Learning to Bow: An American Teacher in a Japanese School [NOOK Book]

Overview

Learning to Bow has been heralded as one of the funniest, liveliest, and most insightful books ever written about the clash of cultures between America and Japan. With warmth and candor, Bruce Feiler recounts the year he spent as a teacher in a small rural town. Beginning with a ritual outdoor bath and culminating in an all-night trek to the top of Mt. Fuji, Feiler teaches his students about American culture, while they teach him everything from how to properly address an ...

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Learning to Bow: An American Teacher in a Japanese School

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Overview

Learning to Bow has been heralded as one of the funniest, liveliest, and most insightful books ever written about the clash of cultures between America and Japan. With warmth and candor, Bruce Feiler recounts the year he spent as a teacher in a small rural town. Beginning with a ritual outdoor bath and culminating in an all-night trek to the top of Mt. Fuji, Feiler teaches his students about American culture, while they teach him everything from how to properly address an envelope to how to date a Japanese girl.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Feiler's account offers an instructive, amusing inside look at a vaunted educational system. Invited by the Japanese Ministry of Education to teach English in a junior high school, Feiler arrived, shortly after graduation from Yale, in rural Sano, 50 miles north of Tokyo, where he was the first foreigner seen by many of the city's inhabitants. Among the cultural shocks he describes is his welcome with a ritual collective outdoor bath. Noting that characteristics such as group loyalty and community responsibility are fostered in a system that requires students to clean their schools and neighborhoods, Feiler lists aspects of the Japanese system that might successfully be translated to American schools, while acknowledging such negatives as the lack of free choice and individual expression. BOMC selection. (Sept.)
Library Journal
In 1987-88, Feiler was a participant in the Japanese government's Living English program, teaching English and American culture in the middle schools of Sano, a rural town north of Tokyo. His report is a light-hearted yet extremely perceptive analysis of an educational system which systematically and deliberately teaches students the work ethic and a strong group identity. After his first-day welcome in a communal bath, Feiler is encouraged by his host family and friends to participate in festivals, observances, and local customs, all of which he colorfully describes. He also contrasts Japanese and American school objectives while thoroughly examining Japanese educational methodology. His book is recommended to educators and all who want to understand contemporary Japanese culture. See also Lois Peak's Learning to Go to School in Ja pan , reviewed on p. 116.--Ed.-- Shirley L. Hopkinson, San Jose State Univ., Cal.
School Library Journal
YA-- Curious YAs will welcome this sensitive and readable account by a young American exchange teacher of his years in a junior high school system 50 miles outside Tokyo. He talks about much more than school life, however, and readers cannot help comparing the Japanese society to ours, sometimes finding ours, theirs, or both wanting. American students (and teachers) will be particularly interested to learn how Japanese schools instill in students a sense of responsibility to the group and the state, using activities that would set up a howl if suggested here. --Judy McAloon, Richard Byrd Library, Fairfax County, VA
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780061863592
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 10/13/2009
  • Sold by: HARPERCOLLINS
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 336
  • Sales rank: 321,028
  • File size: 524 KB

Meet the Author

Bruce Feiler is the author of six consecutive New York Times bestsellers, including Abraham, Where God Was Born, America's Prophet, The Council of Dads, and The Secrets of Happy Families. He is a columnist for the New York Times, a popular lecturer, and a frequent commentator on radio and television. He lives in Brooklyn with his wife and twin daughters.

Biography

Bruce Feiler has turned his curiosity into a career, writing on topics from clowning to Christianity with a sense of wonder, humor and inquisitiveness. Most recently he has become known as both theological tourist and tour guide, exploring Biblical history and its physical and cultural roots in the 2001 bestseller Walking the Bible and in 2002's Abraham: A Journey to the Heart of Three Faiths.

Feiler had begun his career writing about another culture with Learning to Bow: Inside the Heart of Japan, a funny and enlightening account of his year as an English teacher in a small Japanese town. The book continues to be embraced by those who want a better understanding of Japanese culture, one spiked with the humor of its alien gaijin observer. Feiler depicted another hallowed educational system in Looking for Class: Days and Nights at Oxford and Cambridge, an account of the author's experiences as a graduate student at Cambridge. Feiler's books educate, but their appeal also lies in the discoveries he makes as someone entering a new situation with natural preconceptions, then having those ideas upended by reality.

