Tokyo Governor Shintaro Ishihara apologized Tuesday for saying the tsunami that recently struck Japan is divine punishment for the country's egoism.
Shintaro told reporters during a press conference that he takes back the comments he made Monday and offered "a deep apology," according to Japan's Kyodo News.
He had originally said the tsunami was needed "to wipe out egoism, which has rusted onto the mentality of Japanese over a long period of time."
"I think [the disaster] is tembatsu (divine punishment), although I feel sorry for disaster victims," he had said.
Last Friday, gigantic waves generated by an undersea tremor leveled entire coastal cities and towns, leaving an estimated 10,000 people dead or missing.
The earthquake is reportedly the fifth most powerful quake to hit the world since 1900 and the worst in Japan's recorded history.
Just a day before Shintaro made his controversial remark, the Rev. David Yonggi Cho, senior pastor of the Yoido Full Gospel Church – the world's largest church – also came under fire for calling the recent Japanese quake and tsunami "God's warning" in a Sunday interview published in an online newspaper.
"Japan sees a lot of earthquakes, and I think it is regrettable that there has been such an enormous loss of property and life due to the earthquake," Cho had said in the News Mission interview.
"Because the Japanese people shun God in terms of their faith and follow idol worship, atheism, and materialism, it makes me wonder if this was not God's warning to them."
There are only around 2 million Christians in Japan out of a population of 127.5 million.
The South Korean minister added that he hoped the "catastrophe can be turned into a blessing" and that the Japanese would "take this opportunity to return to the Lord."
In postings made in online social networks, Cho was blasted by his own countrymen.
Jing Joong-gwon, an influential social critic in Korea, called Cho a "lunatic" via Twitter. "While pastor speak nonsense, true Christian virtues are taking place outside of the church," he added, in reference to the international community's relief work in Japan.
Later, News Mission withdrew its interview with Cho.
The Yoido Full Gospel Church in South Korea is regarded as having the largest congregation in the world, boasting a membership of at least one million people based on reports in 2007. The church was founded in 1958 by Rev. Cho, who continues to serve as its senior pastor.
In America, no prominent Christian leaders have come out to say that Japan's disaster is due to divine punishment. But last year, controversial televangelist Pat Robertson outraged prominent evangelical leaders by calling the earthquake in Haiti a curse because of the country's alleged historic ties to voodooism.