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. michael wolf

    Gee, I wonder what effect this will have on "Blinky's" intent to run for governor again.

    March 15, 2011 at 5:23 pm |
  2. Cleveland Jim

    God had nothing to do with the plates shifting. Geology. Physics. Amazing.

    March 15, 2011 at 5:23 pm |
    • phildaman

      God had everything to do with the plates shifting. Geology. Physics...Human understanding of only a small fraction of God's amazing abilities.

      March 15, 2011 at 5:32 pm |
    • Ryan

      Amen brother....errr wait, maybe the wrong choice of words!!

      March 15, 2011 at 5:39 pm |
    • Ryan

      Wait, I have an idea, maybe God and Jesus could some how collaborate and walk out and give those plates a little TLC! That certainly would help out right? I mean, at least Jesus has experience at the whole walking on water thing right? Oh wait, I forgot this wasn't a children's cartoon.

      March 15, 2011 at 5:45 pm |
    • Karl the Viking

      You are very correct. But my belief is that God is manifested in everything... and this is my belief; I do not have a "God" sensor to show you; I am sorry... I will leave that up to God to show you as you live your life, as he has done for me 😉

      March 15, 2011 at 6:13 pm |
  3. Reflecting_Pools

    He was spot on regarding the egoism that has rusted onto the fabric of the human mentality generally. His central point has expressed a cardinal truth about civilization that desperately needs to be heard. The hubris, swagger and impudence so brashly evident in the Bush and Reagan years and still epidemic today, must be undermined by Truth, Honesty, Humility and Compassion. Monumental Natural Disasters are fully capable of wiping our arrogant faces clear of the hubris. We can figure it out now, BEFORE that impudence leads to our undoing. Or we can wait until our swagger has caused a cataclysmic event, and then in the final act in our human life, it will permanently wipe that hubris from the land. Ishihara was talking about the ability of monumental Natural Disasters to humble us and about our great need to be more humble. HE WAS NOT WRONG. He deserves great credit for having the courage to speak out. He was NOT justifying the deaths of 1,000s of innocent victims. But I do realize that lteralists are incapable of figuring that out, which is why they haven't a clue what poetry is.

    March 15, 2011 at 5:23 pm |
  4. Lin

    Ezekiel 20:8 But they rebelled against me, and refused to listen to me; no one got rid of their detestable idols, 13 nor did they abandon the idols of Egypt. Then I decided to pour out 14 my rage on them and fully vent my anger against them in the midst of the land of Egypt.

    Psalm 75:7 For God is the judge! 14

    He brings one down and exalts another. 15

    Jonah 2:8 Those who worship 35 worthless idols 36 forfeit the mercy that could be theirs. 37

    2:9 But as for me, I promise to offer a sacrifice to you with a public declaration 38 of praise; 39

    I will surely do 40 what I have promised. 41

    Salvation 42 belongs to the Lord!” 43

    Isaiah 45:18 For this is what the Lord says,

    the one who created the sky –

    he is the true God, 48

    the one who formed the earth and made it;

    he established it,

    he did not create it without order, 49

    he formed it to be inhabited –

    “I am the Lord, I have no peer.

    2:18 The worthless idols will be completely eliminated. 37

    2:19 They 38 will go into caves in the rocky cliffs

    and into holes in the ground, 39

    trying to escape the dreadful judgment of the Lord 40

    and his royal splendor,

    when he rises up to terrify the earth. 41

    March 15, 2011 at 5:21 pm |
    • SlapStick

      And GOD burst through the clouds and said "your post takes up too much space as does your physical presence, please delete both"...followed by thunder and stuff.

      March 15, 2011 at 5:31 pm |
    • brs

      You know what happens when you try to use the bible in a bibliography? you fail because you didn't properly cite your source...

      March 15, 2011 at 5:44 pm |
    • urafool99999

      He has proved that he can either read a novel or at least copy and paste text from said novel... wait... was I supposed to get something else out of that?

      March 15, 2011 at 5:46 pm |
    • Karl the Viking

      LOL Slapstick, you are a riot 🙂

      March 15, 2011 at 6:09 pm |
  5. tbrown17

    Everyone knows that the floods etc were Gods will, but not His retribution.

    March 15, 2011 at 5:18 pm |
  6. elgeevz

    It seem to me that Mother Nature generally gets the blame for the death and destruction caused by storms, but that most folks give God the credit when their lives and property are spared.

    March 15, 2011 at 5:17 pm |
  7. Richard

    The folks that say these things are so stupid it is beyond belief.

