President Obama’s decision to bow and scrape before Emperor Akihito during a recent state visit has angered many in the US even as it has pleased many in Japan, with critics saying the American president should not be going with crooked knee before the world’s kings.
He bowed low and deep – only by actually kneeling at the Akihito’s feet could he have expressed greater “respect.” The bow was of course not returned by the emperor.
Previous American leaders have taken care to treat Japan’s ruined monarchs as equals or mild inferiors – MacArthur famously had Hirohito come to him to take his orders, and recently vice-president Cheney remained conspicuously straight-backed as he shook the emperor’s withered hand.
A significant brouhaha in fact ensued when Clinton appeared to bow to Akihito, which was denied at the time by the ambassador in typically Clinton-esque fashion: “It was not a bow-bow, if you know what I mean.”
The previous emperor, Hirohito, was in the eyes of many an unrepentant war criminal who only escaped the gallows thanks to the necessity of confronting Russia, so it is no surprise he was never honoured, but his nondescript successor is regarded more positively.
Conscious of the great sacrifices made to rid the American people of monarchical parasites, for 200 years the US’s official diplomatic position has been that monarchs should humoured with nothing more than a handshake, so this gesture actually marks a significant change in policy, unwelcome in the eyes of many.
Obama’s obeisance might have been passed off as a gesture of contrition for the sake of manipulating an ally’s public opinion, but Obama recently made a similar grovelling performance for no less than the king of Saudi Arabia, a regime most in the west regard as utterly despicable.
Of course, the bow was well received by many in Japan, although with the Japanese Democrats being relatively sceptical of the imperial system this might not have quite the same effect it might have enjoyed had the emperor’s LDP fanclub still been in office.