I have heard many pundits talk about the bow that President Obama made when he met Emperor Akihito and that it was too low and not reciprocated by the Emperor. I have seen the photo of the greeting and it seems that President Obama was taught a general truth about greeting the Japanese but didn’t take into consideration the reality of the relationship. It is considered appropriate to bow when meeting a Japanese national and generally the lower the bow, the more respect one is showing to the other. But, if you are going to shake hands, both parties shake hands standing tall since shaking hands is a Western greeting not a typical Japanese greeting. The Emperor shakes the hands of Western citizens who are his guests because he is respecting the Western culture of greeting. IF the Emperor bowed to President Obama, then the President should have also bowed, and low to show great respect. Since a handshake and no bow was offered, the handshake should have been the only greeting. The etiquette rule is to follow the host.
My assessment (giving a huge benefit of the doubt to President Obama) is that the office of protocol at the White House probably gave him his instructions about how to greet the Emperor after looking at the protocol book giving him “by the book” information. The important parts of protocol that the protocol professionals who are informing the President should know are, what the rules are and how to amend them to act upon the expectations and reality of the situation. President Obama wasn’t informed of the expectations, just the book rules. What a shame for our country that he is not better prepared to act on the world stage.
Previous presidents in the same situations have acted with more aplomb, more graciousness and with better representation of the people of the United States. I can only hope these will be lessons learned and not repeated.