Obama Bows to Japan’s Emperor Akihito


obama-japan-smallHow low will President Obama 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 its 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.

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.

obama-japan-bowingHow 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, debate 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 black and white postwar photo demonstrates, was not particularly deferential.

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.

{LATimes blogs/Matzav.com Newscenter}


  1. The story itself is not such a big deal its the point behind it. Obama has this belief that we have to “bow” to all nations in whichever way they want this is wrong. Also bowing is a sign of sebjucting oneself, why must we do that to japan. We are “America’ not them.

  2. hey obama is really an asian! he is admiting to that when he bows down to an asian emperor! lets see: he was born in hawaiii which has a large asian poulation, he lived in indonesia. . . .

  3. It is not demeaning at all. Since America is considered above other nations in Obamas mind, it is as if the other nations are “bowing” to us by default! President Obamas bow is consequently an act of graciousness. In other words, because it is a given to the president that he is on top, it is an act of graciosness not an act of belittlement.

  4. When my son took Karate (sp?), the instructors made it clear that bowing, prior to action, was
    traditional. But, my son, then six years old, bowed second. His instructor bowed first!
    Then, they sort of bowed together.

    So, the one with the most authority and experience, bowed first—his hands in a kind
    of prayer clasp…

    What does this say, except “respect?” To demonstrate humility, whilst you are the authority or elder, seems to me to be the epitomy of integrity..even bravery. Thereby, your “subject” learns respect, too, according to tradition..

    That to bow is to demonstrate your subjectivity
    —you are lowering yourself –is to get it all wrong (however well intended!). The strongest sapling bows for and to the wind–the weakest snaps.