Sunday, November 15, 2009

About that bow...

Seeing that most commenters here are cool with Obama’s bow to the Japanese Emperor – as a sign of cultural respect – I wonder what actual Japanese people are saying about it.

Thank God for the internets, where bilingual folks can read Japanese online forums... and blog about it in English.

Such as Joshua Williams. His “Japanese Headlines Examiner” blog is on Here are a few online comments Williams says he translated from Japanese:

“What a bow!”

“Such a deep bow from Obama, what a fine guy.”

“I’m surprised he bowed. He’s really trying hard to meet the Japanese way!”

“President Obama is a top-class person, isn’t he? Amazing!”

“I laughed because it was a much better bow than I had imagined.”

“Obama has more of a true Japanese heart than most Japanese do.”

But then a commenter at, one Ted Nakagawa, replied:

“What we are not getting translated [by Williams] are these Japanese blogs with posters to whom the Obama Tokyo bow is somewhat ‘going to their nationalist heads’.

“All kinds of nationalist comments such as amazement that a nation defeated would be bowed at in this manner, and ‘Long Live the Emperor!’, and also abject surprise at Obama bowing like this -- racial ephitets are also made about Mr. Obama in disdain (for example, referring to him as ‘kuronbo’ (or ‘little black boy’)...

“One Japanese poster is questioning if this kind of Obama [bow] to the Emperor is not a violation of US diplomatic protocol, and another one predicts that Americans, despite what Japanese might think -- are going to get mad over this...”

In another comment, Nakagawa added:

“Comments (in Japanese) on the same Japanese blog that were NOT fawning over Obama and his controversial ‘ojigi’ before the Emperor, some in fact questioning it and suspecting it insincere, have apparantly been purposely left out of this journalist's translations and report.”

I am not looking forward to a week’s worth of talk-radio and cable- news folderol over The Bow, curious as I am about the actual protocol. The signal-to-noise ratio is gonna suck!


junebug said...

"Little black boy"? Why you dirty muther...sweep the leg, Barack! Sweep the leg!

gwyneth said...

Fascinating. I was trying to figure out what the Japanese thought about the bow, but I somehow wasn't expecting the nationalist angle. I don't know much about etiquette of the Japanese bow, but I know two things - One is that how it is done speaks volumes about a complex world of respect and social hierarchy that the Japanese takes pretty seriously and the other is that you don't bow and shake hands at the same time. The latter tells me that the protocol office seriously fell down on this.

london said...

He is so nice guy..

Geneva Girl said...

I prefer Obama's bow to Bush holding hands with the Saudi prince.

gwyneth said...

Given the difference between looking foolish and subservient before the Japanese and being friendly with a despot I would be inclined to agree with Geneva Girl. If only Obama hadn't bowed to that same Saudi prince. Its a facepalm moment, guys. Lets not try too hard to justify it.

Eurasian Sensation said...

Notice how the right-wing idiots in Japan and the right-wing idiots in the US see bowing as a sign of weakness.

Intelligent people recognise it as a sign of basic respect, rather than subservience.

As long as he don't start licking no one's nuts, I'm fine with it.

Undercover Black Man said...

Gwyneth, have I welcomed you to this blog? Thanks so much for commenting.

You express yourself like a professional writer. Is you one?

maria said...

tell me about that photo.

Undercover Black Man said...

^ Ain't it cute, maria? I think I blogged it when it first was taken, in the early months of Obama's presidency. The kid noticed that Obama's hair was similar to his own, and he wanted to touch it to see.

gwyneth said...

Thanks! (for the welcome, not to the guy that assumes I am a right wing idiot) and nope, I'm a stay at home mom, the only thing I write is a personal mommy blog. I will respond to the intelligent people comment though. An intelligent person recognizes that any gesture has different implications in different cultures. And the idea that how a bow is done in Japan doesn't matter is foolish. I don't think on the grand scheme of things its a huge deal, its a simple embarrassment. I just hope that in future, he has better people advising him on protocol. Impressions are important.

Undercover Black Man said...

... its a simple embarrassment.

An embarrassment, alas, that feeds into narratives being pushed by Obama's enemies: He's inexperienced. He doesn't know what he's doing. He's an alien, not really a true American. He wants to humble the United States before the eyes of the world. He is weak. Et cetera.

CNu said...

Notice how the right-wing idiots in Japan and the right-wing idiots in the US see bowing as a sign of weakness.

eurasian sensation is truth.

only dogs, monkeys, and other more primitive social organisms even experience reflexes emanating from such a low level of their central nervous systems....,

gwyneth said...

true. point of interest though - you asked in a previous post about a white president bowing - Nixon in 1971 to Hirohito here

Undercover Black Man said...

^ Well done, gwyneth. Perhaps what President Obama needs is a protractor.

