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. Erik

    Stupid remark – no such thing as divine anything

    March 15, 2011 at 5:46 pm |
    • josef

      Well, there is no question about your opinion. Thank you for sharing.

      March 15, 2011 at 6:02 pm |
  2. John

    God does not punish, god only loves. Man and Woman punish him or herself with negative thoughts, words or actions.

    March 15, 2011 at 5:45 pm |
  3. JohnRJ08

    The notion that a Supreme Being would wreak havoc on part of a country for doing something that falls near the bottom of the list of worldly evils and that is a fundamental aspect of basic human nature is utterly preposterous. Why not destroy Somalia or Afghanistan, or parts of New Jersey? This selective targeting of human beings by some cruel, unforgiving God doesn't make any sense, logically or spiritually. This was a horrible disaster that was caused by the geophysics of our planet. God neither causes these events, nor does he stop them to protect the innocent. No matter how you look at it, Ishihara's comment was ignorant.

    March 15, 2011 at 5:44 pm |
    • Chitown Jason

      A lot of people have trouble accepting randomness. Randomness can be very discomforting to most.

      March 15, 2011 at 6:01 pm |
  4. Bibletruth

    There will be many natural disasters and the major cities will not be spared. Interesting how people want so desperately to know a reason why such things occur. The scoffers of course are fulfilling bible prophecy to the letter. Those who have science as their god including science so called will go in exactly the wrong direction when things occur that even they will know to the core of their being are supernatural events. Those who blame God just dont umderstand. Those who would use the coming disasters to form a huge religous power base will snare most all Christians and others to do exactly the opposite of what they should do, and think they are serving God. Friends, we are living in the most interesting times are we not?

    March 15, 2011 at 5:42 pm |
  5. Jenna

    Maybe it's retribution from the sea from the spirits of the whales and the dolphins.

    March 15, 2011 at 5:38 pm |
    • QED

      And the retribution for your poor taste and bad timing... may your anµs always reek of sh¡t, and toilet paper follow you on your heels all the days of your life. And may you be cursed with wearing leopard print tights for an eternity.

      March 15, 2011 at 5:59 pm |
    • Karl the Viking

      Hmmm, I like leopard print tights... that's hot... OK Jenna, I will look for the leopard print tights that you are wearing for an eternity in heaven... then I will know it is you when I get there... see you soon 😉

      March 15, 2011 at 6:18 pm |

    OK now,Lets not trip over our rocker. I say we gather enough volunteers and try to figure things out here without the whiskey and rye. Lets find and destroy the common enemy of planet earth. The sinister secret societies. And all who invent weapons including nuclear materials and atom smashers.

    March 15, 2011 at 5:35 pm |
  7. DJD

    Politicians are fools the world over.

    March 15, 2011 at 5:34 pm |
  8. Mott

    I love how people still believe in a god that according to them causes all of this destruction and death. Good job, religion.

    March 15, 2011 at 5:34 pm |
  9. Seeker

    There is no way to KNOW if God truly exists. That's why it's called Faith. Those that believe in a vengeful God see this disaster as retribution for sin. Those who believe in a benevolent diety see it as an opportunity for humans to appreciate and care for one another. Athiests see it as nothing more than a natural process...an indisciminant unlucky lottery for those affected. How each human experiences disaster is dependent on how they see God (or not.)

    March 15, 2011 at 5:33 pm |
  10. RoyInOregon

    Has Pat Robertson weighed in yet on whether this was another instance of God's displeasure? Perhap Pat can tell us why the Bearded Cloud Faery is angry this time. . . .

    March 15, 2011 at 5:32 pm |
  11. Haas

    I lived in Tokyo for 13 years and nothing but crap has come from this guy's mouth. I can't believe he's been governor all these years.

    March 15, 2011 at 5:32 pm |
    • Karl the Viking

      Sorry to hear this... Sounds like another Brittany Spears moment, then... Oooops

      March 15, 2011 at 5:41 pm |
  12. RevMartin

    Tree of Life = Jesus and Tree of Knowledge of good and evil = humanism ...two forms of thought ..one of faith the other of humanism or life without God...people today eat from both...archaic Bible...survives and helps millions upon millions...there is nothing new under the sun...just people that forget history and repeat the same arguments again and again...by the way why dont we have any empirical evidence from the dead that can speak to where there is life is after they die...just a thought...

