The first black samurai
2:46:49 2022-10-10 153

The first African man to become a samurai, Yasuke certainly made a mark on feudal Japan — though much about his life remains a mystery.

In the 16th century, Japan was internally divided and externally isolated. Split into provinces under the rule of various local feudal lords who were known as daimyōs, the island nation remained relatively closed off from the outside world. That is, until the Age of Exploration that brought European explorers to every corner of the globe — including Japan.

The Portuguese were the first European people to arrive in Japan, and they brought with them their language, their religion, and their institution of slavery. These enslaved people, who had been ripped from their homelands in Africa and sold into servitude aboard Portuguese ships, were often forced to follow their new masters during their travels around the globe.

But one of the slaves taken to Japan eventually rose through the ranks to become a samurai and attain a position of the highest honor in his new home. This man is now known as Yasuke — the Black samurai.

As is so often the case with enslaved people — especially those who lived several centuries ago — little is known for sure about the early life of Yasuke. Some have even speculated that he wasn’t a slave at all but instead had a warrior background, which helped him become a samurai in Japan.

In 1579, Yasuke would have been one of the first African people who ever set foot in Japan (and, eventually, the first Black samurai). As reported by Ancient Origins. Frois recounted how Yasuke’s appearance caused quite a stir among the natives of Japan. In fact, it’s said that several Japanese people actually broke down the door of the Jesuit residence just to catch a glimpse of him — and some people even died during the ensuing ruckus.

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