Undercover Black Man said...

only dogs, monkeys, and other more primitive social organisms even experience reflexes emanating from such a low level of their central nervous systems....,

Universally among human cultures, bowing represents a portion of the weakness-strength continuum ranging from polite deference to abject submission.

CNu said...

equally universally among human cultures, only right-wing idiots place any stock by the butt-sniffing antics typifying more primitive mammalian vertebrate status...,

also accounts for the right-wing idiots' universal sycophantic celebration of and participation in psychopathic ritualization.

precisely why dangerous idiocy must be closely monitored and consistently ridiculed...., lest intelligent folk suffer the horrors entailed under explicit rule by id-iocracy.

that dude said...

You keep worrying about Obama being percieved as weak, but that whole concern is weak. Do you think Bush spent a lot of time worrying about how the left percieved his actions?

Real gangsta means not caring. Hell, he should wear shell tops in the Oval Office without apology.

And if right wing media stresses you, turn it off. At least for a day or two. It will still be there after your sabbatical.

Undercover Black Man said...

^ I'm not stressing because the right-wing noise machine is gonna attack him, dude. Limbaugh, Hannity and Beck have attacked and will attack Obama on a daily basis, regardless of what he does. They are committed to the tactics of withering critique, ridicule and character assassination.

But it's another matter when they attack him on something with justification. Get the difference?

I'm talking about how it makes me feel to see the President of the United States bow down. It does not feel good.

On a larger level, I'm drawing my own conclusions about the Obama presidency based upon my own instinctive analyses.

Going in, I'd figured the best thing Team Obama had going for it was competence. I thought he would attract the best and the brightest, and would manage them well.

Now, after 10 months, what's been his greatest domestic policy triumph? Cash for Clunkers?

Being president is the hardest job in the world. With cool-headed reason, dude... tell me how you think he's doing? Is he kicking the job's ass? Or is the job kicking his ass?

Undercover Black Man said...

Real gangsta means not caring. Hell, he should wear shell tops in the Oval Office without apology.

I know you're being rhetorical here, dude. But still... let's think about this.

Real gangsta means not caring? Then what about this: What if, at his next press conference, Obama decided to smoke a cigarette. While taking and answering questions. On live TV.

Suppose he was like, "Fuck it, I likes to smoke. And I don't care what y'all got to say about it. 'Cause that's what being a 'real gangsta' is about."

You would defend him?

How about this? What if, during his next State of the Union address, Obama wore, instead of a dark suit, a sportcoat, Dockers and a turtleneck.

Hey, he's the most powerful man on Earth, right? He can dress however he wants. Why worry about how others perceive your actions? There are no rules. There is no right and wrong.

Would you defend him?

Or would you feel in your bones, "That's not how a U.S. President should act. That's not how a U.S. President should dress." Because the traditions, norms and rituals associcate with the presidency are larger than Barack Obama.

There's a way to do the job right... and a way to do the job wrong. If he can't get the traditions, norms and rituals right... how-da-fuk I'm supposed to expect him to get the decision-making, policy-making and management stuff right?

Nat Sherman said...

I'm a white dude, lean pretty far right... (come here for the music - glad to see yr blogging again!)

I thought the bow was cool. I hope he doesn't apologize for it. Obama's a likeable dude. Too bad, though, as Peter Schiff has said, Bush was heading us off a cliff, and Obama's pressing on the gas.

Undercover Black Man said...

^ "Nat Sherman," huh? Very funny. You know I'm trying to quit. (Or perhaps you don't.)

Thanks for commenting, though... and for coming for the music!

Nat Sherman said...

Ha sorry about that... have you tried Chantix? That's how I quit. You take one pill a day, and you can smoke the first week, which is key. Then, all of a sudden, the second week... you don't feel like smoking. I even tried, decided on the ol 'just one more today - I'll quit completely tomorrow' thing, but... the smokes tasted like shit! I had to find another way to deal with stress. I experienced no side effects, but apparently some people have.

soulbrotha said...

Katie Connolly of Newsweek sums it up beautifully:

I could not agree with her more. Justified attack? Oh please! NEXT!

Undercover Black Man said...

^ Obama fans who think this bowing controversy ain't nothing but reflexive right-wing haterism are disconnected from reality. In particular, from a sensitivity to the power of images.

People who say Obama can do no wrong are just as tiresome as the right-wingers who say he can't do anything right.

that dude said...

Sure, he can do wrong. But the bowing stuff feels like "gotcha" journalism, not real policy analysis.

Given the scope of national crisis he walked into, the only way he was going to truly impress everyone is if he turned out to be FDR or Lincoln. He'd have to equal or better the best presidents in the history of the country.

After one year, is he those guys? No. He's undone a lot of bullshit from our last president, but he hasn't passed health care or ended the war. The war is tricky, because he has way more information than me. I look at Afghanistan as a lost cause and I say walk away and put the money back into our economy.

