Learning to Bow: Inside the Heart of Japan
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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.
take root in the students. But the children on that playing field had different ideas. Bruce S. Feiler / 59 Paradoxically, women were once venerated in Japan: legend holds that the Japanese imperial line was descended from a woman, the Sun goddess Amaterasu Omikami. But feudal lords over a thousand years ago overturned the legacy of respect and developed an exacting set of laws that subjugated women to men. Confucian teachings adopted later dictated that a woman should obey her father in
carefully, according to plan. This tradition—like the wind—dies hard. The legend of the wind in Japan goes back as far as the allegory of the sun. In the beginning, legend says, there was chaos. Through a gradual shifting of particles, heaven and earth were created and various deities came into being in what was known as the Plain of High Heaven. Two of these deities, the brother and sister Izanagi and Izanami, briefly descended a bridge to earth and begot the Central Land of Reed Plains, which
so my Japanese hosts struggled to appreciate the frustrating independence of this American. For the members of my office, this adjustment proved to be enlightening. Several weeks before I was impounded in the hospital, I was asked to make a trip to Tochigi’s capital city of Utsunomiya to meet with other foreign English teachers. Mr. C came over to my desk at the Board of Education a few days before the meeting with a briefcase overflowing with maps and directions for making the one-hour train
gomen, sorry,” she said as she reached into my shirt and extracted the high-tech digital thermometer. “Just right.” Then she pushed me back on the mattress, took my pulse, and started running through a list of questions in Japanese. I responded to each one in turn—no, I had not eaten all my dinner; yes, I had slept well—until she reached a final question, which I could not understand. “Could you please repeat that,” I said. Off she went again. “Something, something, yesterday. Whatsit, whatsit,
must make to fit into society and are willing and able to make them. Most of these students will enter the system and become, in time, other well-qualified cogs, “Made in Japan.” 14 / Learning to Bow At the end of the party, the new teachers disbanded into smaller groups, dispersed into various rooms in the lodge, and gathered around whiskey bottles and sushi plates for less formal initiation parties. Mr. C, now scarlet from the flush of the beer, led me from room to room, to a myriad of new