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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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possibly he thought he was back in thr "old south"

In Japan, the person of lower stature bows lower that the person of higher stature. I would imagine that many Japanese are laughing at this news photo. Since Akihito doesn’t bow to anyone, neither should the President bow to him.

Hey folks, just so you know, it is common practice to bow in Japan. In fact, I bow all the time in my Karate class. I may not have bowed to crowned prince of S.A., but no doubt if I had the opportunity to shake the hand of the Emperor of Japan, I too would bow. It was a cultural recognition, not a sign of subservience. Get over yourselves.

When will this ham-handed administration (aka The Demolition Squad), stop making fools of themselves? Will the next dumb gesture involve "Yes Massa'? That can't be spun into a racist remark; Obama is now calling himself the first Pan-Asian U.S.president. His remarks in China have been all about obaME). There's "I", "I", "I", and then there's " Aye, Yeye Yeye". Should we look forward to the dipping of the American flag before Chavez?

I would just like to know one thing. I can understand that in Asian cultures, it is respectful to bow to someone as a formal greeting. I am fully aware of that. Contrary to popular belief, not all republicans are ignorant to foreign cultures. Riddle me this; why didn't either of the elders bow as well? If your argument is respect, does that mean they do not respect Obama?

Are you kidding me Obama!! You might as well kiss his feet -you're almost there!!!

i think that americans should quite down about the whole thing. We tend to make a big deal out of such miniscule crap just to hear ourselves speak!
thing is....americans in general, have no culture. among other things, we definetly have no way to show high respect to someone in authority....except the military with the salute, and even then, we stole that bit of cultural respect from England. So when we see an american do the honorable thing and show some dignity/equality/respect for anothers traditions, we bad mouth it. Really? But i bet if OUR tradition required a bow to those in authority then we would have a fit if other nations didnt bow to the president. HA! hypocrisy at its finest huh? Where the hell do we get off? Well complain about anything. My question is, whats the difference between us bowing, and another nation (who doesnt shake hands) shaking our hand? The emporer shook the presidents hand and Pres. Obama bowed. seemed pretty fair didnt it? They both showed some respect for the others perfered manner of greeting. So again...what are we complaining about?!!?!?! As hard as americans want to keep the dream alive that we are the proverbial "chosen one" and deserve all the respect and awe....the reality is that we are still humans like everyone else on the planet. No country is beneath america...we just have different views than others. (and many of them are just as wrong as we claim other nations to be)
And for those obama bashers....you are of course entitled to you sad points of view, but remeber that Big Bush did nothing for anybody including americans (remember katrina?) so where really do you get off thinking the current president is giving us a bad name by showing respect? looks to me like hes actually trying to give a damn about the rest of the world instead of just himself and the rich idiots in america he could be parading with.....

I am embarrassed by the culturally ignorance displayed by Americans who are "outraged" by this very simple gesture.
Seriously- get over it. Someone who grew up around lots of Japanese (like Obama probably did in Hawaii) knows that this is a POLITE thing to do.
Get a clue, people, and learn that the world does not revolve around America.

i think that americans should quite down about the whole thing. We tend to make a big deal out of such miniscule crap just to hear ourselves speak!
thing is, americans in general, have no culture. among other things, we definetly have no way to show high respect to someone in authority except the military with the salute, and even then, we stole that bit of cultural respect from England. So when we see an american do the honorable thing and show some dignity/equality/respect for anothers traditions, we bad mouth it. Really? But i bet if OUR tradition required a bow to those in authority then we would have a fit if other nations didnt bow to the president. HA! hypocrisy at its finest huh? Where the hell do we get off? Well complain about anything. My question is, whats the difference between us bowing, and another nation (who doesnt shake hands) shaking our hand? The emporer shook the presidents hand and Pres. Obama bowed. seemed pretty fair didnt it? They both showed some respect for the others perfered manner of greeting. So again...what are we complaining about?!!?!?! As hard as americans want to keep the dream alive that we are the proverbial "chosen one" and deserve all the respect and awe....the reality is that we are still humans like everyone else on the planet. No country is beneath america...we just have different views than others. (and many of them are just as wrong as we claim other nations to be)
And for those obama bashers....you are of course entitled to you sad points of view, but remeber that Big Bush did nothing for anybody including americans (remember katrina?) so where really do you get off thinking the current president is giving us a bad name by showing respect? looks to me like hes actually trying to give a crap about the rest of the world instead of just himself and the rich idiots in america he could be parading with.....

