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Learning to Bow: An American Teacher in a Japanese School

3.7  ·  Rating Details ·  1,517 Ratings  ·  214 Reviews
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 ...more
ebook, 336 pages
Published October 13th 2009 by William Morrow (first published 1991)
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Feb 26, 2009 Angela rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Angela by: Allison
Make that 2.5 stars from me, but I'm giving it the benefit of 3 in the rankings. I'm nice enough to round up. It was definitely solidly between "It was OK" and "I liked it."

Part of my problem with this book is the fact that I'm on my fifth year in Japan, whereas the author only stayed for one year. My first year in Japan began in 2004. The author's was 15 years before that, around 1989 or 1990. A lot of things have changed; a lot of things haven't.

How I explain it to most of my ex-patriot pals h
May 05, 2010 Renee rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Several people had told me I should check this book out because the author also went through the whole `Teaching English in Japan` experience. However, I was disappointed with the book, particularly in the wording. Having had many of the same experiences as the author, it was interesting to gain a different perspective on the customs one experiences in Japan. The unfortunate thing is that many of his observations have a `I`m better than this` or `This is silly and I can`t believe I have to do th ...more
Jun 26, 2008 Rebecca rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
While it was maybe more relevant back when it was written there are a few things that have changed. Yes, Sano is now not what I would consider country-side. It is much more grown up, at least the areas I have been to. And Japan is no longer in the bubble-era, which means that excessive spending has been capped, slightly.

However, most startling are the things that haven't changed in Japan. The education system is almost exactly the same. The main difference being that the students are more used t
Oct 30, 2009 Kristi rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
I am one of those people that does not have a terribly high interest in learning about Japan, but for some reason picked up this book. Surprisingly, I really enjoyed it. I think learning about another culture through what goes on with children and school is great way to find out thing you might never know. It was funny and easy reading. There were a couple parts that were slightly boring. I understand that Japan may have changed since this author was there, that this account may be how it was on ...more
2010- I had to really struggle to get through this book, which was not what I was expecting. Rather than getting a book that focused on the struggles of being an English teacher in a small Japanese city, the author tended to write mainly about his personal life, with his educational experiences as a backdrop. Also, he had the tendency to come across as quite arrogant at some points. I'd be interested in reading a more current book that focuses more on the Japanese educational system and the expe ...more
Finsished: I enjoyed this book very much. It never dragged. It always kept you thinking. What the author learned about the Japanese mentality during his one year teaching job was clearly and humorously described. I have absolutely no complaints. He not lonly learned about the Japanese but also reached philosophical insights concerning how different people and different cultures can truly learn to understand each other and hopefully learn from each other too!

Through page 209: Chapter 1
Mar 02, 2014 Bob rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: owned
I've read a few of these "the gaijin in Japan" books over the years, and aside from Donald Ritchie's The Inland Sea (which is really a special case), this is the best of them, even though by now it's probably a little dated. I liked it because Feiler examines life in a smallish town, not the Tokyo megalopolis. He focuses mostly on one element of Japanese society--the education system (he taught English for a year in the local junior high school)--and delves deeply into his experiences within it. ...more
Patrick Lum
While Bruce Feiler is an informative and knowledgeable narrator who makes overtures towards his conception of understanding and internationalisation, there is a constant whiff of a tendency to sum up Japan based on single sets of examples, or to neatly package up various aspects of an exotic culture under various labels that seems, if not entirely false, at least relatively unsupported. Not unenjoyable, but not exceptionally insightful either. Further, it's based on a single year's stay in Japan ...more
Mar 15, 2008 Cain rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is an intriguing analysis of the Japanese educational system from a Western perspective. I enjoyed it very much, but I am also quite interested in Japanese culture and am seeking employment as an English teacher in Japan.
Jun 09, 2008 Natalie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Bruce Feiler's experiences teaching English in Japan are hysterical, accessible, and sometimes nearly unbelievable. A great read for Japanese culture fanatics.
Ben French
Feb 16, 2017 Ben French rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Whilst it is a little out of date, the author recounting his experiences teaching english in 1980's japan, I still found it fascinating and the most well rounded look at japanese culture i've found. Definitly worth a read if your intrested in japanese society but don't want to pour thorugh thick academic style books on the subject
Alicia Dolce
Jan 29, 2017 Alicia Dolce rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I read this book long before I discovered goodreads so my experience of reading it is no longer vivid. But, I do recall that I found it fascinating. Entertaining and engrossing, this inside look at "teacher from the west meets students from the east" is a cultural revelation that is humorous and insightful. This is a book worth spending the time to read.
Jan 10, 2017 Lauren rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2017
This was an excellent book to read while watching Terrace House: Boys & Girls in the City (which is a great show! You should watch it!). It's not directly applicable to what's happening in the show (I don't know that much would be), but it's a good companion piece.

