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How low will he go? Obama gives Japan's Emperor Akihito a wow bow (Updates with videos, pic)

Democrat president Barack Obama bows to Japan's Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko 11-09

(New UPDATE: Monday 5:02 p.m. OK, it's not funny if you work at the White House. But for everybody else a new video at the bottom of this post will provide some chuckles about how the rest of the world chooses to greet the Japanese Emperor. Hint: It's different than President Obama.)

(UPDATES: 12:22 p.m. Saturday. A brief news video has been added below, showing the greeting in this photograph. Contrary to some claims, the video shows no reciprocal bow by the emperor, who traditionally bows to no one. And we've added a file photo from 2007 of Vice President Dick Cheney greeting the Japanese Emperor at the same residence in a different fashion.)

How low will the new American president go for the world's royalty?

This photo will get Democrat President Obama a lot of approving nods in Japan this weekend, especially among the older generation of Japanese who still pay attention to the royal family living in iRepublican vice president Dick Cheney is received by Emperor Akihito in 2007ts downtown castle. Very low bows like this are a sign of great respect and deference to a superior.

To some in the United States, however, an upright handshake might have looked better. (See Cheney-Akihito photo, right).

Remember Michelle Obama casually patting Britain's Queen Elizabeth on the back during their Buckingham Palace visit? America's royalty tends to make movies and get bad reviews and lots of money as a sign of respect.

Obama could receive some frowns back home as he did for his not-quite-this-low-or-maybe-about-the-same-bow to the Saudi king not so long ago. (See photo here)

How times change under Democratic presidents.

Back in 1994 when President Bill Clinton appeared to maybe perhaps almost start to bow to Akihito at a White House encounter, U.S. officials rushed to deny it was any such a thing. And the N.Y. Times chronicled the comedic drama here.

Akihito, who turns 76 next month, is the eldest son and fifth child of Emperor Showa, the name given to an emperor and his reign after his death.

Emperor Showa is better known abroad by the life name of Hirohito. He became emperor in 1925 and died in 1989, the longest historically-known rule of the nation's 125 emperors.

Hirohito presided over his nation's growth from an undeveloped agrarian economy into the expansionist military power and ally of Nazi Germany of the 1930's.

And, later, Japan became a global economic giant. Hirohito, along with Prime Minister Hideki Tojo, who authorized the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, were much reviled abroad during World War II.

Historically, debaDemocrat president Barack Obama bows to the Saudi kingte has simmered over how much of a political puppet Hirohito was to the country's military before and during the war.

Even after Democratic President Harry Truman ordered the two atom bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in the summer of 1945, there were strong forces within Japan that wanted to continue to fight the Americans in the spirit of kamikaze suicide pilots.

But Akihito's father went on national radio, the first time his subjects had ever heard Hirohito's voice, and without using the inflammatory word "surrender," pronounced that the country must "accept the unacceptable." It did.

As the conquering Allied general and then presiding officer of the U.S. occupation, Gen. Douglas MacArthur, decided to allow Japan to keep its emperor as a ceremonial unifying institution within a nascent democracy.

Tojo, on the other hand, was hanged.

MacArthur treated Emperor Hirohito respectfully but, as his body language in this blacU.S. General Douglas MacArthur meets with Japan's Emperor Hirohitok and white postwar photo demonstrates, was not particularly deferential. 

(But then MacArthur was not known as a particularly deferential person, as Truman discovered just before firing him later. But that's another war.)

Akihito was born during Japan's conquering of China and was evacuated during the devastating American fire-bombing of Tokyo, which was built largely of wood in those days.

The future emperor learned English during the U.S. occupation, but, inexplicably, his father ordered that his oldest boy not receive an Army commission as previous imperial heirs always had.

Akihito assumed the throne on Jan. 7, 1989. Within weeks he began a series of formal expressions of remorse to Asian countries for Japan's actions during his....

...father's reign. In 2003, he underwent surgery for prostate cancer.

In 1959, Akihito married Michiko Shoda, the first commoner allowed to enter the Japanese royal family. That was two years before the birth of Akihito's future presidential guest, Barack Obama.

Joe Biden was already 17 by then. But he wasn't a senator.

(UPDATE: Here's a new video assembled by some clever College Republicans at the University of Connecticut. It's even got music and requires no explanation.

