Confucius Lives Next Door: What Living in the East Teaches Us About Living in the West
|Year of Publication||
|Number of Pages||
288 pages (paperback)
Vintage; Reprint edition (March 28, 2000)
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An American's Insight into Eastern Cultures via countless anecdotes
T.R. Reid, the Asian Bureau Chief for the Washington Post in Tokyo, relays countless experiences from his time in Asia and uses those stories to paint the picture of a greater "Asian experience." His memories from years overseas are often humorous; however, he tends to wander and will start a compelling story, but not finish it until 10 pages later after he was derailed by long-winded tangents. This book highlights the notion that although people are almost identical genetically and that we should be accepting of all peoples, not all cultures and societies are the same. A poignant lesson for students, indeed. You cannot merely travel to another region of the world and expect the native culture to fit within your understanding of how people should act. T.R. Reid hammers this point home again and again as he emphasizes the communal nature of most East Asian societies which stands in stark contrast to American individualism.
This book would not be one I would choose to have my students read in its entirety; rather, I would select a few choice anecdotes and incorporate them into class. At the heart of this book is the underlying influence that Confucianism continues to have on East Asian societies. People may choose to be Daoists, Buddhists, Christians, or Muslims, but nobody can escape the tenets of Confucianism. In terms of stirring up discussion, I think students would be fascinated by some of the statistics on education and crime Reid introduces early on. These statistics include the incredibly high performance of East Asian students in all academic areas as well as the absurdly low crime rates of Japan in comparison to the U.S. This might test the unconscious ethnocentric views held by your students as well as yourself.
Additionally, there are just some fun passages that could be shared with students or friends to highlight the complexities of cultures unlike our own. According to Reid, the Japanese believe people are inherently good and only need reminders to act accordingly. Thus, throughout Japan there are very unsubtle signs telling people to behave and why they should. Outside of a classroom, I find it hard to picture a sign encouraging people to "Be Kind to Everyone You Meet Because they are just the Same as You and Me." There's also another intriguing section on what aspects of relationships and sexual media embarrass Japanese citizens. Your average Japanese person would probably find kissing in public to be more shameful than going to an adult store or watching pornographic material. It's not that they condone the latter, but instead they believe that if you feel no shame for kissing in public, then when else will you demonstrate a lack of restraint.
There are plenty of fun personal accounts to peruse through in T.R. Reid's book, yet at times there seemed to be a lack of cohesion in the overall story. Nevertheless, I enjoyed it thoroughly.
Confucius Lives Next Door Review
T.R. Reid provides an entertaining and informative account of his time living in Japan in the late 90's. His casual writing style and amusing anecdotes make this book an enjoyable and easy read while providing a good glimpse at East Asian culture. I truly looked forward to reading this book each day, and the only reason I wouldn't give it five stars is that it was, at times, repetitive.
Confucius Lives Next Door - Anecdotes of Life in East Asia
Review by Tim Jekel
High School History
World History I & II, Western Civilization, AP US History, AP European History
West Shore Christian Academy
Confucius Lives Next Door is an engaging, often funny, presentation of East Asia as it was when the author, T.R. Reid lived there with his family as an East Asian Bureau Chief for the Washington Post. Selections from the book serve as my introduction to modern history of Japan and Korea which I study together.
The real charm of Reid’s work is that he sprinkles his scholarly analysis of East Asian society with charming anecdotes from his own experience. Before I was finally able to visit Asia for myself and get my own anecdotes, I relied on books like Reid’s to give flesh to the ideas I was teaching in class. While stopping just short of being an Asia-phile, Reid certainly appreciates both the positive things taking place in East Asia and the things East Asia has to offer the rest of the world, including the United States.
Reid’s work is engaging enough to work with any high school grade, but I have used selections of this book with my 9th grade classes. Many students find him funny enough and interesting enough that they have asked to borrow the book and read the rest of it on their own. I have two copies to enable this.
Reid posits that in our obsession with individual freedoms and liberty, we may have missed what many Asia societies have always known, that a harmonious society must balance individual freedoms with other factors like social conformity and the importance of manners. To support this contention, Reid cites numerous crime statistics to show that in places like Japan and Singapore, one is much safer from all forms of crime than a person in the United States. Singapore is known for a strong government that enforces strict penalties for a variety of crimes.
Reid also considers education in Asia verses education in Western nations. The highest student test scores regularly come from Japan, Korea, and Singapore. If success on such tests is the only measure, this would be compelling data indeed. The weakness of the book is not its analysis of Asian countries, but of Western countries. Although it may be impolitic to say so, the Asian advantage on test scores evaporates if one considers various subsets of the American population. For example, white America still outscores Asia. Asian Americans outscore Asians from Asia. The United States for reasons too complex to treat here, or indeed in Reid’s book, produces not sameness or equality of outcome, but pockets of excellence side by side with pockets of failure. Most Asian countries do not have to address the racial and cultural diversity of the United States which poses problems for the educational system.
Another caution for use in high school classes is that the language is at times a bit ‘salty’. For example when reading aloud a very humorous episode involving language confusion, Asian signs both in their language and implication are much racier than appropriate high school fare. The best use of the book may be to use it for selections, read aloud to give students a flavor of the East and to challenge their assumptions about the world. For example I always read to my students the statistics about crime rates here verses there. It gets the students attention long enough to consider the positive things Asia has to offer. For this alone, I highly recommend use of this book in the high school East Asian curriculum.
Japan through the eyes of an American and his family - straightforward, informative and humorous.
Confucius Lives Next Door by Martha Krieger, NCTA alumnus (Bucknell University site)
T.R. Reid is a world traveler/reporter/writer/commentator who still has things to learn about being a good neighbor. Moving his family to Japan for an extended period of time while he is on assignment is a learning experience for the entire family. From unfamiliar words used for American-made products (Baskin Robbins = ‘Satay Won’) to Japan’s resilience in the face of economic and cultural changes, to the Japanese citizen’s complete amazement and amusement regarding the daily lives of those crazy Americans, this is a great from-the-neighborhood-trenches view. You would expect someone who has done so much world travel to be more sensitive to some cultural issues, like not allowing your son to freely play the drums in a very close neighborhood (close geographically, not socially), but he has a fresh perspective that keeps the reader entertained and informed. I had a new and broader appreciation for the every day life of the Japanese, as well as being more able to understand how they are less able to understand us! Confucianism, politics, trade, and an artificial beach-in-a-box, this is a ‘visit’ to Japan that you don’t get from the tour books!