Obituary: Beate Sirota Gordon – An Icon Of Women’s Rights In Japan

Beate Sirota Gordon in 2011

Women’s rights advocate Beate Sirota Gordon was born into a Jewish family in Vienna in 1923. In 1929 her father was invited to take up a post as a professor at the Imperial Academy of Music in Tokyo and Beate Sirota Gordon spent the next ten years in Japan and became fluent in Japanese.

In 1939 she moved to the USA to study languages at Mills College, California, and graduated in 1943. She naturalized as a US citizen in 1945 and at the end of the war she returned to Japan to search for her parents and worked as a translator for the occupation forces.

In 1946 she was called upon to contribute to the writing of the new Japanese constitution and was responsible for writing   Articles 14 and 24 on Equal Rights and Women’s Civil Rights.

Here is a part of Article 14 about equal rights:

“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 defines the status of women in marriage:

Marriage shall be based only on the mutual consent of both sexes and it shall be maintained through mutual co-operation with the 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 equality of the sexes.

Beate Sirota Gordon also worked for the Japan Society and helped to improve relations between the two countries in the Post War era by arranging for  Japanese artists and performers to visit America.

She also travelled throughout Asia on behalf of the Asia Society to seek out traditional indigenous folk music and performing arts and introduced many of them to American and Canadian audiences.

Beate Sirota Gordon passed away at her home in New York City on 30th December 2012 at the age of 89.

The Many Legacies of Beate Sirota Gordon

In her later life, Beate became a good friend of Nassrine Asami, Senior Advisor to the United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR), and Nassrine has written an interesting “opionion piece” as a tribute to Beate Sirota Gordon for Hiroshima Peace Media Center.


Wikipedia – Beate Sirota Gordon

Japan Times – Beate Sirota Gordon: An American To Whom Japan Remains Indebted

The Economist – Beate Sirota Gordon, interpreter of Japan to Americans


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