I am relaxing a bit after organizing a wonderful two days with what I consider a rock star of WWII Japan-America history. Beate Sirota-Gordon came from New York to speak in Chicago and then St. Louis to discuss her role as a 22-year-old girl on the committee to draft the new post-WWII Japan constitution. Daughter of an internationally famous Russian-Jewish pianist teaching and performing through the Imperial Academy of Music in Tokyo, Beate was raised in Japan and separated from her parents during WWII while attending university in California. Working as one of the few Japanese translators in the U.S., she was able to support herself and, after the War, was eagerly accepted by the State Department to work overseas, which enabled her to be the first female civilian allowed into Japan following the War – and she was then able to find her starving parents and sneak food to them. She became involved in General MacArthur’s committee to draft the new Japan constitution and was instrumental in giving Japanese women equal rights – not a small accomplishment in that male-dominated time.
Mrs. Gordon’s stories are absolutely fascinating glimpses into pre-WWII Tokyo and, of course, she has the inside scoop of the proceedings of that frantic seven days in which the committee had to produce a final draft – why seven days is a mystery she reveals in her presentation. Mrs. Gordon is a gifted and fun story-teller who held everyone in wide-eyed trance. She is a living artifact of history, and yet her presence was snubbed by all the local papers even though her famous parents lived here for many years and her father performed live over local radio. Why?
Is living history not of interest anymore? None of the papers printed even two sentences about this event, and the St. Louis Post Dispatch choose instead to print something about fashion in media in its Events Today section. No thanks to St. Louis media and its fashions, Mrs. Gordon’s event was attended by over 100 people due mostly to in-house publicity by several of the area’s universities, the Japan America Society and the JAS Womens Association. I was relieved that the auditorium was filled and many surrounded her to chat, have their photos taken with her, and ask for her autograph, as I would have been greatly embarrassed by our town’s disinterest if we did not have a good crowd. Mrs. Gordon is known even by taxi-drivers in Japan and has traveled the world giving talks. It is sad, indeed, that our town’s papers chose not to inform the public. Let us hope that death and destruction – and fashion – are not the only things of interest to the media anymore.