    March 15, 2011 at 5:16 pm |
  8. D

    I thought the rumblings of the earth were controlled by God....what are some of you saying that the Bible lies?

    March 15, 2011 at 5:15 pm |
  9. Toe Knee

    God is great, totally believe in the comment of egoism, too bad others don't get it. It would be a better world if they did.

    March 15, 2011 at 5:14 pm |
  10. Tara

    John 14:6 (King James Version)
     6Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.

    March 15, 2011 at 5:11 pm |
    • SlapStick

      Was that before or after Jesus awarded with Pegasus and the cloaking helmet?

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

      "John 14:6"

      So, you believe the words of someone (or ones) who wrote a book at the end of the first century and ti.tled it "John" ?

      March 15, 2011 at 5:24 pm |
  11. Ross

    What I don't understand is why people get offended at this– whether you disagree, agree, think all religion is error, believe a particular religion, etc. Why not just say, "I disagree"? Why so thin-skinned? It's as if disagreement of any kind is becoming inherently offensive. How weak our cultures are becoming! Brittle, frozen, decrepit. How much better to be robust, to laugh with strength and counter points you disagree with rather than getting upset. "Offense" should be almost impossible to elicit from us, rather than being almost unavoidable.

    March 15, 2011 at 5:09 pm |
    • steve

      Agreed, good post. Communication, debate, discourse... these are things that lend strength to a society and allow participants to learn, or at least foster an open mind. Somewhere in history it started becoming so, so personal. Who's secure in their own beliefs anymore?

      March 15, 2011 at 5:23 pm |
    • PraiseTheLard

      The offensive aspect of this is: How did such an idiot get elected Governor? (I suppose it reminds us that some people with as little brains as this one have gotten elected to high posts in this country as well... )

      March 15, 2011 at 10:26 pm |
  12. Lin

    All nations, peoples, cultures who adore/worship/pray to idols do get God's condemnation:
    Micah 1:6 “I will turn Samaria 24 into a heap of ruins in an open field –

    vineyards will be planted there! 25

    I will tumble 26 the rubble of her stone walls 27 down into the valley,

    and tear down her fortifications to their foundations. 28

    1:7 All her carved idols will be smashed to pieces;

    all her metal cult statues will be destroyed by fire. 29

    I will make a waste heap 30 of all her images.

    DEUTORONOMY29:16 “(For you know how we lived in the land of Egypt and how we crossed through the nations as we traveled. 29:17 You have seen their detestable things 16 and idols of wood, stone, silver, and gold.) 17 29:18 Beware that the heart of no man, woman, clan, or tribe among you turns away from the Lord our God today to pursue and serve the gods of those nations; beware that there is among you no root producing poisonous and bitter fruit. 18 29:19 When such a person 19 hears the words of this oath he secretly 20 blesses himself 21 and says, “I will have peace though I continue to walk with a stubborn spirit.” 22 This will destroy 23 the watered ground with the parched. 24 29:20 The Lord will be unwilling to forgive him, and his intense anger 25 will rage 26 against that man; all the curses 27 written in this scroll will fall upon him 28 and the Lord will obliterate his name from memory. 29 29:21 The Lord will single him out 30 for judgment 31

    March 15, 2011 at 5:07 pm |
    • SlapStick

      I made a waste heap after reading your post.

      March 15, 2011 at 5:10 pm |
  13. scott

    That same mentality attacked pearl harbor. How did that work out for them? BOOM!

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

      Let go my EGO..:)

      March 15, 2011 at 5:35 pm |
  14. SlapStick

    If this is true...I can't wait to see what happens to America. Talk about a much needed cleansing.

    March 15, 2011 at 5:07 pm |
    • Karl the Viking

      Be careful what you say and plant in your mind... "those who raise up the sword shall die by it"

      March 15, 2011 at 5:11 pm |
    • SlapStick

      Well, Karl if everything is meant to happen for a reason then I guess God made me plant the seed and raise the sword. I fail to see any action being punishable if all actions are predetermined by your almighty GOD?? You can't have it both ways, free thinking and that BS of everything happening for a reason.

