Not unless the White House is making up its own “protocol” as Obama cruises through his latest road trip.

For the past 24 hours, a lot of eyebrows have been raised around the world about this photo of the President of the United States bowing low — very low — before the Emperor of Japan, one Mr. Akihito, and his lovely wife, the Empress Michiko. Akihito is the son of the guy known as Hirohito who led Japan during its risky escapade in attacking China, the United States and most of the Pacific world — and kept on leading it long after.

Knocked for a loop by the near-90-degree bend-over, the White House claimed that it was just a matter of “protocol” — routine stuff, you know, just to be polite.

Having been raised in a household where we all thought the President of the United States doesn’t bow down to anyone, I wondered enough to try to find out if I might have missed when this “protocol” arrived. Here are a couple of samples of what I found.

Here is President Ronald Reagan and the then-aging Emperor Hirohito greeting each other — just like any other two guys on equal footing might — with a hearty handshake (although Hirohito does look as if he’s throwing in a little instinctive bow).

(Hat tip for photo: Bostonmaggie)

Lest you think that some of this protocol stuff might have changed for U.S. Presidents since RR left the White House — or that Hirohito’s son, Akihito, has laid down some new requirements of obeisance in exchange for expanding Japan’s imports from America (fat chance!), here is Akihito and his Empress just hanging out last July in Hawaii with a couple of folks who rank way, way down the diplomatic food chain from Divine Emperors, Hawaii Governor Linda and Admiral Timothy J. Keating, Commander of U.S. Pacific Command. Looks like hearty handshakes all around.

Omigosh, I hope the Governor and the Admiral didn’t embarrass us with some protocol faux pas!

(Cross-posted from The Purple Center in solidarity with Doug Mataconis)

UPDATE 2:ABC’s Jake Tapper has a source who tells him that a bit of a bow was OK but not so deep or jarring as Obama’s bow. Says Nixon got it right.

  • Wow. Really? Of the actually important political issues this footnote gets two consecutive posts on Donklephant? Unsubscribed.

  • Had it occurred to you that maybe those specific pictures just didn’t capture the bows? It’s pretty weird to take a picture in which a President happens to be not bowing as evidence that no bows were exchanged. That’s like taking a picture of a murder suspect while he’s not engaged in murdering someone and saying “See? No murder!”

  • bubbles

    Seconded, David. If I wanted to read this kind of garbage I’d go to Drudge. I won’t be subscribing to this blog anymore.

  • Hundreds of photos of other US Presidents, other heads of state, various lesser folk and scads of Japanese are easily found on the internet. Go find one of a President bowing and you’ve got a point. Otherwise…

    And what is this business about, oh, unless you only publish stuff that doesn’t even mildly criticize Obama for anything, I’m cancelling my subscription. Kinda narrow minded, that.

  • Breaking news: president bows?

    Either it’s a slow news day or you don’t give a shit about anything beyond criticizing the president. Hell I didn’t even care when Bush danced like an idiot with those African people.

  • BJ

    Okay, time to unsubscribe. Thanks for wasting our time.

  • PrettyPaula

    Why is this news? I don’t have a problem with you criticizing Obama for important things i.e. action or inaction on policy issues. Who wants to read about how American presidents don’t bow to anyone – what’s wrong with being respectful of other cultures? Let’s get back to the important issues…I agree with the comments above – donklephant has begun to stray.

  • bubbles

    Look, I recognize that this is a presidential faux pas. Obama bowed to a foreign monarch. Big deal. I don’t care.

    There are several issues that this blog could be legitimately criticizing Obama over. Spending, KSM trial, Healthcare, Economic Policy – – but this is not one of those things.

    A paragraph at most saying, “Whoops, Obama probably shouldn’t have done that” would’ve been sufficient here.

    If you’re going to criticize Obama – – do it on something that’s thought-provoking and relevant. I’d love to see that sort of thing, because in all honesty I’d probably agree with a lot of it. But no, you’re more interested in this miscalculated bow to Japan’s emperor.

  • DougL

    Interesting how things subtly morph.

    Yesterday, Doug Mataconis posted a faux outrage post stating that “Obama clearly was being deferential in a manner that just isn’t acceptable for an American President.” According to whom? Why, of course, well-known etiquette and protocol authority Ed Morrissey at Hot Air. Not good enough. Maybe there is established “protocol” that US presidents do not bow to foreign dignitaries. Present a credible authority on US protocol to make that case. Ed Morrissey doesn’t make that cut.

    Today, the tack has changed to “bowing is not required“. So what? I’m not aware that anyone (certainly nobody commenting on this site) ever claimed it was required. It has been pointed out that bowing in oriental culture is the rough equivalent of our handshake, nothing more nothing less.

