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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. Joe Sixpak

    Whale killers and dolphin killers were killed themselves by a tsunami from the sea: poetic justice or tembatsu.

    March 15, 2011 at 6:27 pm |
    • chedar

      Jpe Sixpack, you make a lot of sense. I try to be a veggie at all cost.

      March 15, 2011 at 6:40 pm |
  2. jhendrix731

    god and anything else "divine" is not real and if you think otherwise you are too childish to be taken seriously

    March 15, 2011 at 6:25 pm |
  3. truth

    You all are wrong. This was predicted by nostradamus and edgar cayce. He was right, it is punishment and we have destroyed our world. The world is cleansing itself, you shall soon see.

    March 15, 2011 at 6:25 pm |
    • Rohan2727

      nostradamus and edgar cayce? Hmmm. Cayce made dozens of predictions that didn't come true. Nostradamus is totally interpretable (for example, one of his quatrains mentions "hister" and "ponte", which believers say relates to Hitler and the Pope. Unfortunately, "hister" is an ancient name of a river in Europe and "ponte" refers to a bridge. Nostradamus, Cayce, Jean Dixon, all unfortunately false.

      March 15, 2011 at 6:44 pm |
    • just saying

      Thats right, go mother nature. Save yourself from the cold rotten human beings...go dolphins and whales, rejoice!

      March 15, 2011 at 9:23 pm |
    • just saying

      Is rohan scared of the truth?

      March 15, 2011 at 9:25 pm |
  4. Rich

    And I thought the U.S. had the monopoly on this kind of speech (Pat Robertson, Rush LImbaugh, Westboro Nutcases)........

    March 15, 2011 at 6:23 pm |
  5. pdrapala

    As long as we are alive, living on this earth, humans will be subjected to earthquakes, landslides, tidalwaves, tornados, and so forth. Now, we can chose where to live; however, there is no place on earth that does not have its owns disasters. All we can do is pray that we are safe and try our best to stay out of harm's way.

    March 15, 2011 at 6:17 pm |
  6. george in texas

    does rev. fred phelps' westboro baptist church have a presence in tokyo?

    March 15, 2011 at 6:17 pm |
  7. Christian

    @BibleIsFalse- Ummm, take your "god doesn't exist" crap out of her, that's not what the article is about

    March 15, 2011 at 6:09 pm |
    • BibleIsFalse

      The bible is nonsense. Read about that here http://www.christianpwnage101.blogspot.com/

      March 15, 2011 at 7:27 pm |
  8. Tim

    Earthquakes are but one of several features that make up the "sign of (Jesus invisible) presence".(Matt 24:3, 7, 8) Luke recorded Jesus as saying: "Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; and there will be great earthquakes, and in one place after another pestilences and food shortages; and there will be fearful sights and from heaven great signs."(Luke 21:10,11)

    Jesus paralleled his invisible "presence" in kingdom power with the "days of Noah", in which the vast majority of mankind would not recognize his ruling in heaven, but be busy with the mundane affairs of life, taking "no note" of changing world conditions as evidence.(Matt 24:37-39)

    March 15, 2011 at 6:08 pm |
    • Child of a Lesser God

      Earthquakes happen independant of any religion, my freind. They were happening way before mankind even existed and will continue after man is gone.

      March 15, 2011 at 6:15 pm |
    • Joe Sixpak

      Earthquakes are a natural geological phenomenon related to plate techtonics and the shifting of the continents over a molten earth's core, and have and will occurr for millenia. Ignorance over science is not bliss.

      March 15, 2011 at 6:36 pm |
  9. eastwood1379@gmail.com

    All is as God Wills it.

    March 15, 2011 at 6:07 pm |
  10. Kevin

    Give Mr Ishihara a break. He was calling it as he saw it. He may be on to something. Besides he was being honest about what he thought ... something lacking in many politicians.

    March 15, 2011 at 6:06 pm |
  11. Mark

    @ David M...

    Yeah, David..."HotAirAce" is just trying to educate us. Because we're so delusional and all. Be sure and let him know how sweet we think that is for him to go to so much trouble just for us delusional little ol believers. What a load of self serving CRAP!!