Why doesn't Oba-Mao just get down on his knees and lick his shoes? If he crawled any closer to the floor he'd be praying like a Muslim. And while he's there, hr mihjhy sd well kiss the emperior's shoes and shine them by licking them.

This grovelling before another head of state, first the Saudi king, now this emperior is disgusting for an American to view.

We stand tall and kneel to no one!

Not again!?!? First a King and now an Emperor… I find this so offensive to the office of the American President and the United States in general. I can only imagine what the WWII veterans think when they see the American Head of State, bowing to the Emperor of Japan!

While Mr. Obama is busy apologizing for America, lobbing for the Olympics and concerning himself with foreign opinion etc., America suffers... now and in the long run. What a gross display of weakness... our enemies must love it.

The United States has made plenty of mistakes and there are ways to amend those as well as repair relationships, but graveling to Royalty is not the way. Shame, shame.

Response to Anthony Shin: Thank you for the insight into the custom of bowing.

America, however, fought a revolutionary war to establish that "commoners" are in no way inferior to "artistocracy" and Americans do NOT bow to kings. Each time a President does not bow to royalty this truth is subtly and symbolically stated.

Obama either doesn't know this or he doesn't care that his bowing is a direct insult to those who risked their lives by signing the Declaration of Independence, fighting in the Revolutionary War, and openly supporting the ideals of the revolution.

This is the true problem with Obama's actions -- he insults AMERICAN culture at the expense of the culture of other countries. Being a guest in a foreign nation is not an excuse to degrade his own.

"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 crumpets....to talk over the good times.....
Obama should be IMPEACHED for aiding and abetting terrorism!"

Give me actual proof that he should be impeached and i mean political not some dumb excuse like he bowed to show respect.

A polite handshake is equal to a bow in Japan. If a Japanese Prime Minister came to America he would shake hands. And when an American President is in Japan he should bow. It doesn't mean that Japan is mightier, better, or more powerful. It simply shows respect. If you hold the belief that an American president should never bow then you should also hold to the belief that the president should never shake hands.

I studied Japanese for almost 2 years and lived in Japan for 3 months. Bowing is a sign of respect in Japan. You bow to people you meet on the street, to the people who bag your groceries, etc., etc. as a sign of respect. What President Obama did was not a sign of deference or allegiance; it was a sign of respect to the leader of another country. What he did shows that President Obama has an understanding of cultures outside that of the US', and this knowledge of and respect for other cultures and their customs is something for which each American should strive rather than criticize.

Wow. Yet another example of how high Americans are on themselves. Why do people still even watch FOX "news" anyway? It's not like it's even a real source of news. American arrogance knows no bounds. We finally have a president who offers peace, respect and unity and this is how his people treat him. The people want a world that bows down to them, it is rather pathetic and by this point society should have evolved past this way of thinking. Quit believing what the news tells you. Mind your mind.

