Tokyo loses one of its brightest stars: A Tribute to Shawn Schrader

Shawn Schrader c.2016

A portrait of Shawn Schrader taken by his friend Kimihiro Hoshino

Last month Tokyo’s international creative community lost one of its brightest stars, Shawn Schrader, after he lost a battle with cancer. He was in his mid thirties and leaves behind a young family.

I first met Shawn in 2010 when he was working as a designer for a small Japanese production company and my company was looking to hire a junior designer. For a western creative in Tokyo his interest in and passion for Japanese culture, and his language ability, made him a rare talent even then. His maturity towards professional relationships for someone his age was also quite striking. I also remember discussing the state of American politics with him over lunch on that first occasion and noted his clear mindedness, passion for ideas and compassion for others.

Frankly I would have loved to have been able to hire him but in the context of my little enterprise back then he would have been anything but junior, and so we went our separate ways for a while meaning that the next time we met it was as peers, which felt much more appropriate.

By that time he was working at TBWA\Media Arts Lab where he was clearly thriving professionally. We would meet up fairly infrequently, but with zeal, to discuss the state of the industry we shared, invariably touching on brands doing interesting things, great work, talented people, Japanese culture, family life and occasionally politics. He was more informed than me on most of those topics so I really appreciated our meetings as chances to learn and become better connected as often Shawn would follow-up with an intro to someone he “thought I should meet”.

It has become even clearer since his passing just how prolific Shawn was in knowing and interacting with his professional community, and actually, without once projecting himself as a leader of it, has done more than anyone I know to connect it together and nurture it. As the teams he helped grow at TBWA and subsequently at Google’s Brand Studio can no doubt testify, his actions always seemed to be driven by the desire to see what might happen if creative people he liked and respected collaborated fruitfully, and those actions were all the more influential for their selflessness.

In terms of his creative craft his achievements speak for themselves, and there were many. During his time at TBWA\Media Arts Lab Shawn worked on a number of campaigns for Apple that required a strong creative idea, a lot of crafting and attention to detail. At Google’s Brand Studio he worked as creative director across a number of socially impactful campaigns in Japan and Asia of which he seemed rightly proud, although he was incapable of haughtiness. He was featured in Campaign Asia’s 2016 “40 under 40” which profiles the rising stars to watch in the industry, highlighting his achievements in “winning over 40 industry awards including the Cannes Grand Prix” in the preceding 3 years.

When Shawn and I met in the last year or two there was more shared intent to work on something together, that it was overdue, but there was never a sense of urgency either. It would come at some point, I had assumed.

As foreigners in Tokyo we are accustomed to impermanence, people come and go, but having both of us grown roots here, embraced a family-first life, knowing how much he too enjoyed the hectic professional scene with Tokyo’s unique mix of timelessness and yet constant change as a backdrop, my friendship with Shawn was I felt for the long haul, and all the more important for that.

The last thing Shawn published online was this article on LinkedIn entitled “What it takes to be a foreign creative in Tokyo – A little advice for those with their eye on Japan” in which he described his own journey into the creative world in Tokyo, and then with his usual modesty had 11 ECDs and CDs from Tokyo agencies write a paragraph on the topic, and concluded with paragraphs of his own on these 4 areas of advice: “Be committed”. “Be in Tokyo”. “Be unique”. “Learn the language”.  The piece is thoughtful, generous, pragmatic and inspiring. Shawn all over. I really hope it has the effect he intended and I get to work with some of the people it inspires.

Over the last few weeks it has been hard to come to terms with the fact that I cannot look forward to future conversations and collaborations with Shawn, but the more of our shared friends I speak to since his passing the more it is clear that we must instead reflect on and be grateful for how much he gave while he was with us, and ensure that his spirit lives on in our work and play.

Thank you Shawn. Rest in peace my friend.

For anyone who would like to record a tribute to Shawn please use this form.



  1. says

    Completely shocked. I first met Shawn back in 2010 in Japanese class, where he was the best student and didn’t need to be there. The last time we contacted was in 2015, and it appeared he was ok then. Time goes by fast, and life is cruel. Just found out now after wondering why his profile didn’t appear on my LinkedIn anymore and now I know why. I am stunned and would like to offer sympathies to his family. He was a great, mellow, but fun guy who really worked his way up from a small company all the way to Google. RIP Shawn.

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