President Donald Trump met with Japanese Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko on Monday, sharing a brief handshake eight years after his predecessor became a global laughingstock by bowing deeply before the monarch.
Visiting with the emperor and empress is routine for heads of state visiting Tokyo, and Trump did his part a few hours before a joint press conference with Prime Minster Shinzo Abe, who wields more power than the aging figurehead.
Trump nodded his head slightly, but did not bend at the waist.
An administration official traveling with Trump on his Far East tour said that bowing is ‘not his style – never has been.’
In 2009 when the 6-foot, 2-inch Barack Obama visited Tokyo’s Imperial Palace, he made a grand gesture by bowing at the waist to the 5-foot, 5-inch Akihito.
Trump is the same height as Obama.
It wasn’t the first time Obama was caught up in a bowing scandal: Seven months earlier, he appeared to bow to the king of Saudi Arabia during a G20 Summit in London.
Akihito assumed his title in 1989 following the death of his father Hirohito, who had presided over Japan’s military alliance with Nazi Germany.
Hirohito green-lighted the bombing of the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor, killing more than 2,000 and leading to America’s entry into World War II.
Trump visited Pearl Harbor before flying to Japan, paying his respects at the memorial to the USS Arizona, where more than 1,100 U.S. sailors and Marines were killed in the 1941 Japanese sneak attack.
Akihito has said he will abdicate the Chrysanthemum throne in 2018 when he turns 85.
Crown Prince Naruhito, 57, will become emperor at that point.
Japan claims its monarchy can be traced back 2,000 years, all the way to the legendary sun goddess Amaterasu.
Abe and Akihito are at opposite ends of the political spectrum, with the prime minister being far more conservative and willing to antagonize its North Korean neighbor with economic sanctions as Kim Jong-un rattles his nuclear sabers.
Japan’s constitution has forbidden it to have a standing army since 1949, but in reality its Self Defense Forces fulfill that role.
The increasingly frail emperor is seen as a liberal who opposes any return to the militaristic ways that characterized his nation a century ago.