    HotAirAce...your argument seems to go something like this, " God doesn't exist simply because I'm really REALLY mad at Him, and I've double dog dared Him to a fight, but He hasn't shown up, therefore I conclude He doesn't exist". That's your argument in a nutshell, it stinks, and you've used it to convince yourself of something that isn't true.

    Let me give you a little clue as to why God hasn't decided to grant your request (much to your benefit).

    Romans 2:5-8
    5 But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are STORING UP wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed. 6 God “will repay each person according to what they have done.”[a] 7 To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life. 8 But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger.

    See, the falacy in your thinking is that you think that God is operating on your time table. You think that you can hurl insults at God, challenge Him to a fight, "call Him out" if you will, like He's some bully on the playground and then expect that He's going to play along. The Bible says that God is "long suffering", "not willing that any should perish but that all would come to repentance". All your doing is letting the clock tick away and storing up judgement against yourself for the point in time at which God is ready.

    March 15, 2011 at 6:06 pm |
    • Rohan2727

      I don;t remember where I read this, but a catholic bishop once said if you haven't shaken your fist at god, then you don't really believe in him.

      March 15, 2011 at 6:39 pm |
  12. Nubia

    Mr Ishihara should be out in the street shouting and hollering with a cardboard sign and selling pencils from a cup. According to Christopher Hitchens. I agree tool

    March 15, 2011 at 6:04 pm |
  13. Mr Ed

    Historical events are either random, accidental events (as athiests believe) or they have some meaning and purpose (as religious people believe). It may not have been tactful to make his remark public at this painful time but I don't think the Governor should be criticized for the substance of the remark itself.

    March 15, 2011 at 6:03 pm |
  14. Chitown Jason

    George Carlin: "Think of how stupid the average person is. Then realize that half of us are even stupider than that."

    March 15, 2011 at 6:03 pm |
  15. RubandTug

    I hope the geisha houses are okay.

    March 15, 2011 at 5:54 pm |
  16. Seraphim

    Dear WOW,
    Do not play stupid. You know very well who is blowing themselves/others up. I am not hiding anything. Obviously I am talking really open. If all the religions are equal from of the law perspective (which I really support), that doesn't mean they are all preaching Truth. Also that doesn't mean they are all right. As I am concern as soon as one of them is abusing others, or abusing people, or abusing rights given by law, it need to be placed under monitor of the society. I don't like religious fanatics, but having that as excuse not to believe in God is very stupid.
    Science day by day is confirming genius mind behind everything made. Many of the big scientists in the past were believers. Tesla, Newton, Pascal ... Strongest believers are either simple people that don't ask much than receiving God's word by pure faith or people that broke borders of ordinary human bean conscious. They got high enough to understand there is great inelegancy behind atom, solar system, galactic, life, cells, bio-chemical processes etc. It doesn't mean God is intervening every second in nature and our lives. No, he made physical laws and things are rolling by those laws. Leaf from the three is losing pressure of the water and food as the winter comes, it gets yellow and falls down. It has to fall down, gravity does its work. We know if we abuse nature it will pay back by global warming, huge hurricanes, bee disappearing, etc. That is normal. It is a law that was embedded in the nature. On spiritual plane He is much more active, but that is long story that I am not sure you have patience to listen. Stay good, stay in health. Everything the best.

    March 15, 2011 at 5:54 pm |
    • Wzrd1

      I am still trying to wrap my head around a few things, one, WHY would a Seraphim be on a religion blog, rather than sitting awaiting his boss' instructions?
      Two, HOW do you abuse a RIGHT? By USING that right? Does that mean my RIGHT TO VOTE is an abuse if it's different than YOUR choice? When you say such things, what is next? I can only speak when YOU approve of what I'm saying? My M1911A1 says THAT isn't happening.
      Third, WHAT is a human bean? Is it related to a jumping bean?

      March 15, 2011 at 6:27 pm |
  17. george in texas

    has the businessman rev. pat robertson, the former presidential candidate, said anything on this?

    March 15, 2011 at 5:54 pm |
    • Larry

      Bunch of fckn idiots here & I only made it to the 10th comment.

