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Learning to Bow: Inside the Heart of Japan

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3.69 of 5 stars 3.69  ·  rating details  ·  1,275 ratings  ·  187 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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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Angela
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
...more
Renee
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
Kristi
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
Rebecca
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
...more
Chrissie
NO SPOILERS
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
...more
Bob
Feb 14, 2015 Bob rated it 5 of 5 stars
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
Tori
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
Elliot Barbell
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
Jns
‘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
Niki
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
...more
Maggie
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
Cain
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.
Carolyn
A year teaching English in a Japanese Junior High provides an understanding of children's culture. School philosophy, attitude about life in Asia albeit is vastly different than China and other eastern countries. Bruce delivers an absolutely wonderful view of teachers and social relations around the year of his stay. American children and schools are different to be sure. Japan has qualities that are to be admired with a fierce pride in their heritage, the Sun. The country is almost like a mothe ...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
Natalie
Bruce Feiler's experiences teaching English in Japan are hysterical, accessible, and sometimes nearly unbelievable. A great read for Japanese culture fanatics.
Susan
Feb 18, 2015 Susan rated it 5 of 5 stars
Shelves: japan
Originally published in 1991, I read this right before a trip to Japan in 2015 and was shocked at how accurate many of the cultural observations are today. I had the opportunity to attend some of the teacher meetings Feiler describes and felt better prepared because I had read this first (i.e. when offered a seat, DO NOT sit until the senior person sits first!). Ranging from topics like class size and schedule to group behavior and bullying, this insightful memoir is highly recommended to anyone ...more
Gavin
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
...more
Tina
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
RYCJ
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
...more
Mikejencostanzo
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
...more
Bibliotropic
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
...more
Meghan
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
Tami
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
...more
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
...more
Andrea
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
...more
Denice
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
Tricia
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.
Jason Greeno
I don't love it nor do I hate it. Observations of Japanese culture made by a guy living in Japan for a year. Nothing particularly funny or great happens. Each and every chapter is pretty vanilla. Surely there must be something more contemporary about Japan out there. This reads like a year in the life of a 50ish missionary. Just meh.
Nancy
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
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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
More about Bruce Feiler...
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