Kicking the fish-out-of-water theme up a notch, Feiler joined the circus for Under the Big Top: A Season with the Circus. Here, Feiler showed the journalistic enterprise and mettle that would later figure into his bold journeys through Biblical territory. Spending a year performing as a clown on the Clyde Beatty-Cole Bros. Circus, Feiler provides a surprising look at the show, its performers and the often seamy underside that accompanies circus life.

Feiler jumped into yet another milieu with his look at the country music industry, Dreaming Out Loud. Presenting an insider's view of Nashville made possible by his access as a journalist to stars such as Garth Brooks and Wynonna Judd, Feiler puts together of picture of starmaking -- including in his profiles a young talent named Wade Hayes -- and the machinery that runs modern country music. As with his other books, Feiler describes how his notions (he hated country music before Brooks made him a fan) have evolved along with his subject.

Feiler is also an award-winning food writer and journalist who has written articles for major publications such as the New York Times, Rolling Stone, and the New Republic. But he gained a larger audience when he took on his biggest topic yet: the Bible. "Over more than a decade of living and working abroad I found that ideas, and places, became more real to me when I experienced them firsthand....In the Middle East, the Bible is not some abstraction," Feiler wrote in an essay on Barnes & Noble.com about the origins of Walking the Bible. "It's a living, breathing entity unencumbered by the sterilization of time. That was the Bible I wanted to know, and almost immediately I realized that the only way to find it was to walk along those lines myself."

In taking that walk, Feiler vastly expanded his audience and found himself a subject he would stick with. He was already working on a sequel to the book when September 11 redirected him toward one aspect of his earlier studies: the religious father figure of Abraham. He set out to find hope in this binding tie among Judaism, Christianity and Islam; but found, again, a different picture than the one he anticipated painting. Feiler's education is ours; without him asking the questions, we might not have new insights on cultural fixtures that already seem so familiar.

Good To Know

How he wrote his first book: Feiler appropriated sci-fi writer Isaac Asimov's self-description as an "explainaholic," then explained in an interview with a country music web site how he came to write his first book: "I wrote a series of letters home [from Japan] of the ‘you’re not going to believe what happened to me today' variety. When I came back home, everywhere I went people said to me, ‘I really liked your letters,’ and I would say, ‘Do I know you?’. It turns out that these letters had been passed around. I thought, well, if this is as interesting for me and my family and all of you, I should write a book about [my experiences]."

Feiler, who grew up Jewish in Savannah, Georgia, says that an early encounter with the legend of Abraham was part of a watershed moment for him. The Torah passage he read for his Bar Mitzvah was Lekh Lekha, the story of Abraham going forth from his father's house. He told BeliefNet, "The defining moment of my life was the night of my Bar Mitzvah, when my father pulled me aside at this family gathering, poured me a drink, and said, 'Son, you're a man now, you're responsible for your own actions.'"

Feiler's exploration of the Bible has been confined to the Hebrew Bible, leaving out much in the Old Testament and the entirety of the New Testament; but he told readers in a USA Today chat that he hopes to do a sequel that would take him through the events of Jesus' life.

Feiler is also a contributing editor at Gourmet magazine and has won two James Beard Awards for his food writing.

Feiler says he has traveled to over 60 countries and sprained his ankle on four continents.

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    1. Also Known As:
      Bruce S. Fieler
    2. Hometown:
      New York, New York
    1. Date of Birth:
      October 25, 1964
    2. Place of Birth:
      Savannah, Georgia
    1. Education:
      B.A., Yale University, 1987; M.Phil. in international relations, Cambridge University, 1991

Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 16 )
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Sort by: Showing 1 – 19 of 16 Customer Reviews
  • Posted July 26, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    Beautifully Executed and Written However Contains Some Bias Opinions that are Portrayed as Facts by the Author

