Jim Huffman began his professional life as a reporter for the Minneapolis Tribune, dreaming of being a foreign correspondent in East Asia. During an interlude for graduate work at the University of Michigan, however, he claims to have been “seduced by scholarship”—and as a result, he completed a Ph.D. in Japanese history, then spent his career teaching East Asian history to undergraduates: for three decades at Wittenberg University in Ohio and for shorter stints at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Indiana Wesleyan, Dartmouth, and Williams. While he enjoyed research (his ninth book is now in press), his passion was teaching undergraduates. He loved having discussions with students in the office or in the classroom, as well as accompanying them on study abroad. (One of his more memorable experiences was convincing an East German customs official to let a student who had lost her passport cross the Berlin Wall into the GDR in 1986.) This will be his third time to teach on Semester at Sea, where he always is excited by the chances to visit the places we study.
In addition to making study trips to China, Mongolia, South Korea, and Southeast Asia, he has lived for five years in Japan, sometimes teaching, sometimes translating, most often doing research. Very much a family man, he worked with his late wife Judith in the 1990s in translating Japanese children’s books into English (his favorite: The Cat That Lived a Million Times). His daughter Kristen, who was born in Tokyo, now heads an organization in Chicago that works with people with severe autism. His son James is the only foreigner to work as a regular employee at Japan’s largest non-governmental foundation. Huffman now lives in Chicago where he writes history, ushers at the theater, sings in a choir, volunteers with undocumented immigrants—and, above all, entertains his grandchildren and their parents for dinner each week. During the voyage’s Japan sojourn, he hopes to watch his two Tokyo grandchildren play basketball.