Count me among the exasperated at Obama's willingness to bow before royalty - it's funny actually, that such an avowed progressive (the group that believes in dissolving the connections of power) is so willing to reify power by being so deferential to hereditary royalty.
And no, it's not a diplomatic custom (see this series at Hot Air Pundit), and it's not even Japanese custom (contrary to dimwitted claims to the contrary) - you don't shake his hand and bow, and the bow that Obama offered is certainly not the kind of Japanese bow between equals (see Wikipedia).
Obama seems to suck up to royalty that isn't on our side (Saudi Arabia) is marginally on our side (Japan) while snubbing those who have been among our core allies (Britain). So let's ask Obama to throw his protocol droid under the bus as well, and move along.
For those among my patriotic friends on the right who are so deeply distressed, let me offer this story - possibly the first encounter between an American citizen and foreign royalty (the contacts between Adams, Jefferson, Franklin and the French preceded the British surrender, and so one can make a claim that they were not yet truly American citizens).
John Adams was presented to King George as the first American Ambassador to the Court of St. James (from Page Smith's delightful John Adams biography)...
The Foreign Secretary then carried Adams with him in his coach to the court and ushered him to the antechamber, "very full of ministers of state, lords, and bishops, and all sorts of courtiers." The Dutch and Swedish ministers, perhaps noticing Adams' agitation came up to chat and in a few minutes Carmarthen returned to escort him to the King's closet. The door was closed after him and Adams found himself alone with the Killoro and the Foreign Secretary. He bowed the three times that etiquette required - at the door, again halfway into the room, and a third time standing directly before His Majesty. It was a strange and dramatic confrontation - two short, stout men, both rather choleric, stubborn and strong-willed, sharing a certain emotional instability and a native shrewdness and wit. They were both great talkers and both, in their hearts, farmers. They both lived in worlds where they felt frequently that every man's hand was turned against them. One was the King of the most powerful nation in the world, the other's permanent rank that of a provincial lawyer and farmer. It was the New England fanner who represented victory and the King who had been forced to accept defeat. The name of Adams, John or Samuel, had been a stench in the nostrils of George III for almost twenty years and now an Adams stood before him, ambassador from those colonies which not so long ago had been the King's special treasure.So it's quite possible to bow and speak frankly in defense of American interests.
Both men were agitated and ill at ease. Adams, obviously nervous, ("I felt more," he wrote later, "than I did or could express") delivered his speech as best he could and the King listened "with a most apparent emotion .. . very much affected" and replied with a tremor in his voice: "Sir...the circumstances of this audience are so extraordinary, the language you have now held is so extremely proper and the feelings you have discovered so justly adapted to the occasion, that I must say that I not only receive with pleasure the assurance of the friendly dispositions of the United States, but that I am very glad the choice has fallen upon you to be their minister. . . . I will be very frank with you," the King continued slowly, rather haltingly, searching out his words. "I was the last to consent to the separation; but the separation having been made, and having become inevitable, I have always said, as I say now, that I would be the first to meet the friendship of the United States as an independent power." Then in a more informal spirit the King asked Adams if he had come most recently from France. "Yes, Your Majesty." The King gave his short, barking laugh. "There is an opinion among some people that you are not the most attached of all your countrymen to the manners of France." Adams was disconcerted at the remark, but he adopted the King's light air and answered: "That opinion, sir, is not mistaken; I must avow to Your Majesty I have no attachment but to my own country."
"A honest man will never have any other," the King replied.
The King spoke a few words to Lord Carmarthen and then turned and bowed to Adams, signifying that the audience was at an end. The American retreated, walking backward with as much grace as he could affect, bowed a last time at the door, and withdrew.
Let's judge Obama less on the bowing and the dressing and pay more attention to the speaking.