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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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The more interesting part is to consider why the bowing continues after the Saudi bow backlash.

If a very low bow was just a sign of respect and not an admission of inferiority then why isn't Akihito bowing just as low?

How embarrassing.

Yes, a bow is traditional in asian cultures, but is done simultaneously. This would the the equivalent of holding your hand out to shake someones hand, and they don't hold their hand out - who is in the superior position in that case... oh wait, that did happen to BHO already...

When I was living in Japan, you would always nod courtously when meeting friends or strangers. But the bow B. Hoooosane is doing looks more like he's trying to pick up a 100 yen coin on the floor.

Another telling act in what Charles Krauthammer so brilliantly labeled as Obama's tragic "kabuki" theatre. Much stylized movement, glacial plot development, screeching noise posing as dialogue and, in the end, tragedy. This pathetic charade tells us as much about Obama's genuine feelings about himself as it does his low-opinion of the country he supposedly, and unfortunately, was elected to represent.

He isn't even bowing correctly, which makes it look ridiculous. His back is all arched and he's bowed way too low. What a fool. If you're going to do it, do it right. Failing at an attempt to exhibit moral superiority will only foster contempt from others.

He isn't even bowing correctly, which makes it look ridiculous. His back is all arched and he's bowed way too low. What a fool. If you're going to do it, do it right. Failing at an attempt to exhibit moral superiority will only foster contempt from others.


This is an LA Times article. All Drudge did with run with it as a headline. Came from LA.

I really don't care that much about the gesture. I think it's a bit much. But I think we have more important things to be concernend with than how low Obama's bow was.

What is wrong with Obama? Doesn't he any sense of who he is and who he represents? He loathes American tradition and certainly will NOT stand up for this country abroad.

There is a growing tide of people who will show him the door in 2012>

Americans bow to no one, but the status of Obama's citizenship is still in question!

typo: he underwent surgery for prostate cancer**

Bowing is not a 'sign of respect' in Japan, at least not the way you think of it. The first thing wrong with bowing in Japan is that, as a westerner,you are not part of Japanese society. So you have no standing in Japanese society, and thus no need to bow. If you're Japanese you should bow, and the depth and length of the bow are commensurate with your social standing. If Akihito and Obama were really operating on the same set of rules, Akihito would be the one looking at the floor--Obama is a much more important person than him.

Finally as an American you are supposed to have an appreciation of the fact that, because of our shared belief in the equality of men, we don't bow to people.

This guy is an embarassment to the U.S. on so many levels. He reeks of weakness.

To those who say it is a sign of respect--read your history and Japanese history and then respond to the article the same way.

Respect is fine; supplication before the emperor is not

Obama called Farrakhann 'The Honorable Minister Farrakhann', gave a quicky tea bag bow to the Muslim Saudi King, now bows and scrapes before the Japanese. Obama is clearly a traitor devoted to the destruction and denigration of America. Millions of Americans will cheer when he is impeached or dragged out of the White House by his feet.

What is the big deal. Obama bows at the alter of Karl Marx and the Koran every day. He bows to George Soros and the world wide communist party.

Someone please wake me up from this nightmare! He is nothing but an atrocity!! The President of the United States bows to....NOBODY!!! He has taken the Office to a new low (and I thought Clinton's Oval Office "for sale" sign had been taken down years ago).

Impeach this BUM!!

Look, it has long been policy that the US president does not bow to royalty. It has been this way since well before America became a world power. That's not to say Ambassadors didn't genuflect, they did. But it has long been symbolic that the US president, as embodying the American public, does not signal submission to the authority of any earthly authority.

In Japan it is true that bows are used to greet people, but they are graded by degree. Then there is the bow of equals to each other. That should be a bow of about 15 degrees (informal), which is about the inclination of the Emporer to Obama- although I suppose the angle might be deceptive and he might be giving a 30 degree bow which is more formal. Google it.

If Obama had given a smaller bow I wouldn't have minded so much since in Japan a bow is polite and not just a recognition of royalty. But that bow is way too deep- it recognizes the Emperor of Japan as superior to the President of the US.

Look if you are going to try and make some sort of symbolic statement that Japan and America are equals- which is I assume the point- for goodness sakes get it right!

Bows that low are not a 'sign of courtesy', it is a sign of submission, deference. Neither of which the President should be down, a slight bow, and a handshake would be better. Our President is such an American hating fool. And so is everyone who voted for this loser.

It maybe a sign of respect in Japan, however if Obama Had not genuflicted to the saudia king, and all the other heads of state I do not think it would be an issue!!!! I agree that if Hitler were still romming the earth he would probally use the bad judgement and bow to him also!!!Maybe it was a moment of brain freeze ? I don't think so!! I hope that you are all "Happy" with the "CHANG WE ARE GETTING"!!!!

It wasn't a bow, don't be ridicurous. OK, it was a bow -- he is subversive to everyone because he is still the community organizer we all knew him to be.

You idiot defenders. It's not about Obama being "Alpha Male" or anything stupid like that. From the FOUNDING of AMERICA our PRESIDENT does not BOW TO FOREIGN KINGS, how hard is that for you people to understand.

Has nothing to do with right/left politics

God help us! This clown has no sense of respect for his Office! Can you imagine the former Presidents of any party bowing to anyone! You show respect but you are the President of the UNITED STATES. WE DON'T BOW!!!!
We made a terrible mistake with this man and we will all pay dearly for it...

