Yasuke The African Samurai in Feudal Japan 1579 A Legendary Story of Bravery


A tall African man by the name Yasuke arrived in Kyoto Japan nearly 500 years ago. He would go on to become the first man born abroad to attain samurai warrior status.

Yasuke ( real name Yasufe by some researchers) was in the service of the Italian Jesuit missionary, Alessandro Valignano. During the rule of Oda Nobunaga, he achieved the rank of samurai. Oda was a powerful Japanese feudal lord of the 16th century who was the first of Japan’s three unifiers. According to letters of Portuguese missionary Luis Frois and The History of the Church of Japan, a 17th-century book by François Solier, The samurai from Africa was around 24 or 25 years old, towered over the Japanese at 6-foot-2 and had skin like an “ox” or “charcoal.”

Most scholars believe he came from Mozambique, but other countries such as Ethiopia or Nigeria have been proposed by others. It is believed that Yasufe already spoke some Japanese when he Met Nobunaga and the two men got on well. This is according to academic Thomas Lockley, who has written a book on Yasufe. Below is a good video on the subject.

The notion of a non-Japanese samurai was something unheard of when Nobunaga conferred the rank of samurai upon Yasufe. Later, the title was also received by other foreigners. Shortly after Oda’s death in 1582, the legend of Yasuke came to an end. The fall of Nobunaga at the hands of a treacherous general resulted in the first black samurai being expelled, probably back to a Kyoto Jesuit mission.

© Getty Images

Hollywood studio Lionsgate revealed in 2017 that a film on the life of the black samurai was being made. We originally mentioned in a previous article that Chadwick Boseman would be playing the main character. Sadly as we all know, he passed away a while ago from cancer. No word yet on who might replace the actor to play the historical figure.

Oda assumed that Yasuke was either a guardian demon or “Daikokuten,” a prosperous deity commonly represented in temples by black statues (Daikokuten is in of itself an interesting character that arrived in Shinto Japan, via a Buddhist depiction of a dark-skinned Indian Goddess).

Featured Image © “Yasuke by Anthony Azekwoh.jpg“, by Anthony Azekwoh, licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

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