Obama’s Critics Watch Closely for a Bow to the Emperor

News & Views - April 24th, 2014
Obama-bow

All eyes were watching President Barack Obama as soon as he landed in Haneda Airport in Tokyo Wednesday night. But one question swirling around his visit goes beyond policy decisions and into questions of etiquette.

The visiting head of state may skip the Japanese bow when he meets with Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko in a bid to avoid criticism at home.

Obama has come under fire in the US for bowing too deeply to the Japanese emperor during his November 2009 visit. Right-wing critics lashed at Obama for bending to a nearly 90 degree angle at the waist, saying such gesture was “treasonous.”

The sign of deference did not bode well with US officials who said it went against state department protocol. A US leader should stand tall and bow to no one, officials said.

“There is no reason for an American president to bow to anyone,” former Vice President Dick Cheney told Politico.

Conservative pundit William Kristol had described the gesture as a “disgrace” to Washington. “I don’t why President Obama thought that was appropriate. Maybe he thought it would play well in Japan. But it’s not appropriate for an American president to bow to a foreign one,” he told Fox News.

In Japan, the sentiment was nearly the same: many Japanese took offense that Obama bowed and shook hands with the emperor at the same time.

Government officials at that time said the president was merely observing Japanese etiquette to show respect.

Obama is expected to meet with the emperor this morning during a welcome meeting which will be followed by a dinner banquet. The emperor will bid farewell to the president before he leaves for Seoul Friday morning.

Image: “121223-F-MQ656-397” by AFN-Pacific Hawaii News Bureau Hawaii/Flickr