i think that americans should quite down about the whole thing. We tend to make a big deal out of such miniscule crap just to hear ourselves speak!
thing is....americans in general, have no culture. among other things, we definetly have no way to show high respect to someone in authority....except the military with the salute, and even then, we stole that bit of cultural respect from England. So when we see an american do the honorable thing and show some dignity/equality/respect for anothers traditions, we bad mouth it. Really? But i bet if OUR tradition required a bow to those in authority then we would have a fit if other nations didnt bow to the president. HA! hypocrisy at its finest huh? Where the hell do we get off? Well complain about anything. My question is, whats the difference between us bowing, and another nation (who doesnt shake hands) shaking our hand? The emporer shook the presidents hand and Pres. Obama bowed. seemed pretty fair didnt it? They both showed some respect for the others perfered manner of greeting. So again...what are we complaining about?!!?!?! As hard as americans want to keep the dream alive that we are the proverbial "chosen one" and deserve all the respect and awe....the reality is that we are still humans like everyone else on the planet. No country is beneath america...we just have different views than others. (and many of them are just as wrong as we claim other nations to be)
And for those obama bashers....you are of course entitled to you sad points of view, but remeber that Big Bush did nothing for anybody including americans (remember katrina?) so where really do you get off thinking the current president is giving us a bad name by showing respect? looks to me like hes actually trying to give a damn about the rest of the world instead of just himself and the rich idiots in america he could be parading with.....

If bowing is deference to a superior, why aren't THEY bowing to the leader of the most powerful nation in the world?

I guess he should have followed GHW Bush's model, barf in his lap!

What a weak, inept failure! He's an embarrassment! How will the Dems and Gibbs spin this? He was bending over to tie his shoe? He's the laughing stock of the world! He's going over the cliff and taking the Dems with him. He's self-destructing!

Wow, seriously. With all of the bad things going on in this world...we are freaking out about President Obama's bow. Man, I agree that 2012 should indeed hurry. (:

"The Ugly American" strikes again. The ignorant masses in the United States who are upset by this simply show their short-sighted belief that "It's all about us." Guess what, geniuses, it ain't. We live in a global community. Besides, this is simply a gesture, like shaking hands is a gesture in our nation. We expect leaders from other nations to observe our conventions, should we not observe their conventions when we are guests in their nations? It means nothing more than politeness. Sometimes that can be a good precursor to meaningful discussion.

God, you people who are flaming Obama are just stupid. It's obvious you hate him for being him. How thickheaded can you get? Seriously, the thing other countries are ridiculing about are how you are making such a big deal about this. hasji, you're one to talk, I mean seriously, you criticize Obama on his policy. Let me tell you something. It's clear you have no knowledge of diplomacy, so go back to your conspiracy theory group.

Fool. It's one thing for an average person to bow, as may be the custom in another country. It's quite another for the American head of state to bow to his counterpart in another country. And to think that when Obama bowed to the Saudi head of state a few months ago, Obama and the White House staff denied it. Liars, obviously. Notice that they're not denying it this time. This guy and his party gotta go. The sooner the better.

"It's a matter of respect of other nationalities."

American's who consider Obama's bow as a sign of weakness should read the above quote, it's matter of respect and understanding. It has nothing to do with weakness. How would you feel if the German Chancellor refused to shake your President's hand? You would be displeased, that's how many Japanese would feel as well if Obama didn't bow.

Then again if showing respect is a sign of weakness, I won't shake any of your hands since I think of myself as being superior to all of you. So think about being respectful and less of the partisan flaming.

Evidently most of us never got beyond the eighth grade because if we had we would know bowing, in japan, is a sign of respect and is expected. Mr Cheney's non-bow was a sign of disrespect. Lesson over, now go back to watching TV.

Before two people engage in a martial arts contest, they are supposed to bow to each other. It's a ceremonial requirement before they whup up on each other. Obama is bowing before he begins battle - it's the other so-called leader who doesn't realize he is going to be outfoxed, out-manuervered, and out-gunned.

I am over 6 feet tall so I see the tops of a lot of people's heads. I also see into women's cleavage, but that's another topic. All Obama is doing is showing the other person the top of his head. Maybe he has the word "ha ha" shaved into his hair !

I'm not a big fan of Obama's policies and how he's handling our country! However, I can't believe some of the nasty, hateful, and ignorant comments I've read, especially the posts by people that makes Americans seem like we're all isolated hicks and unaware of what’s going on with the rest of the world.

