Leon Nahum Hurvitz was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts on August 4, 1923 to parents Benjamin Hurvitz and Rose Marcus. He spent his childhood in Boston, where he attended Boston Latin School before moving on to undergraduate studies in Chicago, majoring in Latin and Greek. Leon was drafted into US Army service at the beginning of WWII, and attended Army Foreign Language School, specializing in Japanese. He went on to serve in the Allied occupation of Japan. On his return to the US, he continued his studies, finally obtaining his PhD from Columbia University in 1959, concurrent with a position as Assistant Professor at the University of Washington. He married Reiko Kobayashi in 1958, and had three children, Hannah, Nathaniel, and Philip. He transferred to UBC in 1971 where he taught in the Department of Asian Studies until his retirement in 1988. He spent the remaining years of his life in Vancouver, where he died in 1992.