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Beate Gordon, a drafter of Japan’s Constitution, dies at 89

Kyodo

Beate Sirota Gordon, a translator who helped compose the Japanese constitution’s Article 24, which stipulates the equality of the sexes, died Sunday of pancreatic cancer at her home in New York, her daughter Nicole said Monday. She was 89.

“Her last public statements had to do with preserving the peace clause and the women’s rights sections of the Japanese constitution,” Nicole told Kyodo News. “She was opposed to amendment of the Constitution in general, but those are the parts that (were) of the most concern for her.”

Born 1923 in Vienna as the only child of the internationally acclaimed pianist Leo Sirota, Gordon came to Japan in 1929 with her family after her father was invited to teach at what is now the Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music. She spent roughly 10 years in Japan.

In 1939, Gordon moved to California to study at Mills College and obtained U.S. citizenship. After graduation, Gordon worked as an assistant at the Time magazine in New York before coming back to Japan in 1945 as an interpreter and translator, serving the General Headquarters of the Allied Forces that occupied Japan after the war.

Gordon worked on drafting human rights clauses of the Constitution, including Article 24 stipulating the equality of the sexes, in February 1946 when she was just 22. She was also involved in negotiations between the Japanese government and the Allied forces over the wording of the Constitution.

Moving to the United States after witnessing the promulgation of the Constitution in November 1946, Gordon married a fellow interpreter at the GHQ and had a boy and a girl.

She worked at the New York-based Japan Society and other institutions to promote bilateral cultural exchanges. She also visited Japan often and actively spoke of her role in the drafting of the Constitution and championed its war-renouncing Article 9.