In Japan and many Asian countries/culture, a bow is a sign of respect and often done when greeting and saying goodbye. Each region/country has their own culture and way in greeting and showing a form of respect to elders, officials (kings, presidents, PM) and/or simply other human beings. European countries has their own standard and culture as well. Wouldn't we expect other heads of states that visit the US to greet our President with respect as well?

I would suggest people do their research first before going off on something like this ... shouldn't our focus be on what needs to done rather than following a bunch of politicians/idiots telling us we should go crazy over a bow?!?!

It's called being tall, people. Perhaps he bowed where a head nod would have sufficed. WHO CARES? No one except for the right wing, hate-mongering pundits, that's who.

And what the hell is the LA Times flaming this non-issue for?! Would you please sell the paper already so old time readers can read there local paper in good conscience once again?

Let's see... the President of the United States of America bows to the Japanese head of state because it's Japanese tradition. And the Japanese head of state DOESN'T bow because the Japanese leader bows to no one, according to their tradition. Riigghhtt...

The only thing that seems wrong in what President Obama did is BOWING AT THE SAME TIME SHAKING THE HAND( i have to laugh at the picture coz it looked awkward^-^).... it should be either just bowing (90 degrees for Japan) or shaking the hand.

I dont think the bow gave a sign of submission nor gave the US President an inferior status . Bowing, in Japan (most especially) and other Asian countries, is a sign of respect and is very highly regarded especially by the elders.

I think the bow just shows that US President Obama has an insight of Japan's culture and respects it....

I think people should educate their selves a little more before complaining about our president bowing , It is an everyday part of conversation for the japanese and other countries to give a polite bow when greeting someone. We americans expect these other countries to respect our culture and beliefs so why should we not respect theirs? Be open minded people , we need to share our cultures and differences we are a modern country with various races , religions and cultures and there is no weakness in respecting our fellow humans way of showing respect and kindness. Peace be with all , thanks.

"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. "

hit the fucking nail on the head Joe, I couldn't agree more.

Hey I remember when George Bush held hands with a Saudi Prince. You know Saudi Arabia, the country where all the 9/11 Terrorists are from.

1st. It is not American custom to bow.. And he is suppose to be America's ambassador and represent me. I would not bow to the Emperor. The Emperor knows this and would not be offended.

2nd. Only 60 years ago both countries were engaged in bitter war that lead to the unconditional surrender of Japan and the existence of the "Monarchy" of Japan was only preserved because of the tolerance of America and American's. Had the emperor returned the gesture to show his appreciation and realization as an act of graciousness that would have been a good thing.

If my Father and Father-in-law were both alive today, both who sacrificed in the face of Japanese aggression, they would have been saddened to see our President act in such a shameful manner.

I am a fan of Japanese culture, have done much work in Japan and have many friends there. I was a supporter of Obama but his inability to show any sense of leadership, to make tough decisions and to represent me in an honorable way have erased all that. I can't wait for 2012.


Being Japanese, I was very impressed when I saw the picture of president Obama bowing to the emperor of Japan. It indicated to me that he must have taken the time to study the culture of Japan before going. In our culture, bowing is a respectful way of saying hello and goodbye, similar to the handshake in American culture. So, Obama bowing to the emperor of Japan doesn't make him any lower or less important in status, it just shows that he is being respectful of the culture and customs while in a foreign land. A truly sensitive leader would take the time to consider the customs of a nation when trying to appeal to or gain the trust of its people. Showing respect to a foreign leader could never be a sign of weakness in my opinion. It makes a positive impression for people to know that the leader of the most powerful nation in the world takes the time to be cognizant of the customs of others.

hopefully, this is buckwheat's last kwanzaa in the yo mtv whi' house.

I can see his grin as he thinks about all the white Americans his muslim buddy murdered in ft hood.

I don't get why people are so conerned with this? Obama was just showing respect for Japan's culture by bowing, he was being respectful to another culture and leader.

