U.S. President Barack Obama bows as he is greeted by Japanese Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko as he arrives at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo, Saturday, Nov. 14, 2009.
———–AP Photo/Charles Dharapak
What I love about this picture is the respect and symbolism that is here.
Although folks are upset about Obama bowing to the Japanese Emperor, he was showing a sign of respect. Some commentators have argued that Obama did not bow to the Queen of England. But that was because Obama greeted her in what was a culturally proper manner; he gave her a slight, respectful gesture. In this case Obama greeted the Japanese Emperor in a completely acceptable manner, he was formal and respectful. Obama was stepping on Japanese territory, it wasn’t up to him to dictate the way that he greeted the Emperor. Even, if this meeting was in the United States, the humility to be hospitable to the presence of someone from a different culture and point of view is a valued and important quality.
There is some great symbolism in this photo.
First, I love that they are shaking hands and bowing. This is multiculturalism in action. It is the West meets East in a beautiful way that integrates and values both American and Japanese culture. I also love seeing this because it occurs when I visit my in-laws; I simultaneously shake hands and bow with my wife’s grandfather.
Second, and more importantly, there is the issue of humility. Bowing innately represents the lowing of one’s self. It is submissive. It is easy for me as a Westerner to see humility, lowering and submission as negative traits, but biblically these are beautiful things. They are not signs of weakness, but strength. These actions acknowledge that it is not necessary to try to reaffirm one’s power, it is not necessary to try to assert power and it is not necessary to be domineering. These traits show strength comes by understanding one’s self so well – for the Christian this means understanding one’s identity in Christ – that it is not necessary to flaunt power or control. It takes a strong and confident person to bow, to lead by putting one’s self literally and symbolically underneath another.