Sunday, November 15, 2009

The World's Superbower

By now, you are all aware that President Obama bowed before Japan's Emperor Akihito last week in Tokyo.  Mark Steyn calls him the World's Superbower. The L.A. Times headline asks, "How low will he go?" The Daily Mail (UK) gives us  "Obama bends almost double as he bows to Japanese royalty."

Thomas Lifson at American Thinker posits that even if you have no problem with the President of the United States bowing to another head of state, he still botched it:
Bad enough that Obama bowed down to another head of state yesterday. Even worse, he did not bother to learn how one bows in Japan, and just winged it.

I agree with Scott Johnson, Steve Gilbert, Andrew Malcom, and many others that the President of the United States should not be bowing before any head of state. But unlike these astute observers, I actually know a little something about the art of the bow in Japan, having lived in Japan four different times on a resident visa, taught East Asian Studies at Harvard, and counseled many hundreds of American, European, Middle Eastern, and Australian executives on how to work and negotiate with the Japanese -- including teaching them the right way to bow.

Obama's bow (below) violates a fundamental precept: NO TOUCHING while bowing.

Here is one of many websites that illustrates how to bow in Japan. The one thing that virtually everyone who teaches bowing etiquette stresses is under no circumstance try to combine a bow with a handshake.

The Emperor appears to smile, which is something polite Japanese are taught to do when embarrassed. Unlike just about everyone who comes into the Emperor's presence, Obama obviously received no instruction on Imperial etiquette. (Note: The Japanese take their monarch and etiquette in general about 100 times more seriously than do the British.) [snip]
Another fundamental precept of the ordinary bow: it must be reciprocated. To do otherwise is a grave insult. Yet, we see in this short video clip that the Emperor did not even nod his head. To be honest, I am not sure the Emperor is ever supposed to bow back to anyone. He is, after all, according to Shinto, a god.
HotAirPundit has assembled a collection of photographs of world leaders meeting the emperor.  You will see that no one else bowed.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert

King of Morocco

Dick Cheney

Prime Minister Slovenia

President South Korea

President Kazakhstan

Prime Minister India

Vladimir Putin

Lifson concludes:

All in all, a disgrace. The only redeeming feature is that at least he did not bow his head and bend his knee, as he did with the Saudi monarch.



  1. Even the President of Kazakhstan knew what to do. As Borat would say...'High Five!'.