    This memoir of a Georgia native who participated in the JET (Japanese English Teaching) Abroad Program in its earlier years (1980s) is written in a very organized, comprehensible, and beautiful non-fiction writing style. It also helps any reader understand many of the basic features of Japanese culture and making ties with the thoughts of the school system (and other items of wide range from the dating process to outdoor excursions to holidays to government) to the cultural philosophies of the people. Overall, this book is a good read for anyone who wishes to learn more about the Japanese culture and perspectives, but it lacks being an outstanding book due to Feiler's favoritism toward the American perspective in comparison to the Japanese perspective in many stories taking place in the book. Each time he draws a line that makes Japan seem a little "backward" in their ideas when he compares it to his American perspective. This makes the memoir become polluted with bias thoughts of the author that he writes in a way where it appears fact. However, one who actually have studied Japanese culture would notice these predjudices in the book immediately while those who do not know much about Japanese culture may believe that his thoughts are fact rather than opinions. One should read this book with care, attempting to determine when the author writes of fact or opinion, if the person has planned to read this book to further understand Japan (as well as remember that some of the information is a little dated as the education system and other aspects mentioned about Japan has changed since the 80s, especially so during the past decade). Other than these flaws the book is a fantastic read that I would encourage any enthusiast of memoirs and non-fiction pieces to read as well as encourage (with caution) to those who have an interest in foreign cultures and understanding their perspective on life such as Japan.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 15, 2003

    Learning to Bow

    This book is fast paced and easy to read. I learned a lot of about Japanese culture from this book. However, I was kind of disappointed by the plain character development and portraits in this book. Sometimes, I can't even distinguish some of the characters. It would have been better if Feiler could have added more cultural and individual images and descriptions into each characters.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 4, 2012

    Interesting experiences....

    I enjoyed the book, especially the areas where the author brought to light the commmonality found in being friend, mentor, educator, and all around good person. The students desire (not ability) to support the "whole" was admirable at the same time that it was met with some regret.... a good read.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 26, 2009

    Dated but interesting

    I was a little dismayed to discover that the events in this book are over 20 years old, and indeed, the book is a little dated. The author's ability to speak Japanese and insert himself into everyday Japanese life gave valuable insights unobtainable elsewhere. However, while it was quite interesting to read the descriptions of Japanese schooling, the author seemed to ignore many aspects of Japanese culture, such as the emphasis on beauty, ritual and perfection.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 2, 2014

    Great for anyone going to Japan!

    I`m currently teaching in Japan, so this was a great primer! I don`t remember the writing style well, so maybe it wasn`t all that memorable, but the content has stayed with me!

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  • Posted August 5, 2013

    I picked up this book after a friend recommended it to me. They

    I picked up this book after a friend recommended it to me. They found it engaging and interesting, which is a sentiment that I happy to share about the book. While some of the other reviewers like to point out the problems with the regalement being given, I found these points very intriguing. It gives an unique insight, not to mention, a look of Japan that few people get to see. I found the author's opinions and thoughts on various topics fascinating. While some parts of the book may have changed since being jotted down onto paper, they still have merit despite the age. I honestly enjoyed reading the book and could not put it down. After finishing the book in a matter of days once it arrived, I find my interest in Japan from it's people to it's culture refreshed. I found Feiler's account enlightening and invigorating, which is something I don't usually find in similar books of this category.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 2, 2012

    Great read for any English Teachers who want to teach in Japan!

    First, understand that this was written a "few" years ago and some policies over in Japan may have changed.

    This is a great book to read for any English teacher who has ever considered traveling to Japan to teach. Bruce does a fantastic job sharing dialogue and experience while also keeping the entire situation as real as possible (no fluff added).

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  • Posted January 23, 2010

    An inside look at Japan

    Feiler goes to Japan to teach English for a year and tells about his experiences in a Tokyo suburb out in the country. The Japanese have a different view of many aspects of life than we do and it is interesting. It's a good book for those interested in other cultures, different perspectives.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 15, 2009

    this book is awful!!

    i had to read this book for school and it was so boring!!!! it took me almost 2 months to read because i couldn't focus because it was so boring!!! this book is awful. save yourself the misery and do not read this book ever!!!!!!!!!

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 26, 2006

    it was good.

    Learning to Bow was an inspirational book. It really made me want to go across seas to Japan and learn as much as I could. It's funny, informative and interesting.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 9, 2006

    the Japanese myth

    Interesting and funny, but very good book for beginners, even though it is far from revealing much about Japanese society and culture. To gain more insights, two other books should be read (1) Japan: Who Governs? (2)China's Global Reach: Markets, Multinationals, and Globalization. Both books take very serious look at Japanese economy and society in general, while (2) pinpoints what is behind the current Japanese economic and business mess.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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    Posted November 7, 2011

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    Posted October 22, 2011

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    Posted February 18, 2011

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    Posted January 28, 2010

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    Posted December 31, 2009

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    Posted January 31, 2013

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    Posted February 28, 2011

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