The bow that US President Barack Obama made to Japan’s Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko in Tokyo Nov. 14, 2009 has been criticized by some US media pundits and news outlets. In the US the Obama bow debate has focused on whether the form of the bow was correct, if Obama should have only shaken hands instead of bowing, and the implication of the bow. In Japan, the bow was not critiqued in the media. The reports from abroad have become more interesting to Japanese media than the Obama bow itself.
The Obama bow-handshake combo, though not especially elegant, was appropriate given the situation and the hand-thrust maneuver presented by Emperor Akihito.
The US media has mostly taken only a superficial look at bowing in Japan. While reporting on Obama’s alleged bowing gaffes, the media has overlooked the tremendous number of bowing options available in Japan. President Obama could have selected from several bow versions. Here is the Lets Japan Guide to Bow.