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My Take on “The Bow”

Ok, so we’ve all seen “the photo.”

rt_obama_akihito_091115_main

I’m gonna shock some folks by saying the following: I have no real issues with a President of the United States of America bowing to the Emperor of Japan.

However…

The issue one should be wondering, is this: Why the hell is he bowing so low?

I’m trying to draw back into my memory banks from some old conversations I’ve had with an old classmate of mine (I believe he’s now a Minister at a Jehovah’s Witness Temple in the Twin Cities) who was born of an American mother and a Japanese father.  He told the class that in Japan, the depth of your bow signifies where you stand in society.  His example was that students bow at the same length to each other, but a student bows lower when bowing to a teacher or elder.

In this case, Obama as President of the United States, should only be doing a slight bow since he is of equal stature in society as the Japanese Emperor.  The bow as pictured makes it look like he’s a lowly busboy while meeting the feudal head of Japan.

Someone in the White House’s cultural liaison office botched this one and made their boss look like a fool.  They ought to be sacked for that.

(Or maybe they’ll be moved to another office and it will be called “a saved job” under the federal stimulus plan.)

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  • maulreius

    In most of these cross cultural moments both sides usually understand that the other is less than familiar with one's customs and not to read too much into such mess ups.

    LOL — in the UAE one teacher (he left before I arrived but he was a legend) absolutely and positively detested Arabic culture and so on. He would present his lesson, and then let his students go to work and he would sit down and quite purposefully expose the soles of his feet at his students.

    The one thing I know about Japanese culture is to never ever stash their business cards in their presence.

    On the whole on this tension between respecting your hosts culture even when the particular protocol is contrary to one's own culture is sticky. I remember Laura Bush catching a lot of grief when appearing next to a woman covered head to toe in a black Abaya. (http://bloggerbeer.blogspot.com/2008/01/mrs-bus…) Generally, one should respect their hosts and attempting to observe their cultural norms is a sign of respect.

  • dad29

    Umnnnhhhh….IIRC, a Revolution was fought over “King/Emperor” issues.

    We won. Our Chief of State is the equal of ANY “king/emperor” on the planet.

    So unlike you, I DO have a problem with bowing.

  • dad29

    Umnnnhhhh….IIRC, a Revolution was fought over “King/Emperor” issues.

    We won. Our Chief of State is the equal of ANY “king/emperor” on the planet.

    So unlike you, I DO have a problem with bowing.