-- Andrew Malcolm

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Photo: Mandel Ngan / AFP / Getty; David Bohrer / White House (Vice President Dick Cheney greets Emperor Akihito somewhat differently in 2007); Reuters (Obama bows to the king of Saudi Arabia earlier this year); U.S. Army Archives (Gen. Douglas MacArthur not bowing to Emperor Hirohito after World War II).

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I'm sorry...but the AMERICAN HEAD OF STATE SHOULD NOT BOW TO ANY OTHER HEAD OF STATE>...A polite handshake would suffice.
This muslim is such a apologizing freak....the man lacks any leadership skills what-so-ever....BOWING....
My guess is that when we capture binaden he will invite him for some goats milk and cheese talk over the good times.....
Obama should be IMPEACHED for aiding and abetting terrorism!

No problem in bowing that's their culture for respect. In Philippines we get one hand and put in our forehead. It's a matter of respect of other nationalities.

The Groveler in chief strikes again. More surprised that he didn't kiss his derriere or maybe he did that but in a more private setting.

WTH? Will this man ever stop bowing and scraping to foreign leaders. What is wrong with him? Wait I know, he is a narcissistic, psychopath with delusions of grander and bent on destroying the United Sates of America as we once knew it: a free country.
Cut taxes, stop over regulation, strengthen the military, get out of the way of commerce. cut government bloat, get out of health insurance, leave me the hell alone..............

While I cannot expect refinement in coming up with attention-grabbing headlines, the phrasing of the headline may mislead people into believing that observing the custom of greeting Emperor Akihito in this way can be simplistically reduced to a show of obsequiousness. In fact, bowing is a highly ritualized and ubiquitous form of salutation shared with at least two other countries (North and South Korea), and the non-observance of the custom of bowing can connote unfamiliarity, inattention, or at worst, overt disrespect. In Korean culture, we bow to people we recognize every time we see them and want to say hello or part ways--it takes getting used to, and it certainly feels a great deal more formalized than saying "Hi, how are you", but it can be compared to the custom among Muslims of saying "Al-salaamu `aleykum" and "Wa `aleykum al-salaam" in response (and "ma` al-salaama" in the case of parting). If two people pass by one another without bowing, they may not be familiar or they may not be paying attention, but if they do know each other, it is disrespectful not to bow. Furthermore, if one is meeting an elder on a formal occasion, especially at first introduction, not bowing would be insulting and humiliating to the elder party and it would be like the younger party is openly calling for a fight. It would be almost like being introduced to Mr. Obama and then greeting him with "Hi, Negro," or "Hi, half-breed." Another way of understanding what it would be like is if a person from a culture where people always greet each other casually by sticking up a middle finger at each other greeted Mr. Obama in this way. If that culture were one that had been antagonized by the U.S. at some point, and then that people from that culture became economically and militarily powerful and culturally influential, then everyone from that dominant culture would wonder what's the big problem with middle fingers, and they would consider it demeaning to shake hands with a previously hegemonic power like the U.S.!

The only public social faux pas that the President might have made while visiting us here was in shaking hands at the same time as he bowed. It`s one or the other, never both simultaneously. Common rookie error. Japan is, however, a constitutional monarchy. The President is intelligent and sensitive enough to have realized that failing to have bowed to the titular head of state would have been considered lese majesty here. Not only elderly Japanese residents are sensitive to this. Perhaps LAT reporters should be better informed. btw, the preposition used with "deference" is "to", as in "defer to". Rookie mistake?

WTH is wrong with this man?

so what? George Bush held hands with and kissed the Saudi king when he was president. it's really not that unusual for people in public office to observe the cultures of other people these days. as for me, it's always been my policy to respect the cultures of countries i visit.

bowing is actually a common social gesture in most parts of Asia. that's just how they formally greet each other in Japan. the writer of this article seems to be confused with respect/courtesy and submission. Asians actually differentiate between the two clearly. when one wants to submit himself to another person, he goes down on his knees and spreads his arm unto the ground (an act called kowtowing).

and what's up with the fact that 3/4 of this article is dedicated to Hirohito? the whole thing seems completely tangential, unless the writer is trying to argue that Obama shouldn't pay his respects to the current Japanese emperor because of what the last emperor did. i'm not going to argue this one, but to me, it just seems like a cheap shot.

such bigotry is a pet peeve for me. seriously, i can't believe whoever wrote this would have the effrontery to write such an article (let alone dedicate hours of his time rambling about such a small thing). just get over it. if you want to attack Obama, there's so many other things to write about.

