In the late sixteenth century, a young African man arrived on the shores of Kyoto, Japan in the service of a group of Portuguese Jesuits, who had purchased him from any one of the many thriving slave hubs worldwide. It is not known whether he was captured as a child from sub-Saharan Africa, or if he was born into slavery.
The Japanese called him Yasuke. He was tall, well-built and athletic with noble bearing. His great size and imposing stature, not to mention his colour, made a great impression on the Japanese, not least on Oda Nobunaga, a high-ranking Japanese feudal lord of great power.
Nobunaga greatly admired Yasuke’s intelligence and athleticism, and recognised that he had all the attributes required to become a samurai. Yasuke seized the opportunity, and as you may expect, was extremely loyal to the man who transformed his life, serving alongside him in battle until his overlord was finally betrayed and defeated, and forced to commit seppuku.
Yasuke joined Nobunaga’s son, Nobutada, but they were defeated and captured in their turn.
Yasuke’s fate beyond this point is sadly obscure, but it’s likely that the rare sense of equality and freedom he enjoyed as a black man under Nobunaga had come to an end. I like to think he became a roving ronin, bravely righting wrongs where he found them in his adopted land, but more likely he was killed or returned to the service of the Portuguese. While writing this book, I heard a rumour that his remarkable life will receive the Hollywood treatment, doubtless with countless artistic embellishments.
This website is not about him. Neither is our forthcoming book, but someone needs to write a novel about this remarkable man and his story.