I really enjoyed reading this, although I wasn't sure how out of date the book was (the version I read was published in 1991). I assume there are a fair number of things that have changed in Japan, and of course this is only the p
Sarah Crawford
Jan 22, 2016 Sarah Crawford rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This 1991 book tells the story of Bruce Feiler who went to Japan to teach English for a year. The book is an excellent examination of the Japanese culture and the difficulties an American might have in trying to adapt to it. Despite the difficulties, though, Feiler does adapt very well and makes numerous friends and does a very credible job teaching.

It's fascinating to read about his adventures in taking his first multi-person bath; in his experiment with nanpa, or picking up girls, and the asto
May 22, 2016 Matt rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I chose to read Bruce Feiler’s Learning to Bow because I knew this book would have a lot to do with Japanese culture, which I’m very interested in. Also, when I skimmed through other review of the book, people were saying that it was “fascinating” and “funny”, so I thought this book would be perfect for me. Although this book was sometimes interesting and occasionally funny, it really let me down in places and leaves me desiring more from the plot. I did enjoy some of the book, but most of it wa ...more
Elliot Barbell
May 20, 2015 Elliot Barbell rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I was given a list of about ten or so books to read and, of that list, one stood out the most. I read Learning to Bow: Inside the Heart of Japan by Bruce Feiler. I chose this book because I have always been interested in how other cultures differ from my own. I was very happy I decided to read this book because it really helped me get an idea on what being Japanese is all about. Feiler’s descriptive writing made me feel like I was looking through his eyes and experiencing what he encountered in ...more
Jan 07, 2015 Jns rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
‘Learning to Bow: Inside the heart of Japan’ by Bruce Feiler, is an interesting and well-written book that anyone can enjoy. I personally chose the book because I read and watch a lot of media from Japan, and I wanted to learn more about the country and what life is like there. The book follows the events of a year where Feiler taught English in a small town in Japan. While doing so, he gets to learn about Japanese culture, education, life, and people as he travels to different area of the count ...more
Apr 16, 2008 Meghan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Meghan by: Josiah
As I made my way through Feiler’s account, I was primarily amused by his humorous initial encounters with Japanese culture: the often awkward questions frequently posited him by his friends, coworkers, and students; the stark dissimilarities between the Japanese and the American-style classroom; the extent to which Feiler’s foreign appearance and personality caused him to stand out amid an otherwise fairly uniform populace. In nearly every chapter, I found myself laughing out loud. As the book p ...more
Interesting to learn the lives of students, teachers and education in Japan in general from the perspective of a Western, in this case, an American guy. Most of it I have learned through other books, from anime and doramas as well, where the setting is in school, so it was not that strange. But people -Western people, that is- may find weird that students have so many outfits before, during and after classes, or that they have to stay after class if over to clean the classrooms and/or the garden ...more
Apr 13, 2011 Heidi rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Interesting read. 3.5 stars.

Bruce Feiler moved to Japan for a year to teach English and then wrote about his experiences. But what I liked was that instead of coming at it from the perspective of trying to make things sound funny or different to those outside the culture, he carefully researched many of the Japanese customs and explained how they developed. I felt like I learned some history instead of just reading a travelogue.

That's not to say he didn't have any funny "foreigner in a differen
Carianne Carleo-Evangelist

Old review, I read while inJapan in 2006:
As a statement to how busy I've been lately, it took me nearly two weeks to read this book, shocking considering if a book takes me that long it's usually not worth it and this one was.

While I was glad for the insight this book gave me into a non-city JHS in the 90s and the glimpse into the student's mindset before they're utterly brainwarped by the time I get them at 8-9 PM, it also made me doubly glad I opted not to do JET either time. I couldn't cope!
May 08, 2011 RYCJ rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: dynamic-reads
Bruce Feiler's cultural `adventure', teaching young students in Japan, starts out with a really good laugh as he gets his first lesson on customs; learning to bathe! Truly comedic, though the humor early on bothered me. And sure enough, I eventually learned why.

