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Learning to Bow: Inside the Heart of Japan

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3.71  ·  Rating details ·  1,605 Ratings  ·  221 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

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Angela
Feb 26, 2009 rated it liked it
Recommended to Angela by: Allison
Shelves: bookcrossing
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
May 05, 2010 rated it did not like it
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
Chrissie
Sep 12, 2008 rated it really liked it
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
Rebecca
Jun 26, 2008 rated it did not like it
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
Kristi
Oct 30, 2009 rated it really liked it
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
Tori
Jul 25, 2011 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
Linda
Mar 19, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: asian, memoir, japan
I read this for a Japanese book club I am involved in. We all liked this book, finding it well-written in a personable style, amusing but respectful to the people of Japan. We liked how Feiler tried to incorporate a broader understanding of Japanese history and culture, even though he may not have gotten everything quite right. My Japanese born-and-raised friends recognized their own rigid educational upbringing. To read about it in Feiler's words as a foreign observer gave clarity to something ...more
Bibliotropic
Aug 22, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction
Bruce Feiler takes us on an insightful and often humourous look at what it's like to teach English in a Japanese junior 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 fa
...more
Bob
Mar 02, 2014 rated it it was amazing
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
Feb 19, 2014 rated it it was ok
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
Gavin
Apr 11, 2014 rated it really liked it
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
Cain
Mar 15, 2008 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.
Laura
Nov 15, 2009 rated it did not like it
Didn't finish it. I just couldn't.
Natalie
Jun 09, 2008 rated it really liked it
Bruce Feiler's experiences teaching English in Japan are hysterical, accessible, and sometimes nearly unbelievable. A great read for Japanese culture fanatics.
JJ
Aug 25, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: american
'Learning to Bow' is an eminently readable account of a year teaching in the Japanese state school system. The author, Bruce Feiler, clearly has a deep interest in Japan, and a great care for it. Some other reviewers have criticized his attitude but I didn't see anything wrong in it. He clearly explained where and why his views diverged from the Japanese mainstream, but I never found him to be condescending or rude.

Reading this did pique some curiosity in me to read more of Feiler's books. It i
...more
Megs
May 31, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: travel, japan
At face value, this was a light and enjoyable read. I picked it up because of an upcoming short trip to Japan and was in search of some cultural insight. At times I did find the author to be stubbornly stuck in his American point of view and wished he was able to meld and understand the Japanese point of view a little better. Having not been to Japan, I don't have any way of comparing the authors cultural references to that of my own experiences. Solid book though.
Cliff Ward
Aug 02, 2017 rated it really liked it
Written more than 20 years ago but still current in terms of relevance to modern day Japan. Many of us experience Japan in everyday life and business by this book is a good insight into the Japanese education system.
Both funny and sad, compelling to read, some great insights and lessons to be learned from a foreigners point of view.
Alicia Dolce
Jan 29, 2017 rated it really liked it
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.
Jordyn Karpinski
Oct 05, 2017 rated it it was ok
Shelves: owned
As someone who is getting ready to move to Japan to teach English this book immediately interested me. I thought it was a fun read with hints of humor and some culture points. I do think it is outdated and a lot of things have now changed. Its a very easy book to read though, so no harm done.
Sarah Crawford
Jan 22, 2016 rated it really liked it
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
...more
Matt
May 22, 2016 rated it it was ok
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 rated it it was amazing
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
Sherry Isaac
Jul 24, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Down-to-earth insights, poignant observations and snort-out-loud humor make this an engaging easy read. I read Walk the Bible last year and now I'll read anything that Bruce Feiler writes.
Jns
Jan 07, 2015 rated it really liked it
‘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
Meghan
Apr 16, 2008 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
Yue
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
Heidi
Apr 13, 2011 rated it liked it
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
...more
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!
...more
Ben French
Feb 16, 2017 rated it really liked it
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
RYCJ
May 08, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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
...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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