:53 pm |
    • JP

      Consider this: Life is a test, designed by God. The test is how we react to difficult, often terrible events. How respond to success and how we treat our fellow man. Then in the end, we are rewarded for the good we've done while on earth and all injustices are made right. An all-knowing, all-powerful begin, understands would understand, that the only way to obtain knowldge is by experience. Thus, suffering, sickness, death, life and happiness, are all part of this temporal existence. Death thought terrible at times, is not the end.

      March 15, 2011 at 4:54 pm |
    • His Noodly Appendage

      That's the Epicurus argument, right?

      March 15, 2011 at 4:55 pm |
    • love

      You can hurt those you love, people do it all the time

      March 15, 2011 at 4:55 pm |


      March 15, 2011 at 4:55 pm |
    • Carolyn

      The fact is we live on a planet that has earthquakes...it was designed that way.

      March 15, 2011 at 4:55 pm |
    • Slick

      @god is here...
      you can never know with certainty that there is or is not a god and only self righteous morons will tell you otherwise
      I dare you to try Pascal's wager on me

      March 15, 2011 at 4:55 pm |
    • Ben

      Could it be that there is a reason why God allows suffering which is beyond your understaning? Many people assume that because they see no reason for God to allow suffering, then there must not be one. It takes humility to accept there are some things we don't have figured out, that God knows more than we do and has plans that remain a mystery while we are on this earth.

      March 15, 2011 at 4:56 pm |
    • amatteroftime!

      you need some bible schooling my friend! this is the time of revelations, read up on it and it will let you know whats really going on and that god isnt here to pamper us but to take down those who havent followed his rules..

      March 15, 2011 at 4:56 pm |
    • Jared

      I'm not Christian, but you have a clear lack of understanding of the religion and God in general. Parents love their children unconditionally (some anyway) but they still let them make their own mistakes, because that's how you raise a child. God is the same way. And death by tsunami doesn't prevent you from going to heaven. You make the assumption that death is important, and that life on earth is important. In Christianity it's simply a stepping stone to something better, which is the afterlife. If you look at it from the point of view of a believer you'll see that what you've said makes no sense.

      There's nothing wrong with letting all those people die, because God will welcome them with open arms into the kingdom of heaven. The entire idea of the afterlife in many religions is that it's a place better than earth so that people don't fear death. Look at the Vikings and their beliefs on death. Although I guess for them this wouldn't be the right kind of death.

      March 15, 2011 at 4:57 pm |
    • Ed

      or he simply does not control everything in the world do you control everything your hamster does and everything around your hamster in every way if so what a sad life for your hamster. Somethings just happen they are not the will or doing of God but as nature is real not necessarily he place to stop them. Soemthings just happen. If your whole reasonn for being on the belief blog is to attack the relegions of the world then your are indeed a sad person.

      March 15, 2011 at 4:58 pm |
    • Brutus

      @ amatteroftime
      I have read rebelations and what it describes (famine, war, natural disaster, etc) are a part of civilization and were happening for millenia before that bronze age prophecy was ever an inkling of a thought

      March 15, 2011 at 4:59 pm |
    • Ed

      Further more everytime God is giving credi for interferring or we are told to behave a certain way we say its not God busy tell him to butt out. Then when he butts out we say how could you butt out you should control everything. Do you wnat him in or out take your pick. You can't have both

      March 15, 2011 at 5:00 pm |
    • x0x0

      Human existence isn't a carefree party 100% of the time, so therefore God must not exist.

      March 15, 2011 at 5:00 pm |
    • SteveCHNC

      Whether things are good or bad is all relative. If there were none of the things we call tragedies in our world, then other events would be considered tragedies. You would be saying, "See, there is no God since the handle on my recliner is on the left side of my chair! What a tragedy! If God existed he would have prevented it!" Life is a gift, even if it is cut short by what we consider a tragedy. Your "ipso facto" argument is not proof that there is no God or that he is not a loving God since our perception is relative to an arbitrary experience.

      March 15, 2011 at 5:00 pm |
    • God Illusion

      Jared you miss the point. This is nothing to do with children making mistakes or "free will" – its about an uncaring, psycho choosing not to get involved to prevent a natural disaster. Actually, it;s about nothing of the sort because there actually is no sky daddy – sorry folks.

      March 15, 2011 at 5:06 pm |
    • LMJ

      @god illusion
      don't be sorry

      March 15, 2011 at 5:08 pm |
    • God Illusion

      The original Epicurus argument... (we have evolved beyond the need for such arguments as the lack of a deity is now self evident).

      “Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil? Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?”

      March 15, 2011 at 6:19 pm |
    • Floyd

      No pain, no gain maybe?

      March 15, 2011 at 6:22 pm |
    • Howdy

      God Illusion,

      The Bible doesn't teach that God always intervenes in a physical way to protect us from harm. Most of the disciples were executed and so was Jesus. What it teaches is that God empathizes and feels our pain along with us in these situations and gives use the strength to persevere. It also teaches that God is a redeemer and cares for his children. Not everything is a plan. This a tough world that we live in. I just know that God cares about everyone on this rock regardless of who they are or what they have done.

      One last note. Everything so far that is known to man has a cause. You are an effect of your parents for example. They caused you. Everything came from something. How is it that something as big as the universe has no cause? Most people believe that cause is God.

      March 15, 2011 at 7:13 pm |
    • mythfree

      gods are like teddy bears.. we know they are not real.. but provide with a soft and cuddly thing we can cling to when your ignorance and stupidity kicks in...

      March 16, 2011 at 2:48 am |
    • Cherokee

      @ God Illuson–The bible states that people like you will see the signs that God does exists but in their heart they will tell themselves that he doesnot–The bible calls them a fool now I am stating what is in the bible I am not calling you a fool.

      March 17, 2011 at 12:46 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.