Learning to Bow, by Bruce Feiler

  Buy from Amazon.ca or Amazon.com

Summary: (Taken from GoodReads) Since its publication, Learning to Bow has been heralded as one of the funniest, liveliest, most insightful books about the clash of cultures between America and Japan. With warmth and candor, Feiler recounts the year he spent teaching within the world’s most heralded school system, and through his unique perspective, demystifies contemporary Japanese life.

Beginning with a ritual outdoor bath and culminating in an all-night trek to the top of Mount Fuji, we accompany Feiler as he discovers the roots of modern Japanese culture: watching boys and girls learn gender roles; experiencing the impact of strict school rules; and understaning the reason for Japan’s business success. In school, Feiler teaches his students about American culture, while after hours, they teach him their own customs – everything from how to properly dress an envelope to how to date a Japanese girl.

Thoughts: Bruce Feiler takes us on an insightful and often humourous look at what it’s like to teach English in a Japanese 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 fashion. He often makes comparisons between Japanese and American methods, drawing his own conclusions but still giving us a chance to form our own without his bias. While he may disagree with the benefits of some parts of Japanese culture, he doesn’t say, for example, that those aspects are bad. Merely that he disagrees.

I’ve read this book twice before, and still love it now as much as I did when I first opened the cover to page 1. Though Feiler’s experiences recounted in the book take place in the late 80’s, the words and story themselves have such a timeless feel that they could have been written yesterday.

Most certainly, I’d recommend this book for anyone who’s seriously interested in teaching in Japan (through the JET program, perhaps), or for those who are interested in another look into Japan’s fascinating culture.

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