Japan: Cultural historian James Vardaman reflects on his journey into Japanese publishing


Between two sips of coffee, Waseda University professor James M. Vardaman comes clean to me about his decades of addiction.

“I’m hooked on that rush,” he says. “The adrenaline high I get when selling a publishing idea.”

 Hailing from America, the acclaimed author has published five books already this year, adding to an extraordinary lineup of more than 40 Japanese and English titles. While Vardaman does not admit to having superpowers, he tells me that one secret to his productivity is remaining curious. (“I also take a lot of walks and I never forget lunch,” he adds.)

It’s lunchtime now and the two of us are speaking at a Tokyo cafe within walking distance of Vardaman’s home in Ginza. We’re surrounded by well-dressed young mothers with well-dressed toddlers. The cafe’s speakers play a song by The Jackson 5 about how love is as simple as “do re mi” and “A B C.”

Writing for decades with those simple ABCs and also with the more complex Japanese orthography, Vardaman’s books explore a remarkable array of topics, including Japanese cultural history, U.S. race relations, language acquisition, American roots music, Buddhism and the Japanese education system.

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