I am rather on the side of conservatives and do not agree with most of President Obama's policies. However, I don't understand why so many Americans needed to be hysteric about his bowing to current Japanese emperor. ‘Bowing' in Japan simply is a part of manners. The current position of Japanese emperor has nothing to do with politics. Japanese law, which was somehow created by the GHQ after the WW II, and the royal family themselves have made the point clear. Can we be a bit more flexible and reasonable?

How quickly we forget that President Nixon upon visiting Alaska bowed before Emperor Hirohito on his first visit to America. Does that name sound familiar? Yes, he's the emperor who started WWII and bombed Pearl Harbor. Did this cause a outcry from the public in 71'? I think not, grow up people and get your head out of the sand. We live in a world where people have different greeting, if you can't understand it, don't put others down for your ignorance.

I have never seen a president bow to any of these people and now not one ,but all. This is stuping low ! Every time he does something like this and the crazy decisions he make it make me want to VOMIT !

If people are so worried about China, they should stop buying products made there. It is U.S. consumerism that built China in to a world power, not a bowing president. Maybe you would be happier if he threw up in the Emperor's lap, because that is much less embarrassing. People outraged by this are missing the bigger picture. Obama is not the problem, the American people are the problem, and they are easily led to be angry over the most trivial things instead of what really matters. Be angry that the oil companies fleeced us for years, that corporations pay out millions to CEOs while cutting jobs that are the backbone of the American workforce, that our children hold bake sales to buy books. Be angry that there are 700 billionaires in the world while most people will work a lifetime and never earn even a million dollars. Impeach Obama? You are just plain stupid.

Another MISTAKE by OBAMA and I VOTED FOR HIM, at this point, I feel that DLC-HILLARY or SEX-MACHINE, EDWARDS would have been better presidents.

He coddles foreign leaders while AMERICA BURNS!! HILLARY/EDWARDS would never go abroad with a 10-17 percent UNEMPLOYMENT RATE!!!

Someone in the newsroom needs to get a life. I did not vote for President Obama, but it is very small minded to criticize him for showing respect. Just as it was also small minded to criticize Vice President Cheney for not doing so. They both showed respect for a representative of the Japanese people. There is no shock factor here to people who respect others regardless of how much they may disagree.

I cannot believe how many of our american people are so nieve of this man or maybe they are just plain out stupid.Anybody that would want a person of this nature for president of our wonderful USA should be set up for an intergation to see if they are terriosts and really for america themselves.What kind of backbone do you have.Our America is leaning toward communists every day.Wake the Hell Up People and get men like this out of office.

Heaven forbid we show any respect to other world leaders. Especially in the fashion that is common in their nation. The only reason Cheney shook hands is because he didn't know any better.

As a 17 year-old, it disgusts me to see how frivolous the American culture is. A large percentage of the current ruling generation seems to constitute that America is somehow vastly superior to other nations. As a result of this, it is apparently demeaning to observe other culture's practices. A large majority of these comments are full of bigotry and down right stupidity and ignorance in most cases. This extreme nationalism is in turn being instilled into the minds of my generation. Contrary to popular belief, the world does not need America, America needs the world. Ever seen the trade deficit to these Asian countries? It's remarkable. Not to mention the various syntax and spelling errors littered through most of these comments. Obama is not some horrible entity cast upon out country as most of you would like to believe. He's not great by any standards, but people who try to politicize something as simple and courteous as a bow are just ridiculous.

Absolutely Disgraceful as an American President. KMA Lberals.

I can't understand whatsoever the outrage that this has caused. He's simply showing respect! The fact that conservatives and republicans are taking this to mean so many different outrageous things is pathetic. Apparently, showing respect to the other people (yes, there are others) its frowned upon now. Some people really need to realize that we are not the only ones here. I don't blame the rest of the world for looking at us shamefully, when our people act like this. Think about the rest of the world for once.

 
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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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