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LEARNING TO BOW by Bruce Feiler


An American Teacher in a Japanese School

by Bruce Feiler

Pub Date: Sept. 6th, 1991
ISBN: 0-395-58521-X
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

 A young North American spends a year teaching in a rural Japanese school, where he watches day-to-day life with a delighted, observant eye. Feiler begins with a description of the ritual outdoor bath that all male teachers participate in at the start of the school year: ``We had not soaked long in the water before my presence began to attract a crowd...The other teachers cheered and splashed water in support. `He sure is tall,' said one man. `And his nose is high, too,' observed another. `He looks like a model.' '' The author then moves on to tell how his students spend hours learning to bow together, how teachers strictly separate their private and public lives (``Co-workers who were rude to one another in the bar would be civil the next day at work; men who had been open and relaxed in the bath would be formal and rigid when behind a desk''); how boys and girls learn gender roles at outdoor sports festivals; how young men and women struggle with changing courtship codes. He writes of Japan's emphasis on discipline and community spirit, of his students' often desperate desire to enter the Univ. of Tokyo, and of a young boy's suicide, caused largely by class prejudice. Meanwhile, in hilarious episodes, his Japanese hosts constantly marvel at his ability to use chopsticks and his ability to speak Japanese, but by the end of the school year, they pay him the highest compliment by saying that he is ``more Japanese than a Japanese.'' Feiler's first book (which, the publisher says, is the first book written by a Westerner who has taught in Japanese schools) is warm, intimate, and often very funny, bringing much-needed insight into Japanese grass-roots culture and the role of education in that land.