President Donald Trump’s manner of greeting Japanese Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko contrasted sharply with the style of former President Barack Obama. Trump greeted both the emperor and empress with simple handshakes, while Obama had bowed down.
A smiling Trump, accompanied by first lady Melania, shook hands with the 83-year-old emperor while nodding at him. He then reached for Michiko, gently shaking the her hand as well.
An official traveling with Trump told The U.K. Daily Mail that bowing is “not his style – never has been.”
In 2009, Obama was criticized for the way he greeted Akihito, as many accused him of bowing too low.
Others said bowing while shaking hands is not correct etiquette in Japan.
Trump is about to meet Japan's emperor and empress. Here's what happened when Obama met the imperial couple in 2009. https://t.co/zdiu1B95EV
— justin mccurry (@justinmccurry) November 6, 2017
In Japanese royal tradition, guests should not touch the royal couple, but many foreign guests do so anyway, according to Reuters.
Obama also found himself in hot water earlier in 2009 when he bowed to greet the king of Saudi Arabia at the G20 Summit in London
Bowing in Japanese culture is seen as a sign of respect. However in the U.S., many consider it a sign of weakness.
Whether or not a president should bow when greeting a foreign dignitary is not a new issue. When Akihito visited the White House in 1994, former President Bill Clinton bent forward with hands together.
A White House official said at the time, “Presidents don’t bow, and Emperors don’t toast.”
In 1989, then-President George H.W. Bush bowed before the casket of Japan’s previous emperor, Hirohito, while he was attending the emperor’s funeral.
Usually, the U.S. chief of protocol briefs the president on customs for meeting foreign dignitaries. Trump has nominated Sean P. Lawler for the position, but he has not yet been confirmed.
“One of the things with protocol is to do no harm,” Lawler told senators during his confirmation hearing, according to Business Insider. “Going into this one of my goals right off the bat is to put (out) a good face and set the stage for diplomacy for the president.”
Trump left the U.S. over the weekend to embark on a 13-day visit to Asia, during which time he is scheduled to visit five countries.