Did you know that there was once a black samurai? Seriously, there was a legitimate black samurai. Not a very common thing you’ll probably read about in the history books, but I assure you, it’s real. Let’s just take a minute to comprehend how something like that could happen. The samurai are known to be some of the greatest warriors in the history of mankind. That said, not everyone could become a samurai. Needless to say, they were a pretty tight group. Just like all the other great warriors who made their mark in history, the samurai selected very few who were worthy to join their ranks. On top of that, the Japanese during that time weren’t exactly fond of foreigners. The samurai had clans, lots of privileges, and were under the leadership of the shogun. Not only were they warriors, but rich men.
So these highly skilled and very dedicated warriors once had control over Japan, and were very distrustful of foreigners. Why would they even consider letting a foreigner join their ranks? Well, in the sixteenth century, that would all change.
The black samurai known as Yasuke has little to no documented information about his past life before he came to Japan. There have been several theories about where he came from, but according to Francois Solier of the Society of Jesus in 1627, Yasuke most probably came from Mozambique. This was never fully corroborated, but it has been documented that the first African people who came to Japan were from Mozambique. In the case of Yasuke, he arrived in Japan in 1579 under the service of Italian Jesuit missionary, Alessandro Valignano. It was during this visit that Yasuke came to the attention of one of the most infamous daimyos in Japanese history. When Yasuke was presented to Oda Nobunaga, a significant change in Japanese history was made.
When Oda Nobunaga first saw him, he actually thought his skin was all covered in black ink. Once he learned that his skin was actually dark, however, the daimyo took an interest in him. Then, somewhere at some point, Yasuke was given his new name and placed under the service of Oda Nobunaga. Overtime, Yasuke learned Japanese, was given his own katana, and his own residence. While Yasuke was considered to be one of Oda Nobunaga’s most loyal retainers, he was still considered to be an outsider. Understandably so, due to the strict code of the samurai.
Yasuke’s story with Oda Nobunaga came to an end in 1582 when the daimyo was forced to commit seppuku in the Honno-ji temple in Kyoto by the attacking forces of Akechi Mitsuhide. Yasuke assisted in fighting back Mitsuhide’s army, and after Nobunaga’s suicide, he served under his son, Oda Nobutada. Unfortunately, there is no clear record as to what happened to him afterwards. He was either captured or killed by Mitsuhide’s forces, sold to the Portuguese, or kept serving under Nobutada, but since there aren’t any further records of his service to other daimyos, this seems unlikely.
While his ultimate fate remains a mystery, we just have to appreciate the fact that a black samurai actually existed in history. On top of that, he was an important figure in the house of the Oda clan, one of the most dominant clans in Japanese history. This is all very interesting news, because before I found out about the story of Yasuke, I would’ve thought a black samurai only existed in movies and shows.
Speaking of which, if you have Netflix, I suggest you check out the anime series based on the story of Yasuke. When I say based on, I really mean loosely. For one, the anime show is about what you would expect from an animated show. With using Yasuke’s story as a guideline, the show blends all kinds of elements we see in anime. From science fiction, to fantasy, to magic, and to the giant, robotic mechas, the Yasuke anime show certainly bends history to its style.
And you know what? It’s awesome. If you like anything that’s fantasy related, this show has it. Yasuke encounters a group of mercenaries that’s probably the most diverse mercenary group you’ll ever see. An African shaman, a towering Russian woman who can turn into a werebear, and I must mention that big robot with a sarcastic attitude. There’s just so many things in this show that anime and fantasy lovers can enjoy.
But this show does emphasize on some crucial parts in Yasuke’s story. For instance, the first episode shows us how he fell from grace after the suicide of Oda Nobunaga. Even though Nobunaga wasn’t exactly a mentally stable ruler, Yasuke remained loyal to him because he pretty much rescued him from his life of servitude. Even though he became a vital member of his guard, most of Nobunaga’s men viewed Yasuke as a servant. Since he was a foreigner, they viewed him unworthy to bear the title of samurai. After the fall of Nobunaga, it was mentioned that Yasuke did join forces with his son to fight the new daimyo (a witch). However, his story in the show begins twenty years after the fall of Nobunaga, taking up a role as a local boatman to a small village.
The way the show altered the story of Yasuke was awesome, all crazy anime action considered. What made it stood out most, however, was the fact that he was a black samurai. Can you imagine a greater example of a fish out of water? Yasuke faced a lot of doubt and ridicule from the Japanese samurai, but he learned to get past it. When we talk about more diversity in media, this is a pretty outlandish example. But once again, this is a black samurai we’re talking about here. This show is based on a true story and they emphasize on how Yasuke got past being an outsider.
The story of Yasuke proves that greatness can come from anywhere. The show does a fine job of telling it and it’s one that everyone should know about.
In fact, there was a live-action movie set to go into development, with Chadwick Boseman in talks for the role of Yasuke. Sadly, Chadwick Boseman passed last year. He would’ve been a great fit for Yasuke, and now, it seems like the film has been canceled. Will Hollywood make another attempt for the live-action movie? I think they should, since it’s a rare and extraordinary story. However, if you want an exaggerated, but brief crash course of his story, watch the anime show. It’s for anime fans, it’s for fantasy fans, and it’s certainly for mecha lovers.
In fact, it looks like now we know where they got the idea for Afro Samurai.