My father spent a few years in Japan in the 1950’s and he described to me as a curious young man the intricacies of the bow in Japanese culture. Each movement, the depth of the bow, placement of the hands, every aspect, has a specific intended meaning between the bower and the bowee as it were. The picture of Obama bowing before the Japanese Emperor making the rounds today is truly cringe worthy, particularly as it is directed towards the one person in Japan who is likely the most knowledgeable and sensitive to the intricacies of the culture.
Let’s review. A deep bow is a sign of respect to whom you are bowing, but can also be a signal to him that you regard him as your superior. Hand placement is also paramount with the palms flat at your side. The length of time the bow is held, who returns to a standing position first, and even the time it takes to return to a standing position have meaning as well. When an equally deep bow is not returned, as appears to be the case here, the only conclusion to be drawn is that the reciever of the bow is in agreement as to their respective status. Seems Obama’s not the only one who can slip in a sly FU to knowing eyes.
The bow Obama is presenting to the Emperor below is the cultural equivalent of the leader of the free world offering his right hand to a foreign dignitary and having said dignitary grab his dick instead. No wonder the Emperor has such a bemused look on his face while he pointedly neglects to politely return the bow in kind. He is merely returning the sentiment of such a sloppily executed salutation. I guess you have to give “O” a bit of credit for attempting to be culturally sensitive but let’s try a little harder shall we?
This from a commenter over at Gerard’s.
Foreigners are not expected to bow, as they lack the requisite knowledge of the elaborate etiquette governing this for at least 1000 years.
This BHO bow, because of its degree of declination and the shamefully rounded back, is in Japanese eyes the bow of a crippled toilet attendant to his supreme master.
Posted by: Takuan Seiyo at November 14, 2009 12:19 PM
Update: It has been brought to my attention via a comment thread at neoneocon that it is not customary for the Japanese emperor to bow to anyone. Fair enough. Last I checked it wasn’t customary for American Presidents either.