It’s black history month, and boy do we have a history lesson for you. Today, we’re talking about Yasuke, the first foreign-born man, and African, to achieve the rank of Samurai!
Who Is A Samurai?
The Samurai were a class of warriors that arose in Japan and performed in military service until the 19th century. Samurai were revered for their strength, and they had great skill with the sword as well as in archery. Even now, in contemporary depictions, Samurai are distinguished by their honor.
In feudal times, a Samurai would go so far as to commit Seppuku (ritual suicide) if their Lord suffered defeat or died. Needless to say, the Samurai are one of the more revered aspects of Japanese history.
Yasuke was an enslaved African who arrived in Japan on a trip with his master. The locals had never seen a black person, and so people swarmed just to get a look at him. During the trip, Yasuke met Oda Nobunaga, a powerful 16th century Japanese feudal lord who was, in fact, one of the first three rulers to unify Japan.
Nobunaga was so fascinated by Yasuke’s black skin that he instructed the African to strip from the waist up and scrub his own skin. Nobunaga suspected that Yasuke’s skin had been coloured in black ink and that it would wash off—I kid you not. This interaction was documented in the 1582 Annual Report of the Jesuit Mission in Japan.
Soon, Nobunaga was taken by different qualities that Yasuke possessed. Namely, his strength and stature. He described Yasuke’s might as that of 10 men, and brought him on as a feudal bodyguard.
The First African Samurai
Yasuke is the only recorded Black person ever bestowed with the honor of the Samurai title. He was given a place of residence and his own Katana blade. He was invited to eat with Nobunaga and they fought and won many battles.
I should mention that the African’s birth name is unknown. Yasuke is a name that he was given by Oda Nobunaga.
Netflix is currently developing an animated based on Yasuke with Lakeith Stanfield voicing the titular character.