Slices of Japanese business, politics and life
Obama bowing to convention
The depth or angle of U.S. President Barack Obama’s bow — and handshake — with Japan’s Emperor Akihito has become a heated on-line topic, with sides arching into political camps on whether the greeting went too far — literally – or was appropriate based on customs and culture.
I don’t pretend to be an expert on bowing in Japan, but a few basic rules of thumb, or backbone, are: the more important a person you are greeting, the deeper and longer you bow, with hands generally at one’s sides; and multiple purposes can be served by this act including greeting as well as displays of respect, recognition, apology or gratitude.
While no one called the president’s bow an expression of apology or thanks, a number of blogs examined his and other U.S. leaders’ historical bent in stooping to diplomatically conquer, with a few labelling the U.S. commander-in-chief ”O-Bow-Ma”.
The Fox network and the Los Angeles Times blog offered details of Obama’s and other official U.S. greetings with the imperial family, including a photo of Vice President Dick Cheney shaking Akihito’s hand, and one posted a comment that bowing and handshaking should not be done simultaneously.
A blog from ABC news Senior White House Correspondent Jake Tapper, citing an academic friend, says both sides have it wrong, as the bow was not over — or under — the top in precedence, although it did not display the cultural understanding intended, rather weakness in Japanese terms.
The Huffington Post, meanwhile, seeming to anticipate a “bow row” ahead, noted criticism Obama had already received for a greeting of Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah in April, with Republican Senators blasting him and the White House calling the president “bent over” to shake hands but not in a bow.
Rounding out coverage, Japan’s Sankei Shimbun/MSN on-line carried news of the Fox report that Obama’s bow was too low for a head of state as well as the comparison to Cheney’s 2007 Akihito handshake, adding a slate of imperial photos with slightly different angles and framing.
Photo credit: REUTERS/Jim Young