The PJ Tatler

Did the White House Fire Its Protocol Officer? First Lady Flops in Japan

Michelle Obama, Akihito, Michiko

In Japan, you bow. You don’t try to shake hands, curtsey, lurch for a hug, and bow simultaneously, especially when you tower over the Emperor of Nihon. But hey, FLOTUS gonna do what FLOTUS gonna do:

Michelle Obama has had an awkward start to her visit to Japan as she was pictured towering over Emperor Akihito and stumbling as she tried to bow, shake his hand and curtsey at once.

The First Lady, dressed in a florid combination of a blazer and skirt, dwarfed the Emperor in her silver stilettos, while he maintained his composure and smiled politely. She then squatted slightly while shaking his hand, seemingly trying to disguise the difference of height between them.

Mrs Obama, who is 5ft 9in tall, also caused embarrassment earlier in the day when she grabbed Akie Abe, wife of Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, in a hug-and-handshake combination while the Japanese First Lady was trying to bow.

Democrats seems to have an especially tough time in Asia, although let’s not forget the immortal moment when George H.W. Bush hurled on the Japanese prime minister during a state visit.

Excessive physical contact is frowned upon in Japan, and strict traditions govern the practice of bowing. Despite intensive etiquette coaching, successive U.S. officials have famously got it wrong. In 2009, President Barack Obama was was photographed bending to nearly a 90 degree angle when he greeted the Japanese Emperor at the Imperial Palace. His efforts were widely mocked. In another example of over-enthusiastic bowing, the President was pictured bowing to a robot in 2014 while the Japanese people around him remained upright.

In 1994, then-President Bill Clinton went to the other extreme, causing offence by inclining his head and shoulders forward and mysteriously pressing his hands together when he met the Emperor.

Awkwardness and tension underpins much of the First Lady’s visit. Her three-day trip is being described as a ‘makeup call’ after she ‘snubbed’ the Japanese by failing to accompany her husband during his state visit to Japan last year.

What an embarrassment to the United States of America the Obamas are. And to think there’s another two years of this ahead of us: