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10 November 2021

1947 police raid resisted

The raid and the fightback at the Stonewall tavern, New York 27-8 June 1969 is now iconic.  Many histories also mention previous police raids on trans/gay/queer venues: Cooper's Doughnuts May 1959, Dewey's Lunch Counter April 1965 and Compton's Cafeteria August 1966.

There were of course a lot more, even in the US. I compiled a list some years back of such raids from 1726 onwards.  But there was an important one that I missed.  The first police raid on a queer venue after WWII.  


Ueno Park had long been a center for the sex trade, given its proximity to Yoshiwara, the traditional pleasure quarters of old Edo.  Ueno was also the main rail terminal for trains serving the north of Japan, and immediately after the war it became a temporary home for people being repatriated from overseas to the provinces or returning to Tokyo from the countryside, where they had fled to avoid the air raids during the closing months of the war. While extreme poverty among this population no doubt drove many women (cis and trans) and some men to prostitution in an effort to survive, it seems that Ueno had long been a site of male prostitution. 

At this time the trans sex workers (Dansho) mainly wore the traditional kimono.

1947 November 22: Police raid on the trans prostitutes in Tokyo’s Ueno Park.  This was motivated not so much by the fact that these were trans prostitutes as by the fact they were seeking customers outside the designated red-light zones. 

Mark McLelland explains what happened:

"At around 7 pm on the previous evening, the superintendent of the Metropolitan Police had gone to inspect the effectiveness of the curfew that had been declared in Ueno Park to deter the lively prostitution scene that had developed there. At the back of the Shimizu-do- (a temple building), he, and his accompanying entourage of journalists, encountered a group of men dressed in women’s attire. When the journalists and camera crew started taking pictures of the men using a flash, the cross-dressers started attacking them in an attempt to take the cameras. The  superintendent and his men fled the scene in fear, but later returned to the  Shimizu-do- with reinforcements, not only to discover that the cross-dressed men were still there but that their number had increased to more than ten. The cross-dressers once again demonstrated their “masculine nature” (dansei no taisei) and began to beat up the camera crew. Then, they started hitting the superintendent who once again fled. Although the cross-dressers were finally subdued and arrested when 15 reinforcement police arrived, all things considered, the police came off looking rather inept if not outright incompetent in their handling of the incident. (p156-7)"

The incident was widely reported in the press, especially the scandal magazines, and was turned into a novel.

  • Sumi Tatsuya. Dansho no mori (男娼の森 / Grove of Male Prostitutes). Hibiya Shuppansha, 1949.  A novel about Ueno Park’s trans prostitutes.
  • “Dansho¯ zadankai: mondai no kokuhaku, (Confessions of a Problem: A Roundtable Discussion with Male Prostitutes)Oke, 2, 5, August 1949. English translation by Wim Lunsing as Chapter 5 of  Queer voices from Japan: first person narratives from Japan’s sexual minorities.     Some of the trans women involved at Ueno Park are interviewed by a journalist.
  • Mark Mclelland. Love, Sex, and Democracy in Japan during the American Occupation. Palgrave MacMillan, 2012.

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