As it happens to be, Learning to Bow is a deeply rooted custom that demands the `utmost' respect, where humor interferes. I wasn't able to grasp the full understanding of what I was feeling until the near end of the book when the graduat
Nov 02, 2013 Tina rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I went to Japan on vacation about a year ago and was pretty astounded by how opaque the culture was to me. I don't speak Japanese, which was probably the large part of it, but it is SO different from America. That's why when I got home I sought out books that helped to explain the cultural divide. "Learning to Bow" seemed like a good selection. I should've paid more attention, because I didn't realize until I started reading the book that it was published in 1991. That was my main disappointment ...more
Apr 19, 2016 Goddess rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
The writing style is good, and I think the author himself is a decent writer in terms of grammar and flow. But the reason I only gave it two stars is that I got 2/3 of the way through the book and finally had to set it down because the entire novel can be summed up with "Japan is weird and complicated and ugh I had to live in it".

I sat down and thought about how I had read dozens of pages of this book only to realize that he didn't seem to have a single positive thing to say about his experience
Jun 19, 2013 Tami rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Not bad, Mr. Bruce has some thoughtful things to say about the Japanese educational system. And I know this book is a bit dated at this point, but I have heard some similar points being raised in more modern blogs and books. So, consider it was like almost 25 years ago, and know that things have changed, but it's not a perfect system yet.
I liked when he took the time to talk to the Japanese high school students to see what they thought about the guys-only athletic day pyramids and the girls-only
May 08, 2008 Mikejencostanzo rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: reviewed
When I prepared to head overseas to Japan as an English teacher, Learning to Bow was one of a handful of books that was assigned to me as required pre-reading. What a terrific book to read as an introduction to teaching English as a foreigner in Japan!

Author Bruce Feiler documents his own year-long experience in just such a role with humor & realism. The book reads like a story and is difficult to put down. However, Learning to Bow is far more than simply a travel journal or a well-written a
Aug 22, 2010 Bibliotropic rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
Bruce Feiler takes us on an insightful and often humourous look at what it's like to teach English in a Japaese junion high school. He combines classic cultural research with his own personal experiences, giving the reader a good look inside a world that so many people both love and often misunderstand.

It isn't just the Japanese school system that Feiler lets the reader explore in Learning to Bow. All aspects of Japanese culture are up for grabs, from dating to the proper way to eat lunch to fas
Jul 04, 2015 Niki rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I've read on many of the JET (Japan Exchange Teaching) blogs out there that this is an important book to read if you want an insight into the world of teaching English in Japan. I've also read that this book is horribly dated (published in 1991) and you shouldn't waste your time with it.

I am really glad that I didn't listen to all the naysayers. While it's true this book is dated, it has humorous stories from the little things that happened to Burusu-san, stories of cultural clashes, but most im
Aug 04, 2015 Carolyn rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I read this book initially in 2000, after I returned from an educational visit to Japan. At that time, it really underscored what I had witnessed for myself--even though my experience was about 15 years after Feiler's experience. Re-reading it now, 15 years further on, I am impressed by the balanced treatment of the subject. Feiler reports his observations about Japan and the difference between Japanese education and culture and American education and culture without judgment. He provides an apt ...more
Sep 04, 2007 Andrea rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction, japan
Set in the late eighties/early nineties, this book describes an American's experience teaching English in a rural Japanese school. Feiler is a gifted storyteller who creates a beautiful atmosphere that captures the reader. But watch out: his writing is arrogant in a "I learned more in one year than most Japanese learn in their lifetimes" kind of way. I appreciated his asides into Japanese history because they gave more depth to his journal-like prose. Some of his explanations are outdated; I thi ...more
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BRUCE FEILER is one of America’s most popular voices on family, faith, and survival. He writes the “This Life” column about contemporary families for the Sunday New York Times and is the author of six consecutive New York Times bestsellers, including WALKING THE BIBLE and THE COUNCIL OF DADS. He is the writer/presenter of the PBS series “Walking the Bible” and the forthcoming “Sacred Journeys with ...more
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