Yasuke - The story of the Black Samurai in Japan

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Yasuke, was a samurai of African origin who served the daimyo Oda Nobunaga, during the last years of the Azuchi-Momoyama period. In this article, we will talk a little about this samurai and its importance in the history of Japan.

Yasuke [弥助, 弥介, 彌助 or 彌介] was an African samurai who served Oda Nobunaga between 1581 and 1582. He is considered the first abroad to serve as a samurai in Japan. Check out the story of this samurai below:

Origin, Yasuke's real name and arrival in Japan

Yasuke - the story of the black samurai in Japan
The African being introduced to Nobunaga

According to historical tales, Yasuke was from Mozambique. However, these tales were written years after his death. Also, there is no other source to corroborate this theory. Probably the theory is basically an assumption.

His real name is also unknown. Legend has it that its name in Japan is based on the African name Yasufe or Issuffo. However, there is nothing to support this either.

Yasuke arrived in Japan in 1579. He was in the service of the Italian Jesuit Alessandro Valignano. Valignano had been appointed inspector of the Jesuit missions in the Indies (East Africa, South and East Asia).

He accompanied Valignano when he arrived in the Japanese capital in March 1581 and his appearance caused much interest with the local population.

In the service of Oda Nobunaga

Yasuke - the story of the black samurai in Japan
Possible impersonation of Yasuke

When Yasuke was introduced to Nobunaga, the daimyo suspected that his skin was colored with black ink. Nobunaga made him undress from the waist up and made him rub his skin.

When he realized that his skin was not colored and, in fact, black, Nobunaga took an interest in him. At some point, although it is unclear, the African entered Nobunaga's service.

It is likely that he spoke considerable Japanese. This was perhaps due to Valignano's efforts to ensure that his missionaries were better adapted to the local culture.

Yasuke was mentioned by Sonkeikaku Bunko (尊経閣文庫), in the Maeda Clan archives. According to Bunko, the African was given his own residence and a small ceremony by Nobunaga. Nobunaga also assigned him the duty of bearer of weapons.

Yasuke - the story of the black samurai in Japan

After Battle of Tenmokuzan, Nobunaga led his force, including Yasuke, and inspected Takeda's former clan territory. On the way back, the black man met Tokugawa Ieyasu.

In June 1582, Nobunaga was attacked and forced to commit seppuku at Honnō-ji, Kyoto by the army of Akechi Mitsuhide. Yasuke was there and fought Akechi's forces.

Shortly after Nobunaga's death, the African went to join Nobunaga's heir, Oda Nobutada, who was trying to rally the Oda forces at Nijō Castle. He fought alongside Nobutada's forces, but was eventually captured.

When he was introduced to Akechi, he said that the black man was a worthless animal, so he shouldn't even be killed, but taken to the nanban-ji. After that, he disappeared from Japanese history. 

Yasuke - the story of the black samurai in Japan

other foreign samurai

Later, after Yasuke's death, other foreigners served as samurai in Japan. Below is the list of foreigners who served on daimyos:

  • Wakita Naokata (born as Kim Yeo-cheol), Korean samurai who served under the Maeda clan during the Tokugawa Shogunate;
  • Akizuki Tanenobu (true name unknown), Korean samurai who served under the Chosokabe clan;
  • Soga Seikan (real name unknown), a Korean samurai who served under the Nakagawa clan;
  • Rinoie Motohiro (true name unknown), Korean samurai who served under the Mōri clan;
  • Yagyū Shume (true name unknown), Korean samurai who served under the Yagyū clan;
  • Yayōsu (born as Jan Joosten), Dutch samurai who served under the Tokugawa clan during the Tokugawa Shogunate;
  • Hiramatsu Buhei (born as John Henry Schnell), German samurai who served under the Matsudaira clan during the final years of the Tokugawa Shogunate;
  • Eugène Collache, French samurai who fought for the Republic of Ezo;

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