He was the first Black Japanese Samurai in history and he was essentially one of the ‘Right Hand Men’ of the war lord of 16th century Japan: Oda Nobunaga.
Yasuke (彌介) is what they called him, we are not too sure of his actual name but a recent discovery in a 2013 investigation by Discovery of the World’s Mysteries (世界ふしぎ発見) concluded that Yasuke was a Makua named Yasufe. (Makua is the largest ethnic group in Mozambique).
He arrived in Japan from Mozambique in 1579 as the servant/slave of the Italian Jesuit Alessandro Valignano. On arrival in the land of the rising Sun; his appearance caused a stir between the locals as they crumbled and stumbled upon each other in a bid to catch a glimpse of this strange looking individual.
Eventually; word soon got back to the war lord of the land ‘Oda Nobunaga’ and he ordered that Yasuke be brought to his presence immediately. The “Lord Nobunaga Chronicle” (Shinchōkōki) has a description of Yasuke’s first meeting with Nobunaga. “On the 23rd of the 2nd month March 23, 1581, a black page (“kuro-bōzu”) came from the Christian countries. He looked about 26, 24 or 25 by Western count or 27 years old; his entire body was black like that of an ox. The man was healthy and good-looking. Moreover, his strength was greater than that of 10 men.”
After Matsudaira Ietada had met Yasuke in May 1582, Ietada journalized his looks. ” His name was Yasuke. His height was 6 shaku 2 sun (6 ft. 2 in., or 188 cm). He was black, and his skin was like charcoal.” This means that Yasuke would have posed a very imposing figure to the Japanese citizens of the day. Still intrigued by the young African’s appearance, Nobunaga was not quite convinced that Yasuke’s dark skin color was genuine and ordered him to be stripped and washed to get the alleged ‘Black Paint’ off his body.
Nobunaga was impressed with Yasuke’s physical attributes such as his strength and also his ability to speak some form of Japanese. As time went on Nobunaga grew fond of the African and eventually awarded him with the position of a Samurai (shikan) – A rare honor for a foreigner not to mention a servant. However things turned sour in Japan – Nobunaga was overthrown by one of his closest Generals Akechi Mitsuhide killing himself in the process [via a Samurai ritual called seppuku]. In the heat of this ‘ancient samurai coup’ Akechi labelled Yasuke as a beast undeserving to be called a true Samurai and had him handed back to the Jesuits.
Yasuke’s later ventures are unknown but his rise to a highly elevated position in Japan after arriving as a mere slave is still spoken about in Japanese folklore till this day as evidenced in the fictional children historical show called Kuro-suke (くろ助).
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