Sunday, January 10, 2010


In November, when he visited Emperor Akihito of Japan, President Barack Obama bowed as he shook the emperor's hand. Of the readers who responded to an informal poll on my column's blog, 72 percent believed Obama to be right in honoring Japanese tradition by bowing, while 28 percent believed him to be wrong.

"Obama's gesture was a respectful and inoffensive nod to diplomatic protocol," writes Rick Kenney of Hampton, Va., "and he was right to honor Japanese tradition by bowing."

On the other hand, Charlie Seng of Lancaster, S.C., believes that "the president, as the head of the United States, should bow down to no one."

"Give me a break!," writes Joe Read of Anaheim, Calif. "Anyone who thinks that a mutual bow between leaders intending to show respect to one another is a sign of subservience by either one of them must be very insecure and is certainly off-base. A slight bow, nod or tip of the cap is not genuflecting or kneeling and kissing his ring!"

Check out other opinions here, or post your own by clicking on "Comments" or "Post a comment" below.

Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Right Thing: Conscience, Profit and Personal Responsibility in Today's Business (Smith Kerr, 2006), is an associate professor at Emerson College in Boston, where he teaches writing and ethics. He is also the administrator of, a Web log focused on ethical issues.

Do you have ethical questions that you need answered? Send them to or to "The Right Thing," New York Times Syndicate, 630 Eighth Ave., 5th floor, New York, N.Y. 10018.

c.2010 The New York Times Syndicate (Distributed by The New York Times Syndicate)

1 comment:

Unknown said...

I think the old adage, "When in Rome . . ." suffices here. If the custom in Japan is to bow, do it -- it demonstrates a cultural understanding of the foreign country in which you are a VISITOR, and will only enhance your image with your guests.

P.S. It has nothing to do with your religious beliefs or your U.S. culture (which came a bit after Japan, China, Africa, etc.). Lighten up -- get with the program.

Jan Bohren