Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Bow

It seems that the last few days this picture has been plastered all over the internet. While I'm reluctant to delve into the murky political waters here at JADJ, I've been reading a lot of unfair comments from both sides of the "debate" and would just like to briefly weigh in.

AFP/ File

First off, as this Japan Times piece points out, this is not the first time that a US president has been blasted for a controversial greeting. G. W. Bush, Clinton, and Nixon all had their moments (as has Obama before this). I think there are people on both sides of the aisle who are ignoring that fact. When Bush held hands with Prince Abdullah, there was nothing wrong with it - it was just, you know, cultural sensitivity. Or conversely, when Clinton almost bowed to the emperor of Japan, it was a near calamity, but when Obama does a near-90°er, it's just deference and good manners - a new, humble, America. There's plenty of hypocrisy to go around.

I can understand both sides. On one hand, this isn't really a big deal in the grand scheme of things, even if it was a mistake. So Obama gets points for his "humility and deference" with some, and in a 3-7 years we'll have a different president who can adopt an entirely new style of dealing with foreign leaders if he likes. On the other hand, it's true that American principles have always spurned the idea of the superiority of nobility (except in the cases of celebrities and political dynasties, it seems). Obama's bow was rather low and clumsy, and appeared to be the bow of one to his superior. I mean, that's the Japanese way - you bow low to your betters. Obama could use some better protocol advisors, but if he stuck with the same winners after giving Gordon Brown some DVDs in return for a pen carved from the timbers of an old ship that used to fight slavers, then I doubt he's going to fire them after this faux paux.

So in my opinion, it was a sloppy move. But the bottom line is that everyone makes mistakes, and this is going to have very little impact on anything. Now that I've offended people on all sides, let's move on.


  1. I think it was OK to bow but it was just way to low of a bow and he shouldn't have been shaking hands at the same time.

  2. I'm ok with the bow. If nothing else, it's a Kudos to you, sir. Your country's yen is beating the shyte out of my country's dollar, which has, well, fuck-all to do with your actions or mine since I've been largely full of wind to this point, and you're only a symbolic leader, but, nevertheless (can I use 'but' and 'nevertheless' in succession like that? I'm not sure) I bow to you, sir.

  3. Hahaha, nice. It's just as they say, a bow is worth 63 words.

  4. I think it was only news in America.
    Most Japanese thought it was a polite gesture (even if not technically done properly).


  5. Yeah, I suppose. I haven't heard any Japanese talking about it either way.