Van Wolferen attended secondary school in Rotterdam, the city where he was born. In 1960 he left the Netherlands and travelled in the Middle East, India and South-East Asia for two years, and started publishing articles. He arrived in Japan in 1962, where for a number of years he taught English at the Waseda University and the Athenée Français, among others. He continued his career in journalism in 1972 after becoming Eastern Asia correspondent for the Dutch newspaper NRC/Handelsblad. During this time he wrote about social and political developments in Japan, India, Thailand, Vietnam, the Philippines and South Korea, for which he was awarded the prize for Dutch newspaper journalism in 1987.
Van Wolferen has published profound analyses on the political economy of Japan. His articles were published in The New York Times, Le Monde, Die Zeit and Japanese newspapers and magazines, among others. In 1989, The Enigma of Japanese Power, generally considered the most complete and detailed study of contemporary Japan, was published.
The UvA dissociates itself (in Dutch) from the statements made by Van Wolferen, about the coronavirus among other things, in a door-to-door magazine he has published.