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.”
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.