Beate Sirota Gordon, a translator with the U.S. military in Japan following World War II who helped compose the country’s new constitution and played a pivotal role in establishing equal rights for women, passed away on Sunday, December 30th. At 89 years old, she succumbed to pancreatic cancer at her home in New York, surrounded by her family.
Gordon’s daughter, Nicole, told the press that her mother’s last public statements were about opposition to the potential changes to Japan’s constitution under Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. She was most concerned with preserving the peace clause and the sections on women’s rights. As the only child of pianist Leo Sirota, Gordon was born in Vienna in 1923 and moved to Japan in 1929 with her family, where she lived for the next 10 years. She went to college in California and was given U.S. citizenship, then returning to Japan in 1945 to work as an interpreter and translator with the occupying Allied Forces.
At an age of only 22, Gordon was among those assigned to work on drafting a post-war constitution for Japan. She took it upon herself to include clauses of gender equality and women’s rights that weren’t even established in the U.S. at the time. She remained in Japan in 1946, participating in the negotiations between the top government officials of both the countries over the final wording of the constitution. Gordon moved to New York afterwards where she married and had two children, but she remained an active in promoting Japanese cultural exchanges and continued to praise the country’s renouncement of war, as defined in the constitution’s Article 9.
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