      March 15, 2011 at 6:30 pm |
  18. Bibletruth

    Well...didnt someone in the bible refer to Satan as the god of this world....and in other places it says satan will decieve almost everyone by the signs and wonders/miracles he is able to do...Satan is a god of sorts, but not the Creator God, the God of love. Satan has hardly any knowledge or power in terms of Gods power, but in terms of mans knowledge and power, he is like a god. and is consumed with hatred for humanity because Jesus and the Father love humanity, humanity was made in the image of God.

    March 15, 2011 at 5:52 pm |
    • Unfrozen Caveman

      Sure, and I've read all sorts of fairy tales too... just like any "holy book."

      March 15, 2011 at 5:58 pm |
    • BibleIsFalse

      So how is it again that your omnipotent god can't do away with this pesky Satan? And why does your god let awful stuff like the recent tsunami happen?

      Hint: the correct answer is that your god doesn't exist.

      March 15, 2011 at 5:59 pm |
    • everyoneiswrong

      My opinion must be the right one, after all, it's mine. That makes anyone who disagrees with me stupid. Just ask anyone who agrees with me. I'll let you figure out which of the billions of people who have lived or are living now have beliefs that prove me right. We are right, you are wrong. I have books that prove your books are just as worthless as the paper they are written on. But mine are true, because I believe it to be so. Well, me and all those other people. That, and I really, really hate you for what you believe, even though we will never meet. Why? Because obviously my beliefs do so much to enrich my life, and the lives of others. That is why they are good, and true.

      March 15, 2011 at 6:11 pm |
    • newf dog

      get over it god is a fairy tale for little minds

      March 15, 2011 at 6:12 pm |
    • Wzrd1

      What you are referring to isn't biblical teaching, but gnostic teachings.

      March 15, 2011 at 6:19 pm |
    • Wzrd1

      It never ceases to amaze me how religious atheists are, why they incessantly prosthelytize here on the religion blog!
      Why, the way their movement is growing, soon we'll be getting atheists witnesses visiting from door to door, attempting to convert people to their faith.
      Which simply proves how insecure they are, else they'd NOT be shoving THEIR views into others faces where it is inappropriate, such as in a RELIGION BLOG.

      March 15, 2011 at 6:23 pm |
    • Snoogins

      Interesting, everyoneiswrong. The same thing could be said about athiests who think they're superior because of their lack of beliefs too. They protest the intolerance, yet they are just as intolerant. Just like the fundie religious giving regular faithful a bad name, loud-mouthed atheists do the same for regular atheists.

      March 15, 2011 at 6:28 pm |
    • Rohan2727

      Satan is a made-up bogey man for people to fear. The concept of god(s) is man's attempt to find origin and escape from death. Both imaginary in my opinion.
      But life is hard enough to deal with without belittling others beliefs. Believe what you want as long as you don't try to force me to believe and live according to your beliefs. Peace.

      March 15, 2011 at 6:30 pm |
    • (insert name here)

      I think your right. The Bible does say, too, that chance happens to all, good and evil. "How does the righteous man die? As the evil man!" – Ecclesiastes The conclusion of all this is to continue to have reverence for our Creator, who makes all things happen according to His will. But, naturally, the Governor means well for his people.

      March 15, 2011 at 6:33 pm |
    • myklds

      The Governor needs that apology, coz he was wrong. Damn wrong.

      EGOISM and POPULSIM did NOT "TEMBATSU", IT was ATHEISM.

      March 15, 2011 at 6:49 pm |
  19. Chris

    He must have been taking notes from the American preachers that insisted the hurricanes in FL a few years ago were gods way of punishing Florida for its tolerance for gays.

    March 15, 2011 at 5:49 pm |
    • Larry

      Yea, I don't any country or any political leader from any other country has anything over the egotistic people/politicians of America.
      http://larryslifejourney.blogspot.com/

      March 15, 2011 at 6:28 pm |
  20. David

    "Egotism" got them in a ression for over 15 yrs now.

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

      I give the guy points for even talking about egotism in terms of politics and politicians. If Newt or Sarah had the ability to be conscious in these terms and made a comment like this, I would have to change my drawers, if you know what I mean.

      March 15, 2011 at 6:26 pm |
    • Ramesh Manghirmalani, California

      looks like you talk like a loser

      March 15, 2011 at 6:29 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.