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About Beate Sirota Gordon

Beat Sirona GordonIn 1998, Beate Sirota Gordon, former Performing Arts Director of the Japan Society, was decorated by the Japanese Government for her long-term service to Japanese culture. However, she should be better remembered for her contribution to Japanese women’s equality by drafting portions of the post-World War II Japanese Constitution. How was she, at the age of 22, involved in this historic and highly political enterprise?

The Constitution of Japan was ultra-secretly prepared in only 9 days, February 4th to 12th 1946, by 25 Americans including Beate Sirota Gordon. They were the officials of the Government Section, General Headquarters (GHQ). The Constitution was expected to follow “the MacArthur Note” and Washington guidelines. This was because General Douglas MacArthur, the Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers, had became convinced that a Japanese committee on constitutional revision was incapable of adequately democratizing the Imperial Constitution and that the Far Eastern Commission (representing the allied powers) might soon intervene in the matter. On 13th February, the Government Section officials delivered their hastily drafted constitution to the Japanese cabinet and said that the adoption would help to protect the imperial throne and to hasten the end of the Allied Occupation. In this off-the-record meeting, Miss Sirota was “the only woman in the room” as an interpreter. After difficult negotiations and wording revisions, on March 6, the Shidehara cabinet published the text as its own handiwork. General MacArthur announced to the world that he was satisfied with the “new and epoch-making” constitution. On the day when it was promulgated by Emperor Hirohito, Gordon and other GHQ members sat at the Diet gallery.

Though imposed by the United States, the Constitution itself was excellent and beneficial for the redevelopment of Japan. The people were released from militarism, which meant no spending on weapons for years to come. For the happiness of the majority, even land reform was conducted to some extent. The drafters were inspired with pacifism and humanistic idealism, for it was right after the war and before the Cold War. The Constitution had 3 new pillars; Renunciation of War, Sovereignty in the People (with the Emperor as symbol of nation), and Abolition of Feudalistic Family System (or Equality of Sexes). The articles on women read:

Article 14. All of the people are equal under the law and there shall be no discrimination in political, economic or social relations because of race, creed, sex, social status or family origin.

Article 24. Marriage shall be based only on the mutual consent of the both sexes and it shall be maintained through mutual cooperation with equal rights of husband and wife as a basis. With regard to choice of spouse, property rights, inheritance, choice of domicile, divorce and other matters pertaining to marriage and the family, laws shall be enacted from the standpoint of individual dignity and the essential equalities of the sexes. (The latter half is omitted.)

Beate Gordon was born in Vienna in 1924, the daughter of renowned Russian pianist Leo Sirota. She settled in Japan at the age of five, when her father was invited to teach at the Imperial Music Academy. Their house in Tokyo was a salon of artists from super-traditional KABUKI actors, modern dancers, and European musicians to Japanese painters and sculptors. She grew up in cultural diversity and richness. Meanwhile, through housemaids, friends and ladies coming to her mother’s social circle, Gordon came to know about Japanese women, rich or poor, whose social status was low under the feudalistic family system (…).

Read the full biography by Kuniko Fujisawa

Comments»

1. The Gift from Beate » Beate Sirota Gordon quote : - April 19, 2006

[...] About Beate Sirota Gordon [...]

2. Rev. Patricia Dai-En Bennage - October 16, 2009

Beate Sirota Gordon Sama,

I have thought of you often over the decades. I heard you speak beautifully fluent Japanese at Japan Society before I left for Japan in late 1963. I was a classical ballet dancer and could dance with the Komaki Ballet Dan in Tokyo a few years. An interest in Zen grew deep as my age made it difficult to continue performing. I ordained in the Soto Zen Buddhist tradition in 1979, and was trained 8 years in the Aichi Semmon Nisodo–all women, and home of Rev. Kojima Kendo, also working for women’s rights in religion. Then I was sent to the senior most training for four years with all Zen priests–“danjo byoudoh” studies, included. I credit my now being the first “Jun Shike`” (Associate Master-Teacher”) outside of Japan conferred by our Shumuchoh Headquarters because of your seminal work. So you have aided not only Japanese women, but at least one non-Japanese woman happily in residence in various parts of Japan for 23 years until I was told, “Go back now and teach!” Go kuroh-sama de gozaimashita.

3. Leon S. Kruszewski - June 5, 2011

Your speech at Mills was just great! I am your age and I appreciate reading about your remarkable life.

4. Joe - June 5, 2011

Who does this cunt think she is? I love how this cunt says nothing about all the Japaneese Americans whom has there property and lives stolden on the west coast during the war. And this cunt thinks she’s a hero? Woman’s rights! lol fucking stupid bitch. A federal negro “woman” slave is this bitch’s legacy! She’s a nobody! Nothing to look up too! Self absorbed imperialist cunt.

5. Mark - September 20, 2011

Good Grief! You need to get help, Joe. You have a serious problem that just might ruin your life, if it hasn’t already. Get a grip man, get into therapy.

6. E - October 24, 2011

Thank God for Mark. It is such a shock to see the person whose name is Joe making such comment about someone he does not know or apparently any thing about her.

7. Kalle - May 21, 2012

Wow, just when I thought that no troll could get to me any more, Joe just proved that I can still be shocked on the internet. Thank you, Joe. And yeah, get help. Seriously. The internet is not your basement where you can yell out anything that needs to be lifted off your soul.

8. Kalle - May 21, 2012

Oh, and get a spell check ;-)
It would make your “comment” look a tiiiny bit less ridiculous.

9. Beate Sirota Gordon Dies at 89 | - January 2, 2013

[...] Unlike many vital total in a humanities I’ve known, who tend to repeat a same repertoire of stories over and over again, Beate always astounded me with opposite stories any time we got together. She had such a abounding resources of knowledge and familiarity with a widest probable operation of artists. But in a final partial of her life, after a anathema of privacy was lifted, a one story that she did repeat many times — and righteously so — was of her purpose essay a Japanese constitution. If not for her, Japanese multitude currently would be a really opposite place, generally for women. There have been several films and television programs finished about this story. Japanese women understandably demonstrate thankfulness for “Beate’s Gift.” [...]


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