In recent years, Japan has been rediscovering its own history and various characters from other continents. This is how Yasuke has established himself for several years in manga culture as an emblematic hero in his own right.
But who is Yasuke? Under this Japanese name, we designate a servant and bearer of arms with an unknown name, probably originating from Mozambique or Sudan and who, in , enters the service of the Italian Jesuit Father Alessandro Valignano. In 1579, after a meeting with Lord Oda Nobunaga, open to the world (a rarity at the time in Japan!), he entered the service of the latter. He quickly became a real phenomenon for the Japanese by his strength and size (according to the memoirs of Nobunaga and Matsudaira Ietada, he was 1.88m tall) and by the black color of his skin unknown to the Japanese, very little accustomed to meeting strangers. Nobunaga brings him into his service and Yasuke would thus have become the first (and only?) black samurai, of African origin. In 1582, history lost its trace and its fate remained unknown, opening the doors to myths and legendary tales.
The sources attesting to the existence of Yasuke are diverse but imprecise on his functions and his destiny. Among the sources attesting to its existence, we can cite the work of Francois Solier (Brive 1558-Saint Macaire 1638). Appointed in 1597 as the first Jesuit rector of the College of Limoges (current Lycée Gay Lussac in the city), he also wrote a Ecclesiastical History of the Islands and Kingdom of Japan published for the first time in 1627. This work, which is a synthesis of various cross stories, mentions the meeting between Yasuke and Nobunaga in chapter XXVII and which is the subject of the extract below.
[…] Easter Day was also solemnized with great devotion. Immediately after the party, Father Alexander went to Meaco to see Nubunanga, and to thank him for the favors he continually did to Christianity, and to our fathers who preached in his kingdom.
Now Father Alexander had faithfully led from India a valet Moor, as black as the Ethiopians of Guinea, but a native of Mozambique, and of those who are properly called Cafres, inhabitants of the Cape of Good Hope. Suddenly he arrived at our house, the whole town ran to see him. Father Organtin took him to Nobunanga, who made him a big feast, and not being able to believe that this color was natural, so he held that he had been painted this way for pleasure. But after having stripped him naked down to the waist, and examining everything better, he recognized the truth, then assigned the day to Father Alexandre to maintain him. […]
Francois Solier Ecclesiastical History of the Islands and Kingdom of JapanParis, S. Cramoisy, chapter XXVII, extract page 444
The spelling has been partly modernized to make it easier to understand (“&” has been replaced by “et” for example)
For further :
- Mr Japanization Who really was Yasuke the first black samurai? September 2022, article available HERE
Pop Culture Supplement:
In 2021, Yasuke inspired a series airing on Netflix.
Developed by American director LeSean Thomas, with a team that has worked on two legendary series (Jujutsu Kaisen and The attack of the Titans), this series traces the story of the first black samurai in a Japan that mixes both a historical context inspired by the feudal world in which Yasuke evolved, and futuristic with a presence of the assumed mecha genre. It demonstrates how the blind spots in Yasuke’s life are likely to feed the imaginations of contemporary Japanese anime and capture a global audience.
Synopsis: A peaceful boatman once known as Dark Samurai is drawn into conflict once again when he takes a little girl with mysterious powers under his wing.“.