      March 15, 2011 at 5:25 pm |
    • Karl the Viking

      First, he is not my God, mate; I am his creation. And I am not too particularly religious, but I know my heart and I know there is a beautiful "god" (seems like that is what we like to use to describe) in this universe. I am sorry you need to fight over things like this. I am finding this forum very fascinating, it touches upon the "passion" of people... which is good, because I feel this world is loosing its "good" passion lately... Take care and good thoughts, mate... wish I could buy you a nice cold beer 😉

      March 15, 2011 at 5:34 pm |
  15. http://www.a3shgk.com


    March 15, 2011 at 5:05 pm |
    • Karl the Viking

      فماذا لديك لتقوله عن الجنس في هذا المنتدى؟ يجب أن تكون أنت بالاحباط والحاجة للتعبير عن هذا. وأتمنى لكم أفضل
      صديقي. سلم الله لك.

      March 15, 2011 at 5:18 pm |
  16. LisaDe

    I'm sure that comment earned him plus political points with Buddhists. Assuming what he said was true was that the reason India suffered a Tsunami of biblical proportions decimating approximately a quarter million people and displacing about triple that many? Why can't the explanation be that the earth had a need to belch and unfortunately people got killed as a result? Or, mother nature is on the war path. I hate to say this but when I watched video of the roaring Tsunami gobbling up everything in its path, it reminded me of a Dragon.

    March 15, 2011 at 5:05 pm |
    • Karl the Viking

      Funny you bring up the dragon, because I saw the same, actually many dragons coming ashore... go figure.

      March 15, 2011 at 5:09 pm |
    • PraiseTheLard

      You wrote: "I'm sure that comment earned him plus political points with Buddhists"

      Would that be the Green Tea party?

      March 15, 2011 at 9:47 pm |
  17. Rex Raptor

    This imaginary god that people worship seems like he's a bit of a jerk.

    March 15, 2011 at 5:05 pm |
  18. steelerguin

    Good thing he didn't say God did it. He would have been accused of being in the tea party or a conservative Republican. "Tembatsu" is nice and colloquial.

    March 15, 2011 at 5:05 pm |
  19. Bonnie Kush

    religious nutters are everywhere.

    March 15, 2011 at 5:03 pm |
    • Karl the Viking

      You have a religion Bonnie, you just don't want to call it that 😉

      March 15, 2011 at 5:05 pm |
    • Bonnie Kush

      i rest my case.

      March 15, 2011 at 5:08 pm |
    • Fred Evil

      Ding Ding Ding!!

      Bonnie – 1
      Karl – 0

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

      Actually, Karl's comeback was creatively better. Reverse your score.

      March 15, 2011 at 5:21 pm |
    • Karl the Viking

      Live for what you believe in, Bonnie. And not trying to be trite, may God bless you.

      March 15, 2011 at 5:25 pm |
    • I.am.who.I.am

      You guys ar funny and good point Floyd. One either has a belief in religion or no religion. Still one believes. Therefore, the score should go to Karl. Bonnie's religion is not to believe. Thus, she is an atheist? 🙂

      March 15, 2011 at 5:31 pm |
    • Ed

      considering this is a belief blog it seem entirely appropriate to have people of faith on it. What seems out of place is all the people who get on it to deny faith and insult the faithful (i.e religious nutters are everywhere). I guess none relegious nutters are every where too

      March 15, 2011 at 5:58 pm |
  20. Karl the Viking

    With all this talk about God being responsible for this tragedy, doesn't anyone think about the devil? What happens when a child runs away from home? They leave to protection from their parent and are at the mercy of all the word around them. By ignoring God and even acting in our lives to offend God, don't you think a loving God and the protection of the "angels" / "good spirits" will "back off" since we indirectly ask them to leave? And when that happens, who will come in their place?

    Surround yourself with good and peace... search your hearts, you know that this is right!

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

      Or there is no god and earthquakes and other natural disasters are just the NATURAL. Meaning they occur in nature and it is normal.

      March 15, 2011 at 5:10 pm |
    • ramiel210

      Are you suggesting that the devil has powers that rival god's influence on nature? If that were the case, he'd be considered a god himself.

      Besides, you can't prove which one caused it anyways. All you could say is God let it happen – either directly or indirectly.

      Try again.

      March 15, 2011 at 5:14 pm |
    • Sue

      I agree. We need God's protection, but more and more Americans are pushing God out of this once great nation.

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

      Also: do not build nuclear plants on fault lines and hope nothing bad ever happen to them.

      March 15, 2011 at 5:18 pm |
    • Heath+1

      Many are also quick to say it is man that did it, and some HAARP instuments. This is blasphemy, God has spoken and it would be wise to listen.

      March 15, 2011 at 5:25 pm |
    • Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara

      Karl-must be tough to be unemployed and have so much time for bs. I hope you find a job soon.

      March 15, 2011 at 9:05 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.