May 16 — The only woman to play a role in the writing of the Japanese Constitution, Beate Sirota Gordon, will speak about her memories in advocating for equal rights for Japanese women, on Sunday, May 16 at the Japanese American National Museum’s Tateuchi Democracy Forum in her first speaking engagement in Southern California. This program is organized in partnership between the Atsuhiko and Ina Goodwin Tateuchi Foundation and the National Museum and co-sponsored by the Kasloff Foundation/U.S. Japan Cultural Education, American Airlines and the Consulate General of Japan in Los Angeles. It is supported by the Miyako Hotel, Los Angeles, and Japan Foundation.
Mrs. Gordon, daughter of internationally renowned Ukranian pianist Leo Sirota, was raised in Japan while her father worked at the Imperial Academy of Music. She moved to America in 1939 to attend Mills College, and when the war began, her parents were still in Japan. Mrs. Gordon would not see them again until the post-war. To get back to Japan to see her parents, she joined the U.S. government as someone who spoke Japanese and understood the culture.
Beate was assigned in 1946 at the age of 22 to work for the political affairs staff for General Douglas MacArthur. MacArthur was intent on turning Japan into a democracy and he told 25 of his staff, including Beate, to draft Japan’s new constitution. In fact, Beate was the only woman in this group. Assigned to the civil rights subcommittee, she was given the responsibility to write the articles related to women’s rights. Knowing Japan’s long patriarchal history, she “finally decided that I must give rights that were very detailed and explicit so that they could not be misinterpreted.”
Among the landmark pieces Beate wrote was part of 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.” At the time, and for five decades afterwards, few people knew who drafted Japan’s constitution, including Beate’s historic role involving women’s rights.
Mrs. Gordon did not speak publicly of her contributions for nearly 50 years. As she will explain in her lecture set for 2 p.m., she began discussing her story only beginning in 1995 and has been asked to speak numerous times at colleges and universities and other venues throughout Japan as well as in the United States. Author of “The Only Woman in the Room”, Mrs. Gordon has been interviewed on NPR radio, “Nightline” with Ted Koppel and other media outlets.
She married Joseph Gordon, who she had meet in Japan during the Occupation, and moved to New York in 1947 to study ballet, modern dance, ethnic and folk dance, piano and drama. Mrs. Gordon spent her life working in support of the performing arts as well as the Japan Society of New York and the Asia Society. Since the story of her advocacy of women’s rights became public in Japan, Mrs. Gordon has become an iconic figure. A Beate Appreciation Society was formed and her story has been told in documentaries, stage productions and Japanese manga.
At 11 a.m., in support of Mrs. Gordon’s lecture, the film screening of “Sirota Family & the 20th Century” an award winning documentary film by Tomoko Fujiwara, will be shown. This film will feature Mrs. Gordon, and her family as they struggled to survive their travels from country to country as a Jewish family during World War II. There will be a light reception following the lecture.
Due to limited seating, ticket reservations and payments will be required in advance. The presentation will be $27 for National Museum members and $30 for non-members. Please send reservation forms, available online at www.janm.org, and payments to the Japanese American National Museum.
The Tateuchi Democracy Forum of the Japanese American National Museum is located on 100 N. Central Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90012. For more information, call 213.625.0414, ext. 2249, or go to www.janm.org.