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Learning to Bow: Inside the Heart of Japan

3.69 of 5 stars 3.69  ·  rating details  ·  1,129 ratings  ·  175 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
Paperback, 336 pages
Published May 11th 2004 by William Morrow Paperbacks (first published 1991)
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Mar 04, 2009 Angela rated it 3 of 5 stars
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
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
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
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
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
Jul 25, 2011 Tori added it
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
This book encompasses a year in Japan spent teaching English by an American teacher. The differences between the Japanese and the Americans and between their two ways of teaching was the focus of the book. For instance, the Japanese tended to assume that he could not tolerate their food or customs, neither of which was true. In their schools, the teachers and the students are expected to be model citizens, both in and out of the school. When Bruce would run red lights on his bicycle because ther ...more
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.
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
Bruce Feiler's experiences teaching English in Japan are hysterical, accessible, and sometimes nearly unbelievable. A great read for Japanese culture fanatics.
This really gives an interesting perspective on being an American in Japan. With the Toyota management system being all the rage this book brought it home to me about why the Japanese are so successful at lean. The obvious secret is that students are raised to not be individuals and are expected to conform and not stand out.

Critical individual thinking is discouraged and when pressed Bruce's students are unable to improvise a response. American's are raised to be individualistic and to find the
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
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
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
Apr 30, 2008 Meghan rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  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
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
Barbara Bryant
Okay, I wrote an entire review of this book then lost it in one fell swoop. I actually read a book with this cover but subtitled :an American teacher in a Japanese school", in case anyone sees it and is confused.

I will not write the review over but I will say I read this in a day with great pleasure and interest. What I learned about Japan was almost all new to me and, since it took place in a town quite some distance from Tokyo it was not the Japan of neon, traffic, well-dressed and youthful re
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
Aldon Rau
Though by and large our household is a harmonious one, every so often my mother and sister become involved in some sort of verbal altercation. I understand little of what they are talking about, and truthfully I am not particularly interested. In any case, these disagreements are generally short-lived, and usually end with cheery hugs on the rocking chair.

Once order has been re-achieved, I feel it incumbent upon myself to do my part to preserve ma'at (as the ancient Egyptian kings put it). How b
Although this book is from the 80s, as an English teacher in a similar run program in Korea, I found so many parallels to my experiences here. I think Feiler did a really great job at capturing what it is like as an outsider trying to make sense of the experience of living and working in a new culture so different from one's own. So often, ex-pats just get frustrated with cultural differences that they lash out and don't try to understand or ask why things are run the way they are run. I thought ...more
We recently took a trip to Japan, and I wanted to learn all I could about the culture. I loved Japan, I loved how respectful and humble the people are, and how they value work and being productive. I felt like the author of this book was trying to devalue those qualities that I fell so in love with. I found the book to be out of step with the Japan I visited.
Jan 27, 2011 Nancy rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: anyone
Recommended to Nancy by: friends
I LOVED this book! I am certain that living in Japan for 2 years helped me to connect with the author on how it felt to be a newcomer (gaijin) in a land where I was almost completely illiterate. Feiler's description of the people, culture, and land are spot on, and I found myself nodding in agreement throughout the novel. The imagery was beautifully written and I can picture Mt. Fuji rising up against the horizon just as he described; how I miss the great Fuji-san! If you ever have climbed that ...more
Bruce Feiler spends a year teaching English language classes at Sano Junior High in Sano, Japan. The two Japanese characters for "Sano" translate into English as "left field." With his assignment to Sano, Mr. Feiler is in many ways stuck in left field. Sano was a city that had long since moved past its heyday years. The customs in Sano remained quite conservative despite ongoing efforts to revive economic vitality. Fortunately for us, the quiet provincial qualities make the book all that more en ...more
Very interesting read. As someone who has recently embarked on a teaching abroad this is full of interesting tales of strange adventures and cultural barriers. It is mixed with small funnies that have happened to the tragic events that did happen. You learn about exploring a new world and being an outsider in the society.

This books explores the life of one man who moves to Japan to teach English. Throughout the book he explains many cultural differences he has to face. He also goes into a expla
Aug 07, 2014 Amy rated it 3 of 5 stars
Shelves: thesis
Despite only being in the country for a short time, the author has some good insights into the Japanese educational system. The story is engagingly told and easy to read. I'd recommend it for anyone that's done the EFL-teaching circuit here. Twenty years later, some things are definitely different -- but some things remain the same, especially outside of Tokyo.
This is a memoir written by a guy from Georgia, who went to Japan for one year to teach English to junior high school students in a somewhat semi-rural area on the outskirts of Tokyo. It was enjoyable to read about Bruce Feiler's experiences starting from when he first arrived (his fellow teachers took him to a hot mud bath), to his jaunts to Tokyo with newfound Japanese friends, and finally to his last day of teaching before returning to the States. I was very touched by how much Mr. Feiler's s ...more
I really loved this book. I feel it gave a very good observation of Japan, and though it's a bit older and things have probably changed a bit, I feel it is still relevant. It never really said Japan was better for something or worse than anyone else and that was kind of the point of the whole book. It showed a culture so alien to him and to me and showed that we can live together, but not always as ourselves. We adapt to our surroundings and our view of right and wrong isn't always correct or ap ...more
1992 Houghton-Mifflin, 2004 Perennial, by New York Times bestselling author Bruce Feiler reveals ~1000 reads here on Goodreads, illustrating perhaps the quixotic nature of bestsellers. is Feiler a millionaire? probably not. but is this book a classic? yes, to a degree.

this is a classic for the Japan-abroad set, and as such, it has all the stereotypes of the "welcoming group bath," sports festival, cherry blossom day etc etc etc ad nauseum, and the book lacks "emotional heart," failing to crescen
This book is described as being about Japan's education system, so I wasn't sure it would be that interesting. However, its a really well written story about the author's year teaching english in Japan, with really thoughtful insights into Japanese culture and in particular the relationship to foreigners. Many of the stories are funny, but without being condescending or unkind to the Japanese people portrayed, which is often the case. The book also describes well how the Japanese education syste ...more
Jim Good
Bruce spent a year in Japan teaching english as part of the governments “living english” plan. He was in a rural area and provides a unique perspective on the two cultures: Japanese and American. He uses short stories to illustrate the point that in Japan the school system replaces the family as cultural integrator and holds responsibility for ensuring that kids grow up assimulated to the cultural requirements around them. Some stories are hillarious before making their point. When Bruce sprains ...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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