Tokyo Governor Apologizes For Calling Disasters Divine Punishment
The governor of Tokyo has issued a public apology and retraction for remarks he recently made calling the earthquake and tsunami a divine punishment for Japanese egoism.
Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara held a news conference on Tuesday where he retracted his earlier statement, reported Kyodo News.
“I will take back the remark and offer a deep apology,” Ishihara said.
According to Kyodo News, Ishihara told reporters on Monday, ”I think the disaster is tembatsu (divine punishment), although I feel sorry for disaster victims.”
“Japanese politics is tainted with egoism and populism,” he was quoted as saying. “We need to use tsunami to wipe out egoism, which has rusted onto the mentality of Japanese over a long period of time.”
John Nelson, chairman of theology and religious studies at the University of San Francisco, explained that Ishihara’s remarks about divine retribution stem from ancient Japanese Buddhist ideas that have become unpopular.
Nelson said the Japanese term “tembatsu” can also mean heavenly punishment.
“The way Ishihara used it was a prewar understanding of the will of heaven or the gods to discipline the Japanese people,” he 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 added.
Japan has a secular society where people do not usually identify with a religious tradition or study religious texts. Death and funerals, however, intensify Japanese religious engagement.
“The average Japanese person doesn’t consciously turn to Buddhism until there’s a funeral,” explained Brian Bocking, an expert in Japanese religions at Ireland’s University College Cork.
“A very large number of Japanese people believe that what they do for their ancestors after death matters, which might not be what we expect from a secular society,” added Bocking. “There’s widespread belief in the presence of ancestors’ spirits.”
Most Japanese practice a blend of Buddhist beliefs and customs with the nation’s ancient Shinto tradition from the 15th century.
“Japanese are not religious in the way that people in North America are religious,” Nelson continued. “They’ll move back and forth between two or more religious traditions, seeing them as tools that are appropriate for certain situations.”
“For things connected to life-affirming events, they’ll turn to Shinto-style rituals or understandings,” Nelson noted. “But in connection to tragedy or suffering, it’s Buddhism.”
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