Beate Sirota Gordon speaks at the Club on Sept. 21, 1998, following the publication of her English-language memoir, The Only Woman in the Room. That memoir described her contribution to Japan’s postwar constitution: Article 14 on basic human rights and Article 24 on basic gender equality. Seated to her left is Bob Neff (Business Week) and to her right is Bruce Dunning (CBS)
Gordon was born Beate Sirota in Vienna, Austria, in 1923. At age five, she came with her parents to Japan, where her father, a noted pianist, had been invited to teach. Following her early education at German and American schools in Tokyo, she left Japan in 1938 to continue her education at Mills College in the US, where she obtained a degree in modern languages.
Multilingual (six languages), she put her fluency in Japanese to work for the US government during WWII and in 1945 joined the Occupation forces in Japan. During that time, she worked as an interpreter for high-level negotiations with the Japanese government, making her a “witness to history,” as well as participating in the drafting of the new constitution.
In 1948, Gordon returned to the US and married Joseph Gordon, and within five years became director of performing arts for the Japan Society in New York. From 1970 to 1991 she served in a similar role for the Asia Society. Although she was long reluctant to publicly discuss her involvement in writing Japan’s constitution, word of her contribution had become public knowledge by the 1990s. In 1996 she began to speak both in Japan and the US about her historical role in the Occupation. She penned her memoir in 1995, with the English version becoming available in 1998.
Gordon was honored with many awards both for her work with the Occupation and as a cultural bridge in the performing arts between the US and Japan. These included the Order of the Sacred Treasure from the Japanese government in November of 1998 following her appearance at the FCCJ. A long-time resident of New York City, she passed away in December of 2012.
- Charles Pomeroy
editor of Foreign Correspondents in Japan,
a history of the Club that is available at the front