    So now we have a photo posted to beat down the strawman that “OMG, the admiral shook hands with the same Japanese emperor!” Big deal.

    Look back to the last faux outrage over protocol this year: Michelle Obama daring to hug Queen Elizabeth. It was Queen Elizabeth’s choice of whether or not to take offense – not Obama critics here at home – and Queen Elizabeth graciously chose not to be offended. End of story.

    At an earlier time in our history when major nations had less close ties, protocol was much more important consideration out of concern that the most innocent seeming breach of protocol might be seen as a grave insult, thus resulting in chilling of relations at best to military conflict at worst.

    But, look at the two countries we’re talking about here: Japan and England – two from among our closest allies. Neither of them are going to significantly change their relations with the US for any minor protocol/etiquette faux pas one way or the other, and certainly not as a result of Obama’s domestic critics at home desire to be outraged/insulted on their behalf.

    Criticizing Obama about his policy choices is fair game. I have a really hard time believing that neither Mr. Mataconis nor Mr. Burke could find anything substantial along those lines to post about. That they chose this unimportant issue to post about instead of more substantial criticism about policy is weak and pathetic.

    Can we please have a sane opposition party focused on the important issues some time in the near future, please? Way to keep your eyes on the ball.

  • Al

    Since you’ve been raised in a household where you all thought the President of the United States doesn’t bow down to anyone, perhaps the issue is actually your own upbringing and bias.

  • Agnostick

    Fail, again.

    Despite two childish posts by guest authors, I won’t be unsubscribing or leaving The Donk. Bad days happen to everyone. I know Justin and The Donk are much bigger than this. Both will rise above it.


  • mp97303

    I just got a notice that my health insurance is going up 35% next year. Any you care about this? Why?

  • As far as I know, there is no official prohibition against a citizen of the US bowing in a country where that is a standard courtesy. As much as we like to think our President is a special person, he really is just another American, with the top job. So if its “appropriate” for a CEO to bow to his Japanese counterpart in business (and it is) why is it a big deal for Mr. Obama to do so?

    This is not a big deal. It isn’t even a little deal.






  • Alex

    You guys are all idiots. It is the established diplomatic protocol of the United States that our Presidents do not bow to royalty or foreign leaders. Obamoron did. Again. It’s that simple. There are plenty of other articles out there about how Obama is screwing up our country. This article simply points out how he is embarassing us around the world.

  • Terry

    This is the continued program with conservative writers at the moment. We so want to hear honest, interesting, thoughtful insights about what is going on today. We so want to hear a sane version of the opposition backed by intellectual meaning and -references- (something often missing, even here with the ‘lots of eyebrows’ – whose eyebrows? Rush’s?).

    Why oh why can’t we find enough conservatives to speak deeply about real issues.

  • NC Yippie
  • sam

    different kind of bow, yippie. when people say “bowing is like shaking hands in japan”, its this nixon bow they are referring to. reciprocal. from the shoulders. hands at side.

    the bow obama gave is one a subservient gives to a superior. low. from the waist. eyes and head facing the ground. and the handshake while bowing is just incorrect form.

    and no, its not the end of the world. its just tacky. the bow is inappropriate. the handshake is incorrect. the whitehouse explanation that obama was following protocol is a fib.

    rank it with belching at the dinner table, and then explaining that it was meant as a compliment to the chef.


    Oh wait, maybe you meant I was the “JACKASS”. You should remember to put a comma in there so no one associates the nickname VETERAN with the kind of disrespect for the office of President of the United States that we associate with the left during the Bush years.

    As to the President bowing to the emperor of Japan, how about checking out the pictures of President Dwight D. Eisenhower bowing to French PM DeGaulle and the Pope in Justin’s post. Man, I’ll bet even the ACLU would have a fit if Obama bowed to the leader of a church (wait, didn’t he meet the Pope earlier this year … quick someone, search for a bow!)

    Of all the issues we could spend time on, like the delay in Afghanistan, the worsening jobs picture, huge government subsidies to giant multinational corporations, the health insurance reform debacle … we are focused on whether or not our President is adhering to protocol and embarrassing us on the world stage.

  • Kwicko

    It’s funny – the President whom the entire Republican party says “wants to take over the world”, and whom they claim the rest of the world worships as if he rules the world, goes overseas and now gets criticized for NOT acting like he’s the King of the World?

