There are only so many times I can ignore a recommendation for a book before going out and picking up a copy. That was the case with Bruce Feiler’s Learning to Bow: Inside the Heart of Japan. Several friends told me I should check it out, knowing that I not only loved to travel but was also interested in Japan after having done judo for a number of years. And after all that, I’m glad I finally succumbed to their suggestions.
Learning to Bow is about Bruce Feiler’s time in Japan teaching English. He spent a year abroad inside the Japan’s educational system learning about the society and culture in, according to the publication date, the late 1980s. A lot has obviously changed since then, but it remains an interesting look into the country.
I found Feiler’s insights into Japan in Learning to Bow quite captivating. I was particularly interested in his comparisons to schools in the United States, his home country. “Japanese students spend twenty-five percent more days in school than Americans, so a high school graduate in Japan has spent as much time in class as a college graduate in the United States.” (P104) And that’s before factoring in the extra night hours they work in tutoring classes, or rather cramming sessions, called juku.
While I liked the awkward start Feiler used for Learning to Bow, a curious Japanese bathhouse misunderstanding, I found the story lagged at times. It wasn’t as though it were boring, just that it was sometimes disjointed and moved a little slowly in spots; some chapters, like one about a trip he made to Tokyo from where he was teaching in Sano, were not nearly as interesting as the rest of the story.
I was pleased with my friend’s suggestion to read Bruce Feiler’s Learning to Bow: Inside the Heart of Japan. It was a great glimpse into life in one of the countries near the top of my list to visit. And after reading it, I have that much more motivation to book my flight and get going.