    March 15, 2011 at 5:31 pm |
  13. SeeingEye

    If this were a heavenly punishment. The US really has it coming with their history of political corruption, war crimes, massacres (vietnam) and I can go on listing the trail of corruption this country has its hands dirty with, and no one has been brought to justice. I am not anti american. But I am not blind.

    March 15, 2011 at 5:28 pm |
    • Reality

      Some elements of our War on Terror and Aggression for the SeeingEye:

      -Operation Iraqi Freedom- The 24/7 Sunni-Shiite centuries-old blood feud currently being carried out in Iraq, US Troops killed in action, 3,481 and 924 died in non-combat, 97,172 – 106,047 Iraqi civilians killed as of 8/10/2010 mostly due the Shiite and Sunni suicide bombers.

      – Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan: US troops 1,141 killed in action, 242 killed in non-combat situations as of 03/03/2011. Over 40,000 Afghan civilians killed due to the dark-age, koranic-driven Taliban acts of horror,

      – Sa-dd-am, his sons and major he-nchmen have been deleted. Sa-dd-am's bravado about WMD was one of his major mistakes. Kuwait was saved.

      – Iran is being been contained. (beside containing the Sunni-Shiite civil war in Baghdad, that is the main reason we are in Iraq. And yes, essential oil continues to flow from the region.)

      – North Korea is still u-ncivil but is contained.

      – Northern Ireland is finally at peace.

      – The Jews and Palestinians are being separated by walls. Hopefully the walls will follow the 1948 UN accords. Unfortunately the Annapolis Peace Conference was not successful. And unfortunately the recent events in Gaza has put this situation back to “squ-are one”. And this significant stupidity is driven by the mythical foundations of both religions!!!

      – Bin La-d-en has been cornered under a rock in Western Pakistan since 9/11.

      – Fa-na–tical Islam has basically been contained to the Middle East but a wall between India and Pakistan would be a plus for world peace. Ditto for a wall between Afghanistan and Pakistan.

      – Timothy McVeigh was exe-cuted. Terry Nichols will follow soon.

      – Eric Ru-dolph is spending three life terms in pri-son with no par-ole.

      – Jim Jones, David Koresh, Kaczynski, the "nuns" from Rwanda, and the KKK were all dealt with and either eliminated themselves or are being punished.

      – Islamic Sudan, Dar-fur and So-malia are still terror hot spots.

      – The terror and tor-ture of Muslims in Bosnia, Kosovo and Kuwait were ended by the proper application of the military forces of the USA and her freedom-loving friends. Ra-dovan Karadzic was finally captured on 7/23/08 and is charged with genocide, crimes against humanity and violations of the law of war – charges related to the 1992-1995 civil war that followed Bosnia-Herzegovina's secession from Yugoslavia.

      – And of course the bloody terror brought about by the Ja-panese, Na-zis and Co-mmunists was with great difficulty eliminated by the good guys.

      March 15, 2011 at 5:33 pm |
    • Robin Hood come to America.

      @ SeeingEye.
      I agree with you 100% on your article. God have eyes and ears like the rest of us. Thing goes around and will come around soon or later.

      March 15, 2011 at 5:40 pm |
    • AMEME


      March 15, 2011 at 5:47 pm |
    • Mike

      Maybe, God is saving the best for last.

      March 15, 2011 at 5:48 pm |
    • Chitown Jason

      Maybe we've already received our judgment! We have a black, socialist, communist, Muslim, foreign, elitist liberal destroying our country with high taxes and massive debt! ahhhh!!!!

      (sarcasm, btw)

      March 15, 2011 at 5:57 pm |
  14. BR

    That's unfortunate. I totally expected the first idiot to be a Falwell-ian/Robertson-ian deciple to eat it like this.

    March 15, 2011 at 5:27 pm |
    • AMEME


      March 15, 2011 at 5:46 pm |
    • Chitown Jason

      Maybe he's Pat Robertson in disguise.

      March 15, 2011 at 5:55 pm |
  15. kristen

    May the unbelievers remember all things they say about God and be brought down in their knees unto remembrance all their iniquities and blasphemy. It won't be long... and hopefully it's not too late for those who are arrogant to accept that there is a God. Living and can see us all.

    March 15, 2011 at 5:26 pm |
    • BR

      The apostles themselves said the same thing. Two millennia and counting. 😉

      March 15, 2011 at 5:29 pm |
    • moornook

      from what side of your flat earth do i look?