    Of all the things to criticize this President for, this one seems really petty and desperate. Where are the pix of Dubya kissing the Saudi king, so we can have some context and comparison? 😉

  • BigHeat

    Good grief people. This is noteworthy. Not because the other stuff is not, but that this it just another example of inexperience and poor international policy. It is not about whether or not “protocol” says bowing is required or optional. Rather it is about what the bow implies. These implications are different for different cultures and the leader of the United States should have teams of people coaching him on those implications.

    Bush dancing in Africa, funny as it was, does not carry the same political undertones as bowing to another world leader. As for the Nixon picture, there are two items to note. First, Nixon. Really? That’s the best reference? Second, compare the depth of the bow between the two presidents. Nixon’s international “protocol” has it right. As noted on another site, “the correct protocol in Japan is to bow, same depth, same duration. What The [President] is doing is tantamount to prostrating himself.”

    Hopefully we citizens will continue to be attentive to our many domestic issues, but I believe international diplomatic missteps such as these are also noteworthy.

  • the Word

    BigHeat has sent me over the edge. Mind numbing stupidity is something I’d rather avoid.

  • Mike Dobrin

    Ridiculous. I didn’t think twice when Bush held hands while walking with the Saudis. Why would this be any different?

  • Nancy S.

    Well, now that all the riff raff have unsubscribed, perhaps we are left with Americans who actually care about our country.

    This is just one of many acts of ignorance on Obama’s part. This act was not only an embarrassment to our country, but so embarrassing to Japan that they made a decision not to publish the photo in their newspapers.

    A bow is not an ignorant thing if on equal level, but note how much the Emperor bowed… hardly. And that Obama was not sensitive to that tells the Emperor a lot. It means you don’t know what you are doing, “president obama’ and apparently don’t care enough about how you represent yourself or your country.

    I find it ironic how low he will bow to Japan, but when he visited our men and women in Iraq last year while he was campaigning, he didn’t even acknowledge them as he passed them by. Heck, he didn’t even look at them.

    It scares me that he is our representative, apologizing to other countries and talking to mass murderers with more respect than he gives our troops. Despicable really.

    I commend you for taking pause on this one. It’s important. And I dare say any man or woman who has fought to preserve this country would agree. I doubt any of the squealers on here have ever considered being in the military.

  • suellen

    Pres. Obama obviously is the worst kind of narcissist.Several experts on the subject have written about it. Not too many people have talked about this yet but if you go to information on narcissism, all of his actions and behaviors make sense. All that matters is that he gets his supply. His supply is attention via speeches,trips to other countries with the media hot on his tail,cameras always rolling etc. He will do anything to keep that supply coming in. He needs to be constantly told how great he is and can’t tolerate any criticism. Please read about Narcissism!!!

  • Candy Striper

    Hate to break up the Obama hatefest but had to correct you.

  • Candy Striper

    Sorry to break it to you Obam haters and Vet users, but Nixon bowed to Hirohito. The same guy who we almost hung, And Nixon was right and little was said. I guess we had more maturity back then, some of us anyway.

  • jacob


    We all care about our country. That’s why we’re here.

    And I dare say any man or woman who has fought to preserve this country would agree.

    I respectfully disagree – and so do my active military family and friends.

  • @suellen,,

    IMO there has not been a non-narcissist President, Vice President, Governor, Senator, Congressman, or candidate for any of those offices in the history of the Republic.


    In my experience the troops can speak for themselves.

    And for the record I have seriously tried to get into the military. The Marines, Army, and Navy. They aren’t comfortable with sending depressed people into combat. I’d need a waiver from some important guy (Surgeon General of the Army was his title IIRC) and none of the people I’ve talked to have even bothered calling back.

    I would have tried to get into the Coast Guard but it turns out they’re even more selective than the combat services.

  • INTJ

    The President of the U.S., democratically-elected and leader of the free world, should bow to no man, especially monarchs, and particularly ones who DO NOT BOW to ANYONE themselves. That is not politeness, that is not deference, and it is insulting.

  • DigitalExplosion

    And so Obama continues to disappoint. I had such high hopes for the man. Sure I didn’t vote for him, but there were a lot of things he promised us that I could get on board with. Even the things that I didn’t like, he’s somehow failed to do. But it’s one thing when he baits and switches the U.S., we’re just suckers for voting for him. It’s another when he embarrasses us abroad. I have my interests in Japanese culture, and I agree that this was a bit much. Maybe a tip of his head, maybe a little forward lean… sure, I can dig that. But throwing his torso down and bending right over? In the animal kingdom that is called “presenting”. The President of the United States of America is assuming the position in front of someone with whom he is supposed to be an equal. It may be early in his term, but if we thought Bush was bad, it looks like Obama is going to follow in his predecessor’s footsteps.