Jacob Shapiro (Yakov Konstantinovich Shapiro, nicknamed Yasha), who appeared not infrequently on this blog, died yesterday morning at Glendale Memorial Hospital in his 92nd year. He is survived by his wife Teruko Shapiro (née Chiba), his three daughters (Hanako, Akiko, and Yasuko), and his granddaughter, Sophie Felton (born June 30, 2020).
Jacob Shapiro was born on August 26, 1928, in Harbin (Manchuria), and moved with the family to Yokohama in 1929. He attended British and American schools as did his two older brothers until World War II, when in the ‘40s he took Japanese language classes at the Waseda Kokusai Gukuin, a school for foreigners and children of expatriates who had returned to Japan. In 1946 Jacob entered the Tokyo American School in Japan and graduated in 1947. The school’s alumni yearbook, Chôchin(“The Lantern”), shows a handsome and smiling young man, evidently popular with all his classmates. Jacob was a guard on the varsity football team and a sprinter on the track team.
In 1953 Jacob entered the Peers’ School University (Gakushûin Daigaku) in Tokyo, graduating with a bachelor’s degree in political science in 1958. This was an institution of higher learning traditionally reserved for the Japanese aristocracy and the Imperial Family. In fact, Crown Prince (and later Emperor) Akihito was also an undergraduate during Jacob’s tenure there, and a classmate was the future Emperor’s brother, Masahito (known then as Yoshinomiya [= Prince Yoshi] and latterly as Hitachinomiya [= Prince Hitachi]).
During his university days, Jacob also dabbled in the import-export business, at which he succeeded admirably, enabling the family to immigrate to America, although he did not follow until 1960, when he moved first to New York as an executive trainee in the International Division of Columbia Pictures, returning to Tokyo in 1961 as Assistant General Manager for Columbia in Japan. In 1965 he became Columbia’s General Manager in San Juan (Puerto Rico). This first experience in the film business was to determine the arc of his employment history for the rest of his working life. Jacob returned yet again to Japan in 1968 as Columbia’s General Manager in Japan, then joined 20th-Century Fox Film Corp. in 1981 as a Vice President and moved to Los Angeles (where he continued to live with his Japanese wife, Teruko, whom he married in 1976, and their daughters, Esther Hanako (born 1977), Miriam Akiko (born 1979), and Rebekah Yasuko (born 1982).
During his post-war years in Tokyo, Jacob, true to his athletic ability, took up judo and attained the equivalent of a second degree brown belt. He also taught himself memory tricks and even appeared on Japanese TV as a memory expert, as well as playing some minor roles in Japanese films.
Jacob had a prodigious knowledge of the Japanese language, particularly its proverbs. He regularly astounded the natives by punctuating his utterances with a barrage of piquant examples from the store of more than 100,000 proverbs that can be found in a good Kotowaza Jiten (Dictionary of Proverbs).
As the only two sons left at home after World War II, Jacob and I spent a lot of time together in Japan. He was always the closest brother to me and my favorite. From boyhood to old age, his perennially sunny disposition, his puckishness, and his love of life endeared Jacob to all who knew him. He will be sorely missed and remembered forever as a remarkably generous and compassionate human being.