Ian Buruma was educated in Holland and Japan, where he studied history, Chinese literature, and Japanese cinema.
In 1970s Tokyo, he acted in Kara Juro's Jokyo Gekijo and participated in Maro Akaji's butoh dancing company Dairakudakan, followed by a career in documentary filmmaking and photography. In the 1980s, he worked as a journalist, and spent much of his early writing career traveling and reporting from all over Asia.
He now writes about a broad range of political and cultural subjects for major publications, most frequently for The New York Review of Books, The New Yorker, The New York Times, Corriere della Sera, The Financial Times, and The Guardian.
He was cultural editor of The Far Eastern Economic Review, Hong Kong (1983-86) and Foreign Editor of The Spectator, London (1990-91), and has been a Fellow at the Wissenschaftskolleg, Berlin, the Woodrow Wilson Center, Washington D.C., St. Antony's College, Oxford, and Remarque Institute, NYU.
He has delivered lectures at various academic and cultural institutions world-wide, including Oxford, Princeton, and Harvard universities. He is the editor-in-chief of The New York Review of Books and the Henry R. Luce Professor of Democracy, Human Rights, and Journalism at Bard College, Annandale-on-Hudson, NY.