Critics in the US are ballistic on President Barack Obama's bowing to His Imperial Majesty Emperor Akihito of Japan. One video clip shows a series of 47 stills of world leaders calling on the Emperor and none of them bowed to His Imperial Majesty but shook his hand. Of all the world leaders only Her Excellency Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, President of the Philippines stood straight with no hint of deference and looked at His Imperial Majesty's eyes. That's because they are almost of the same height!
Word has it even the Japanese are embarrassed. After all the Japanese have stopped prostrating to the Emperor since Akihito's dad, the Emperor Showa divested himself of divinity after Japan's surrender on Sept 2, 1945.
Bowing is a sign of respect not too much of deference in today's Japan. It is more of a sort of greeting if anything else. Sales clerks clad in kimono usually greet the customer with an half- bow. The polite thing to do is to bow back with the same kind of bow or as a gesture of humility, bow lower.
Since I spent some time in Japan, I am quite aware of a few of the etiquette rules but not the whole thing. After all, only the Japanese know all the rules.
Some Filipinos do not get the reason why some Americans are pissed with their Head of State's bowing. Obama did a full formal bow and his host the Emperor just made a slight nod. In Asian cultures this means that Obama is an inferior and the Emperor is a superior. The Emperor should have made a deeper bow as a sign of respect and recognizing Obama as Head of State. But Emperors don't do that. Despite what Japan's Consitution says as him being a "symbol" of the Japanese people, the Emperor for all intents and purposes is Sovereign and Obama is not. To be fair to the Emperor, he seemed to have been taken for a surprise.
Someone ought to tell Barack Obama that he isn't just any politician but a President of a sovereign people and that his office has inherent dignities. But Obama may not be completely faulted. After all he grew up in a very Asian place where people bow, Indonesia.
The only other Western icon that I remember having bowed, no it was a deep curtsy to the Emperor and Empress was the newly divorced Diana, Princess of Wales. However she wasn't officially part of the Royal Family then having lost her HRH and she was definitely of lower rank than the Imperial couple.
Well President GMA may have had it right. Being vertically challenged may have protocol advantages!