Obama should stand tall as did General MacArthur 64 years ago. America should bow to no nations or people, neither should Michelle touch the queen of England. Both seem to appear as uncultured buffoons. Akihito should be grateful that his father was allowed to live.

This photo was possibly photoshopped and somehow distributed by Republicans. Since the White House denied that the President bowed to the Saudi king, it follows that he would likewise never bow to the Japanese emperor. The president, unlike Bush, was raised in part abroad, has traveled extensively, and is very sophisticated. The US was founded on the principle that "all men are created equal." President Obama knows that it would be a serious breach of protocol for the American president to bow before any monarch.

It's possible, being so much taller, he was simply trying to look the emperor in he eye. It's even possible that he stumbled - there are cracks in the floor clearly visible in the photo.

Robert Gibbs needs to issue a statement and clarify this immediately.


Enough with the bowing and scraping. I don't believe they taught this disgraceful behavior at community organizer school either.
For the President, WHO REPRESENTS ALL OF US, to place himself in such a humbling position, reflects badly on the entire nation. We fought a REVOLUTION to break clear of royal tyranny and MOST presidents have displayed the independence and dignity of a proud Republic ever since.
Impeach him!

As our elected head of state, when Obama does the bow and scrape, he says our country is second rate. And to the observer from behind, it's unseemly to show his silken buttock line.

Bowing to another foreign leader! First it was the King of Saudi Arabia, now the Emperor of Japanese. Why does he keep doing this? If it's respect, then why didn't he bow to the Queen of England? Was it because the Queen is a) white, b) a woman, or c) both?

Obviously, this jerk in the Whitehouse has no problem with assuming the subservient position. The first thing he should do upon his return to the USA is bow low (very low) to the American people.

I can't even read the news anymore.

The man simply makes me sick.

2012 can't get here fast enough.

In Japan it's polite to bow before everyone. It's how they show respect. How do you not know this?

This post is ridiculous and trite. It treats at the very least a HUGE diplomatic screw-up as a joke, and then distracts us all with a history lesson that's not even germane. Imagine how our WWII veterans of the Pacific feel upon seeing a US President bowing before the emperor of Japan.

It's not right in any case, to any supposedly divine leader. Heads of state do not BOW to anyone or kneel to anyone. Doesn't anyone know enough to tell Obama this, since he clearly lacks the experience? Actually, since he's supposedly brilliant and knows everything, he must do this on purpose.

I think his condition is called
"No Back Bone Barrack"

Nah, you got it all wrong. Obama heard that Barney Frank was right behind him and he was simply lining up for the docking procedure!

The half-black dirt bag seems to have a thing about bowing to foreigners. It makes one wonder what kind of deals he is making when he is on his pleasure junkets around the world. It is a given that he is making deals that are good for him and bad for the United States. I think he should move to Europe and be the half-black tyrant in one of those countries; since they are already wrecked, he would not be able to do quite so much damage.

unbelievable! since when do US PResidents bow to anyone? Obama is a disgrace and a complete joke!@

That's not a bow, that's a gay marriage proposal.

How low can he go? Do you really need to ask?

By the way, did the Obamessiah give these folks another cheap gift he picked up at Walmart? I hear they have summer sausage and cheese baskets for under $20, provided you don't get the deluxe model...

The US Presidency is a complete joke thanks to this man. Barack and Michelle are the American equivalent of Yukio & Miyuki Hatoyama. Only elected because people were fed up with the opposing political parties.

Actually Obama saw a dime on the floor and thought, "Hey, this will help reduce the deficit!"

Wait until Obama meets Bin Ladin, Big O is going to kiss his feet.

Note to anyone trying to post an negative comment.

No way will they publish it.

There's a reason this article has 0 comments.

Obama makes me sick.

2012 can't come fast enough.

Go ahead censor this one too.

Matt Drudge can't spell or even proofread his headlines before posting them. What an idiot! Drudge, how low will ge go?

What a BOOB!

He looks more like a Rear Admrial than a Commander in Chief!

I wonder how low Obama goes when he greets a bank executive? He probably gets down on his knees.

