Learning to Bow: An American Teacher in a Japanese School

Learning to Bow: An American Teacher in a Japanese School

3.8 17
by Bruce Feiler

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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.

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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.

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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HarperCollins Publishers
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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.

Brief Biography

New York, New York
Date of Birth:
October 25, 1964
Place of Birth:
Savannah, Georgia
B.A., Yale University, 1987; M.Phil. in international relations, Cambridge University, 1991

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Learning to Bow: Inside the Heart of Japan 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 17 reviews.
DreamtReality More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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.
Klong More than 1 year ago
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.
Keller-Reader More than 1 year ago
Bruce Feiler has a unique way of introducing the outside world to his readers in a way that makes you feel a part of his experiences. It is incredibly informative and interesting! It also explains some of my own questions about the Japanese culture.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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!
WarrenA More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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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TexasJo More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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!!!!!!!!!