      March 15, 2011 at 5:53 pm |
    • QED

      @kristen – May the devil have pity on your soul-less corpse, as your skin erupts with boils and your eyes pop out of their sockets, deep in the bowels of heII. God talked to me last night and he told me he has forsaken you for being a judgmental sinner. Repent! 🙂

      March 15, 2011 at 5:53 pm |
    • Vicki

      QED, we'll both be praying for you. Kristen, we both know the truth. See ya in heaven!

      March 15, 2011 at 6:27 pm |
  16. Chris

    some Haitians thought that last year's earthquake was retribution for blasphemy and not falling away from God (because of Voodoo)

    March 15, 2011 at 5:26 pm |
  17. Hugo Groening

    Are you sure the picture above does not correspond to former peruvian president Alberto Fujimori? If not, they must be twins.

    March 15, 2011 at 5:26 pm |
  18. EJ

    So they have Westboro Baptist idiots over there, too, huh?

    March 15, 2011 at 5:25 pm |
    • Chitown Jason

      God hates sushi

      March 15, 2011 at 5:54 pm |
  19. Cliff Vegas

    @PlagueDoc – you are the kind of believer that gives everybody else a bad rep. NO – and I'm not a skeptic – most of mainstream Christianity views Revelations as largely secondary to the Gospels – not to be taught over everything else. So who the heck are you to boast "REPENT"? At best, "revelationists" are misguided believers who have been hoodwinked by sensationalist storytellers; but to claim – as you have in this post – that YOU know that the end is near – is blasphemy.

    March 15, 2011 at 5:25 pm |
  20. JohnF

    The parade of fools. So quick to utter nonesense with no thought as to its eternal meaning. A fool's mouth is his ruin, and his lips are a snare to his soul. A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion. A fool gives full vent to his spirit, but a wise man quietly holds it back. The wise lay up knowledge, but the mouth of a fool brings ruin near. Be not quick in your spirit to become angry, for anger lodges in the bosom of fools. If a wise man has an argument with a fool, the fool only rages and laughs, and there is no quiet. It is an honor for a man to keep aloof from strife, but every fool will be quarreling. A fool's lips walk into a fight, and his mouth invites a beating. The simple believes everything, but the prudent gives thought to his steps. The wise of heart will receive commandments, but a babbling fool will come to ruin. How long, O simple ones, will you love being simple? How long will scoffers delight in their scoffing and fools hate knowledge? and so on and so on.

    Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God

    March 15, 2011 at 5:24 pm |
    • Heath+1

      Amen, amen and Amen!

      March 15, 2011 at 5:30 pm |
    • Catherine

      Hey does that go for you too?? The man is devastated, his heart is overflowing and he spoke. So what??
      You seem mighty righteous and judgmental. What about the speck?? Where is the Love and Forgiveness?

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

      What a sanctimonious little twit you are.

      March 15, 2011 at 5:33 pm |
    • AMEME


      March 15, 2011 at 5:45 pm |
    • FudgeMonkey

      Doesn't look like JohnF has any trouble shooting off his mouth, and condemning and smothering with sanctimonius judgement.

      March 15, 2011 at 5:45 pm |
    • Nogod

      Or... Maybe there is no divine anything and things just happen.

      March 15, 2011 at 5:47 pm |
    • QED

      Quoting the bible for the purpose of marginalizing others, really? Haven't we had enough sanctimonious drivel for one tsunami?

      March 15, 2011 at 5:47 pm |
    • moornook

      med check time!

      March 15, 2011 at 5:51 pm |
    • danielv

      Soo which part of the Bible did you write? and have you met Jesus yet? Whats he like?? Whats heaven like?Was Eve hot? I bet Eve was hot. I have so many questions for a man with so much knowledge about something that that he doesn't even know exists...this is too much I laughed harder at this than someone trying to tell me weeds bad for you.

      March 15, 2011 at 5:53 pm |
    • Vicki

      AND furthermore, a real christian knows God exsists because we can feel it, we see blessings in our lives, we see positive changes. We can't prove without a doubt He is not here, all we can do is tell you what he does for us and how believing in Him has changed our lives. Really people, all you got to do is try it. What do you have to loose beside eternity in HELL? Willing to take the chance? NOT ME. John-please ignore those folks.

      March 15, 2011 at 6:10 pm |
    • FudgeMonkey

      So does that make standing in judgement of other men okay, Vicki? One god can stand in judgement, or so the book says. People who don't believe in god also see positive things in their life. Christians do not have the market cornered on good feelings.

      March 15, 2011 at 7:51 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.