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Learning to Bow: Inside the Heart of Japan Paperback – May 11, 2004
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“A refreshingly original look at Japan…this book is a revelation.” -- Atlanta Journal-Constitution
“A charming and incisive close-up of the most important part of the Japanese miracle- the making of a Japanese.” -- Robert Elegant, author of Pacific Destiny
“Gems of insight and understanding.” -- Rocky Mountain News
“A hilarious and revealing book [that] marks the debut of a formidable talent.” -- James Fallows, Washington Editor of Atlantic Monthly
“Mark Salzman fans and other aficionados of things Eastern will love…Bruce Feiler’s Learning to Bow.” -- Elle
“Filled with rich anecdotes that tell far more than dry, academic tomes on the same subject.” -- Seattle Post-Intelligencer
“Always fascinating and often funny…one of those rare books that shows the Japanese as fully rounded human beings.” -- Washington Post
“As fascinating an account of Japanese life as you could find anywhere…Don’t miss this one.” -- Grand Rapids Press
About the Author
Bruce Feiler is the author of six consecutive New York Times bestsellers, including Abraham, Where God Was Born, America's Prophet, The Council of Dads, and The Secrets of Happy Families. He is a columnist for the New York Times, a popular lecturer, and a frequent commentator on radio and television. He lives in Brooklyn with his wife and twin daughters.
- Publisher : Perennial; Reprint edition (May 11, 2004)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 336 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0060577207
- ISBN-13 : 978-0060577209
- Item Weight : 9.6 ounces
- Dimensions : 7.9 x 5.3 x 0.9 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #854,180 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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Perhaps my only struggle was hearing how hard it was for the author to find a date in Japan. Japan is legendary for English teachers "punching above their weight" and finding girlfriend's well out of their league in the US. But perhaps the book would have lost it's tone and cultural insights if it degenerated into a story of how many girls the author picked up.
The book has held up remarkably over the past 10 years. Despite the bursting of the Japanese bubble, the cultural lessons ring true today. I recommend the book to anyone interested in Japan, independent of occupation.
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 graduating children began practicing the bow to perfection. As Feiler too observes, learning to bow is "far more than a mere social greeting: it is the prime ingredient in the syntax of Japanese life."
Awareness increased, I truly enjoyed this book. Feiler does a fine job presenting a clear picture of his experiences; from the bath to the cast, to the detailed discipline students receive, to the iron watch of their mothers, and how the students received his visit. I did observe however, how similar the fundamental `undercarriage' of Japanese values as it pertains to stressing a higher education, are to customs in America. True, the methods employed to teach children differ, but hovering pressures on stressing education and continuing on to college and beyond are similar. My favorite treats where I enjoyed the deepest laugh was coming by the question on naming the real estate company... `Up River, was it!?!' Too funny. And without a shred of doubt it took a lot to get up off the floor after reading Sato and Ishikawa's expose on `the way of love'. Absolutely a keepsake. The `Team Teaching' plan I thought, too, was a nice touch-up. Just an overall very interesting read Learning to Bow is. The title speaks volumes!
This book does well enough when it concentrates on the author's experiences, both as a teacher and as to his personal adventures in Japan - though they're fairly prosaic. Where it falls down is where the author digresses into philosophical analysis, comparing his experiences with Japanese sociology. For one thing I didn't consider that necessary. I suspect like most readers, I took up the book for its description of teaching a year in Japan. The attempt to relate these experiences with dry sociological theory of Japanese culture, seemed a glib and an unconvincing reach. I would rather the author kept the focus on his own experiences. Let the reader draw their own conclusions.
Oddly enough, just like "For Fukui's Sake", there's a lot more about the teacher's life with his colleagues and his personal life, than a discussion of his classes, students and his teaching. Which I found disappointing. Not that there isn't some. But it was definitely 2nd or 3rd priority.
There's an obligatory account of a climb up Fuji common to nearly all accounts of foreigners in Japan. And a lot of accounts of apparently mandatory drinking and karaoke parties. There were some interesting details on the Fuji climb I had not read in other accounts. As for the drinking/etc parties, I understand they're pretty much required, but they seem as boring to read as to attend. I was okay with the first few, after that, I wish more book space had been spent on something new than a rehash of yet another one. And be aware, this is very much a male view. Women may be teachers in Japan, but in this account, they are few and rare. Most women described are tea ladies and secretaries and mothers get a hard press in Japan, made out to be scholastic heavies demanding kids study to exhaustion. . It lends a very one sided view of the experience. As for the students themselves, their labors are daunting. Interestingly, once they reach college, they are reported to go completely off the rails and just party - perhaps evidence that given they aren't allowed to make choices up to that point, having everything dictated to them on the most minute level, once they escape that supervision, they don't know how to self regulate.
Bottom line, if you can only read one 'Japanese teacher in Japan experience', I'd look for something more recent, and frankly, more fun. You can impart the sociology and cultural aspects without the lectures this book intones. OTOH, if you are interested in accounts from this period, then this is readable enough. I was somewhat disappointed in it, for the reasons above, but it was a fast read, and I got something out of it. I just think it could have been better presented.