I guess the bottom line is I trust dude more than most cats in office. I think he's smart and has a good heart. I almost never feel that way. We're always going to second and third guess dudes at the top. But we don't know what they see.

gwyneth said...

The Nixon photo doesn't look near as bad, does it? proper style, eye contact and most important - it was reciprocated. It also looked like it was more ceremonial, in a more important setting that a mere receiving line, and was deliberate, staged, and practiced. on the US side, I am guessing he caught more flak for it than Obama is getting now, not just because it was a time of less tolerance for respecting cultural differences, but because it was to Hirohito -the one time Shinto God that ordered Pearl Harbor's attack. The purpose of the bow was diplomacy - the whole thing of friendship, trust, equality etc etc etc, whatever the Japanese were meant to glean from the bow, I'm betting it was probably properly researched. The importance in this affair is the fact that the president doesn't just go to these things because he is the queen of england whiling away her time between ribbon cutting ceremonies. His time in valuable, and he goes to these things because showing up, showing respect, showing strength, showing the kitchen sink of all the attributes we want our allies to feel about us is part of diplomacy. That is why it is important to know - not what Rush or Hannity think of the bow- but what the Japanese think of the bow.
side note on the article from newsweek, not only did Clinton not bow, he was written up in the NY times for _almost_ bowing.
I'll tell you where I am coming from on this - I am half asian and I know that Japan is not known for being a well integrated society that has dealt with all its race issues. I would have liked to see Obama appear more suave to them, and I wanted to know if any real damage was done on that part. I gather that it is mitigated because many of the newspapers, out of respect for the president, are only running the picture of Obama's courteous head bow to the Empress, because it looks both respectful and eminently dignified.

Anonymous said...

Look at that height advantage! Bam shudda posted the emperor on the block and dunked on his ass.

soulbrotha said...

"People who say Obama can do no wrong are just as tiresome as the right-wingers who say he can't do anything right."

Undercover, what's tiresome is your assumption. Please point out where I said, or even implied, that "Obama can do no wrong." Is it in the article? Where?

Images are powerful, but that power is subjective. I agree with gwyneth that it depends more what the Japanese think than what we think. But since there has been no poll taken in Japan, it's all speculative. And if, as she says, they have not "dealt with all their race issues", how reliable would that be?

Undercover Black Man said...

^ Who gives a damn what the Japanese think? This is about what Americans think of seeing their president bow deeply from the waist to a foreign potentate.

If you dig that kind of thing, soulbrotha, then peachy cool for you.

soulbrotha said...

I don't dig or undig it, Undercover. That was my original point. IMO, it is a non-issue.

And if Americans don't care about what the Japanese think, then why do they (you) care if he bows deeply or stands on his head? It shouldn't matter, right?

CNu said...

soulbrotha is truth.

undercover white woman still clutching his pearls and catching the vapors....,

dickster1961 said...

it is not so much the bow that bothers me as the depth of the bow, if that makes any sense. It is proper to respect the custom of bowing, but I think it would be more appropriate had he mirrored the angle of the emperor's bow as opposed to the near 90 degree bow

Undercover Black Man said...

Yo Nulan... did you notice today? Even Chris Matthews ragged on Prez for that "below the chin" bow today. "I've never seen anybody bow deeper than that," he said on "Hardball."

So fuck that "right-wing idiots" shit.

CNu said...

phuk Chris Matthews..., he's just another fungible, middle-class, talking-head dipshit whose opinion belongs in the WalMart "opinions and assholes" aisle.

The former top commander of US troops in Asia on Thursday strongly defended President Barack Obama against critics of his bow to Japan's Emperor Akihito, calling it a gesture of respect.

Admiral Timothy Keating, who retired last month when he ended his stint as head of the Honolulu-based US Pacific Command, said he did not hesitate to bow when Akihito and Empress Michiko visited Hawaii in July.

"That's what one does when one sees the emperor of Japan. I don't care if it's the president of the United States or the commander of 325,000 Americans," Keating told a forum at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

"You see the emperor, you express your respect for the man and the history and the position he holds and she holds," he said of the imperial couple.

"It's almost a reflexive gesture," he said. "I did it and it didn't bother me even a New York second."

Right-wing reptile brains are the only ones who seized on the moment as if they understood and as if their turnip-truck understanding mattered. Come now Matthews, three days late and three dollars short, just trying to pick up some Lou Dobbs or Bill O'Reilly audience flotsam and jetsam.

Every talking head jockeys for mind share, even the pathetic, feeble mind-share emanating from right-wing reptile brains.

Eurasian Sensation said...

You know that the rest of the world tends to see the US as arrogant, right?

Showing deference to foreign royalty is respect. To claim that it is beneath you - arrogance.

As an Asian, if you come to my house, as a sign of respect I appreciate it if you remove your shoes. You might not do so in your own place, but since it's my house, you'll gain respect back if you respect my custom. I certainly wouldn't regard anyone who did so as my bitch, or weak.