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The Only Woman in the Room Paperback – May, 2001

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

This engaging, modest account recalls the life and times of a woman who made significant contributions to both Japanese and American cultures, first as an advocate for civil rights clauses in the postwar Japanese constitution, later as a promoter of Asian-American amity through the arts for the Japan Society and the Asia Society. A daughter of internationally known pianist Leo Sirota, a Russian-Jewish emigre who settled first in Vienna, where the author was born, and then, with the shadow of Hitler looming, emigrated to Japan, where Sirota taught at the Imperial Academy of Music in Tokyo. There Gordon grew up and became, as she notes, "part Japanese." After attending college in California and working part-time monitoring Japanese broadcasts, she landed a research job in Japanese affairs at Time magazine after the outbreak of WWII; during the war she assumed a position on Gen. Douglas MacArthur's occupation staff, where she participated in the drafting of the new constitution, with particular attention to women's rights. Noting that she was frequently "the only woman in the room" during these experiences, she offers here quietly feminist, freshly illuminating observations about the two cultures that are distinguished by a persuasive international outlook.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

This memoir by the daughter of the famous Russian pianist Leo Sirota reveals an eventful life, recollected with succinct but vivid detail. Of Russian Jewish heritage, Gordon grew up in Vienna, about which she remembers little. Political and economic conditions compelled her family to leave Europe for Japan, where her parents planned to remain for only a few months, but they ultimately stayed for many years. Gordon herself came to the U.S. to attend college; then war broke out, and she was separated from her parents for an excruciating length of time. After Japan's defeat, she rejoined her mother and father there, and she worked for the American occupation forces. She returned to the U.S. in 1947, began a career in arts sponsorship, and became a wife and mother. Interesting reading for those who enjoy hearing about quiet but strong lives, from which personal inspiration may be gained. Brad Hooper --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 172 pages
  • Publisher: Kodansha International (JPN) (May 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 477002732X
  • ISBN-13: 978-4770027320
  • Product Dimensions: 8.7 x 5.8 x 0.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,083,738 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

18 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Roger Bernstein ( on February 22, 1999
Format: Hardcover
Ms. Gordon, born in Vienna and educated in Japan and the United States, found herself by an accident of history in Japan at age 22 with the American Occupation Forces immediately after World War II. General MacArthur directed her and others to draft a new constitution for Japan. Drawing on European constitutions that she found in the remaining libraries in war-torn Tokyo, she wrote for Japanese women an advanced equal rights clause that Japanese women have treasured ever since. The story of how the Japanese constitution was written is extremely interesting and well-written. Readers interested in Vienna and in European social activity of the early 20th Century will also find interesting descriptions of same. Mrs. Gordon's father was a famous Russian pianist who associated with many other famous pianists of his era, such as Artur Rubinstein.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Mindme on October 11, 2002
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
A concise, elegant autobiography by Beate Sirota Gordon, an Austrian who grew up in pre-war Japan as a child and later returned to what she very much considered her home to find her parents (music teachers who refused to abandon their Japanese students as pre war tensions mounted and were held prisoner). It chronicles not only her battle with the entrenched Japanese male authority but battles with the entrenched American male authority, who weren't necessarily any less sexist than the Japanese. She took a job with the American army as a translator and ended up helping draft Japan's post war constitution. And she did all this at the age of 22!
Gordon escaped the war by going to an all girls school in California. There she encountered the feminist movement and learned a lot about women's rights issues. Upon returning to Japan, she was asked by the American government to help with the constitution. The Americans wanted the constitution written and adopted quickly, fearing the Soviets last minute entry into the war would give them influence. She went to town, drafting about a dozen articles for the Japanese constitution guaranteeing women rights in the work place, politics, health care, child custody, etc. Many were stripped out but two key articles she drafted remained. What's more amazing is Gordon takes so little credit for her accomplishments and instead agonizes more about what was left on the cutting room floor.
For several decades after, the creation of the Japanese constitution was not well publicized. The Americans feared the haste with which it was written and the fact that the job was basically given to a group of found amateurs would cause the Japanese people to reject it. It's only now that her story has been able to come out.
All in all a fascinating account and hard to put down. If there's a downside it's that Gordon doesn't pump up her autobiography with more fascinating and telling anecdotes.
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Edward Uravic on January 2, 2013
Format: Paperback
I read about this woman's extraordinary life in a New York Times article, and I read the first few pages of her autobiography in Amazon. I was very moved by her story, and I would definitely buy her book if it were available, particularly in Kindle.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By NoBooksNoLife on November 10, 2007
Format: Paperback
In Oct. 2007 I had the privilege of hearing Ms.Gordon speak at a renowned women's college in Tokyo. Now in her 80s, Ms. Gordon traveled from her home in the US to visit again the country of her youth, Japan. She spoke in Japanese for over an hour, giving a summary of her life, but most importantly, stressing the importance of the Equal Rights Clause of Japan's consititution, which by quirk of fate she had written.

The Only Woman in the Room, a brief memoir, which includes her contribution to the history of post-war Japan, is refreshingly modest. For some 50 years after the Pacific War, the details of the drafting of Japan's constitution by the 'allied powers' (General MacArthur) had been kept quiet, much of it classified secret documents. To the world, appearances were kept as if the Japanese had drafted their own constitution, but in reality it was strictly managed by MacArthur.

Given the prevailing gender chauvinism of Japan (and even the west) at that time, if Ms. Gordon and another woman (economist Eleanor Hadley) had not been present, articulate, and assertive, there would possibly have been no 'equal rights clause' set forth in Japan's constitution. Had Ms. Gordon not had experience growing up in Japan, fluency in the language and knowlege of the plight of women, equal rights in Japan might have taken many more years to arrive.

Speaking before a group of future women leaders of Japan, Ms. Gordon was living testimony to the fact that today's Japanese women have rights of marriage, divorce, voting, owning property, etc., which was not true prior to 1946.

It seems she has always been the type of person so involved in living life that to stop and record all of it in detail would have gotten in the way of living it.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Linda Austin - MoonbridgeBooks on January 2, 2013
Format: Paperback
Yes, this book ought to be re-released to document an impressive and historical "powerplay" by a woman, a very young one at that. At the age of 22, Beate Sirota Gordon altered the lives of Japanese women, giving them unheard of rights in a sternly traditional, male-dominated country. The book is simply written (i.e. personable) and jammed with anecdotes and lived-it history and culture of Japan before and immediately after WWII. Beate's parents were caught in Japan during the War while Beate was in the States attending Mills College and working for the Office of War Information. Beate came to St. Louis in 2010 and regaled us with fascinating, jaw-dropping stories of pre-WWII life in Japan with her brilliant musician father, giving us the inside scoop of how her parents survived and of working with Gen. MacArthur's committee on the new Japan constitution, observing on-the-ground life in immediate post-WWII Japan. Her stories are all in this book, along with a lot of photos. She wrote as the down-to-earth, gracious and very intelligent woman she was. Rest in peace, Beate.
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