This president is a total embarassment, bowing so low it looks like he's about to give a bj. He already bowed before the scummiest, the Saudi king, so you can rest assured that he'd bow to the rest of them. Get this piece of trash out of the WH, what a humiliation.

It's not the bow it's the depth of the bow, commented on in the article, that we question. He is being ill served by his aids and his own intuition.

I don't fault Obama on this one.
I think that the gesture shows humility -- a refreshing change after 8 years of arrogance on the part of the Bush/Cheney.

Jack Smith posted it right on the nose:
"he tries to ingratiate himself with other influential leaders"

Why the heck should the President of the United States be trying to ingratiate himself to any other world leader? Doesn't he understand his actions reflect on the country as a whole? Obama has been putting on the face of apologizing even before he was elected. As far as I am concerned, America has nothing to apologize to anyone for. We took the battle to the Islamic radical terrorists, and, except for cursory support, we have borne the brunt of the cost in lives, material and money.

Time for the rest of the world to try to 'ingratiate' themselves with us instead of hiding behind political correctness so as to avoid bringing the terrorist's eyes onto them instead of us.


We will all be bowing to CHINA soon if we dont stop and pay this debt we have.

I am so pained that this person is the Presicent of the UNITED STATES OF AMERICA. How did he manage to hoodwink so many people into voting for him? I fear that there is no longer any hope that he will not destroy this once great country. It hurts so bad.

This nation bows to no one! And this person is supposed to be representing US???? As far as customs in Japan, a friendly bow is eye to eye, not downcast eyes bent at 90 degrees. Obama is clearly out of his depth.


Akihito appears to be doing about a 3-degree bow (courtesy/habit) and Barry a 45-er. That's embarrassing - brush up on cultural traditions or step down if you can't act like a Head of State.

Uh, is this really a big deal? I see a President who is showing the utmost of respect to a foreign dignitary. Had President Obama not bowed "low enough", would that have made him look bad? He can't win.

Let us put aside these ridiculous "stories" and concentrate on the REAL problems facing not only the US, but indeed the world; goodness knows we have plenty to choose from and how a President bows is not one of them.

The article's authors are responsible for the comments they generate.

"Very low bows like this are a sign of great respect and deference to a superior."

obama sees america as a bad thing. and will go out of his way to diminish it before the eyes of the world. how you defend your nations people if you see them as subservant to the world???

I didn't vote for Obama (I wanted Hillary to win) and I strongly disagree with many of his policies, but he is right on this one. He is giving honor where honor is due. I may not agree with some of his views, but I honor him as well because he is our leader, and I think it is a shame that so many people in our country have no idea how to properly respect people in higher positions than themselves.

Picture is worth 1000 words. I suppose attention on this is better then focusing on granting the war criminals directly responsible for 3000 deaths in NYC, sparking two wars (5000 killed, 50,000 wounded) $billions wasted, and our way of life altered forever, the same constitutional rights in a civilian court as any law abiding US Citizen.

Bowing is a traditional greeting in Japan you fools. It isn't a sign of deference. It is a greeting and it can been seen as disrespectful not to do it. If you watch the video they bow to each other, just not at the same time (because you would bang your heads together). So, nice out of context propaganda picture and article.

Weakest leader of all time.

Weakest leader of all time.

The only question is - will Barry's mouthpiece Gibbs again try to deny what we all saw - that D'ohbama again wrongly bowed before a foreign leader?

The President of the United States does NOT bow before anyone. We do not not dip our flag at the Olympics. We The People are all equal. The President is our representative. What he has just done is reduce our country. A simple head nod would have been a sign of respect, but this full bow is a sign of subservience. I understand many in the US do not understand this but the view of the USA has been diminished more than the so-called W-effect and now even more than the HW vomiting picture.

To all you lib's who claim Barry O bowing is a sign of respect. Question? Did the emperor bow back in respect? Of course not. Again, lib's hoisted on their own naive words.

For all those stating how this is normal Japanese custom and what a wonderful respectful move this is by Obama. Explain why Akihito is not bent down at the same humiliating level. I’ll do it for you; the depth of your bow shows your status to the other. Akihito is giving a respectful bow, reflecting his position, while Obama is humiliating himself, bowing like a shop girl, not the leader of the US. He needs to understand that the president of the US is not a beneath any of these so called royals. While he clearly is, the president of the US is not, he needs to learn this and act like the president of the US.

You act as if you never seen George W. Bush bow before... I still can't believe that no one has responded to the Saddam Hussein/Donald Rumsfield hug and a handshake comment earlier. Let's talk about the past or should we continue to neglect it and the loss of American lives like so many other things?







What the hell? He didn't kneel before Queen of England. Geessshhhh what a choad.

Um, didn't George HW Bush bow before the previous Emperor's (Hirohito) casket during his funeral in 1989?

Yeah. Nice try at slamming Obama there you goons. Next time, try and find something that can't be so easily shot down in flames.

PS: Let's see if you have the guts to allow this comment to be posted.

It infuriates me to see him bowing once again. Did he not get the memo that President of the United States NEVER bows. That includes to his buddy the King of Saudi Arabia.

I wonder what he'll be apologizing for on this tour. I'm just so sick of him.

The only person who bows lower than Obama-san, is Barney Frank, but give Barney credit - he's got something much different in mind when he dips his head lower than his honoree's belt line. Next, I guess we'll see our president kowtowing to the Chinese, while announcing that he'll prepare an executive order waving business licence requirements for all Chinese laundries located on any MLK-named street in America.

This guy is now the most embarrassing president in the history of the United States/

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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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