Learning to Bow by Bruce Feiler

I think I’ve made it clear in previous travel related posts that Japan is at the top of my Wanderlust list.  Reading about Feiler’s year as a junior high English teacher in Tochigi ought to have boosted my interest, but…it didn’t.  Feiler does a great job describing and analyzing the cultural distinctions of the Japanese, especially where education is concerned.  But his account lacks a certain spark.  Although he calls people friends and briefly describes his date-scene failures, there isn’t a lot of life in his recollection.

Perhaps he is imitating the Japanese custom of avoiding offending others.  There are times when his frustrations at constantly being othered as an American appear, but he doesn’t dig into those feelings.  The more I think about this, the more it seems he is honoring his Japanese friends.  But since so much of his book asserted his American identity, I’m a little disappointed that we didn’t get to see more of his fire, independence, and emotion.

Learning to Bow is great as an introduction to Japanese culture.  But as a memoir, I wasn’t satisfied with the level of self-disclosure.  I suppose that makes me extremely American!  Hmm. 

51cvaJgzKYLBook Jacket

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 his students about American culture, while they teach him everything from how to properly address an envelope to how to date a Japanese girl.

Release Date:  1991


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