Musings about Japan and life as a human, a cosplayer, a minority, a music lover, an English teacher.

President Obama and The Custom of Bowing

If you’ve been up-to-date with recent news about President Obama’s recent tour through Asia, you’re probably aware of the uproar from conservatives in the U.S. about his gesture to the Japanese Emperor Akihito and Mistress Michiko. That is, his deep bow accompanied by a handshake.

According to former Vice President Dick Cheney, Obama’s gesture was unnecessary and represented a “sign of weakness,” as if the President was recognizing some kind of inferiority to the Land of the Rising Sun.

I mean really, that’s not necessarily untrue. The US Dollar-Japanese Yen exchange rate is down the drain for us. Japan makes better electronics, have an overall healthier population, better customer service…I could go on and on.

But that’s not the point.

Anyone who knows anything about Japanese culture would realize that a bow is NOT a sign of weakness. It is a sign of respect and a display of humility. It’s a formal way of greeting someone.

The President was on Japanese soil, in the Emperor’s country. The Emperor is the (supposed) highest authority of Japan. NOT bowing is like walking into someone else’s house with your muddy shoes on and not saying any more than a short ‘hi’.

Anyone who says that bowing is a sign of weakness, just try going to meet the Japanese Emperor and just shaking his hand like he’s your American colleague. Either the Emperor will think you’re rude, or he’ll wave it off as you being an ‘ignorant gaijin.’ No doubt you’ll be sneered at by some Japanese who feel as though you’ve done the equivalent of spitting in their face.

For President Obama’s case, not only was bowing a way of respecting the Emperor and humbling himself, it was a way of respecting another culture. Some Republicans like Cheney have the ignorant mindset that the United States “bows to no one” because we have too much pride to humble ourselves. They might even be stuck on those movies where the subordinates get on their knees, stretch out their arms, and go “We’re not worthy! We’re not worthy!” which is a completely different scenario.

So for all of you who are slamming Obama for simply observing protocol, get a clue and try learning a thing or two about Japanese customs. Just because we are the United States of America does NOT mean we are superior to anyone else. That’s an old conservative mindset that does not belong in the 21st century, a time where the United States is so far from being #1 that we really don’t have any business waving our pride around anyway. Being a “proud American” gives you no incentive to ignore culture and customs while in foreign countries.


One response to “President Obama and The Custom of Bowing

  1. sarah November 24, 2009 at 10:12 am

    i cannot believe all the fuss about the bowto say that it showed weakness is just pure cultural insensitivity and just completely ばか

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