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Ticket Replay: How low will he go? Obama's wow bow to Japan's Emperor Akihito

December 28, 2009 |  7:56 am

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

As the holiday season arrives, our thoughts on The Ticket turn to working not quite so hard for a few days. So we are re-publishing some of our favorite or most-read items from 2009. This item originally appeared on Nov. 14.

(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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