Well, I'm no Obama groupie but there's a difference between offering a customary greeting to the leader of a respectable society, and bowing to the dictator of a xenophobic, racist, backwards 14th century culture. There's no doubt that The Chosen One will continue to spew his 'Look, look! I'm not Bush! I'm so beautiful' America-second apologizing, but this isn't comparing apples-to-apples.


What a disgrace!!! No american President have ever bowed before any King or Queen, now Obama can't eve keep his head up!! A tot al shame on our nation and before the american public, the 2010 elections cant come soon enough to stop this madness in Washington DC!!

Never has ANY American President bowed to any foreign ruler. Only before God in Prayer. Now comes Obama who bows before all foreign powers and takes a stick to his own citizens and taxpayers. Can't understand it.

Must be a Chicago Black Man thing.

Bow and scrape.

What a Freak!

Wow! Isn't Barack Obama respectful? He is such a sweet guy to everyone but the American citizens. He intends to enslave them, and make their home a third world country. Gag reflex.

Beta Male strikes again.

Can't wait for the groveling before the Chinese--he'll be prostrate on the floor before his masters.

I really think he was not bowing...just attempting to get some blood into his brain so he could make a decision....any decision! OR...if you look closely you can see a teleprompter screen on the floor...whatever! decide

As much as I dislike what President Obama is doing to the United States, what he did here, I think, was appropriate. The emperor of Japan, in my opinion, is a man of honor, and worthy of respect. However, bowing to the Saudi King was not appropriate. He is not worthy of respect. You need to take into account who the person is before you show respect. That goes for both international relations and personal ones. Some people are not worthy of respect. And who determines who is worthy of respect and who is not? You and I, individually. So there.

There should have been at least equal bows. Obama's lower bow denotes a subordinate relationship to the Japanese Emperor. Perhaps the rest of the world should learn how to greet an American President (equality among citizens).

Will some one tell our President that he is President of the United States, not some junior state senator or even a junior U.S. Senator.

The President does not bow or kneel. Period.

Some one tell him that to many of our fellow citizens have died establishing and defending this Country for over two hundred years to go back to bowing to King George III.

Barak Hussein Obama is a disgrace who has embarrassed America. And why does his wife have 20+ Czars and Aids working for her on the tax payers tab? Do they think that they are Royalty too?

A national embarrassment! Get this Dufus out of the White House.

US Presidents DO NOT bow to anyone.

This man is an embarrassment to the office and the institution of the Presidency.

Bowing to the leader of Japan is confusing because he's not a Muslim!

I lived in Japan during the eighties. Bowing is how you greet the Japanese. Americans,however are as uncomfortable bowing as the Japanese are shaking hands. So most Americans do sort of a half-way jesture involving a combination of both bowing and shaking hands, though I don't remember ever bowing as low as Obama did. Even though I very rarely give Obama any slack, on this issue you should definetly lighten up a bit and do the real investigative reporting the mainstream media has thusfar referred to do on Obama and his radical marxist/socialist agenda, or perhaps more info about how someone who was raised by communists and educated in extreme left-wing circles could someday become President
of the United States. Explain where the media was...please!

Since when is showing respect a bad thing?

Some people are so stupid they should wear helmets, sad to say that our "leader" is one such utter and absolute moron.

A special thanks to Congress for allowing our debt to get to 1,028% of what we earn and for 96 years of allowing a mad counterfeiter to control our currency so we can send our president to lick the shoes of a communist emperor for more money.

GDP………….14 trillion baked 30% with imputations & Hedonics
Debt…………12 trillion
Social Security.18 trillion
Medicare A……37 trillion
Medicare B……37 trillion
Medicare D……16 trillion
TARP/TALP/PPIP..11-22 trillion
2 Wars………. 2 trillion

Just more proof that Obama doesn’t know anything about US law or protocols. It is the law that no US citizen bows to another country’s ruler. It indicates then are a subject of that ruler. It shows that Obama wants the USA to be subjugated by other nations and placed under the rule of the UN in a world wide socialist government. He should be impeached!!

The only thing this jug-eared moron won't bow to is the will of the people who he is supposed to be working for. He might as well go ahead and lick their boots, he's literally bending over so far. This idiot is in so far over his head he needs scuba gear.'s ALL you'll have left.

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About the Columnist
A veteran foreign and national correspondent, Andrew Malcolm has served on the L.A. Times Editorial Board and was a Pulitzer finalist in 2004. He is the author of 10 nonfiction books and father of four. Read more.
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