He Was an Enslaved African Soldier Given Into the Care of an Italian Missionary
The origins of Yasuke are shrouded in mystery, but historians believe the African soldier was born in 1555 in what was then Portuguese Mozambique. He was reportedly sold into slavery following the fall of Abysinnian Bengal, an African kingdom ruled by Ethiopians. Yasuke soon found himself in the care of Italian Jesuit missionary Alessandro Valignano, who asked that the Black man accompany him on a mission trip to Japan.
His Arrival In Japan Caused Quite the Commotion
When Yasuke and Alessandro arrived in Kyoto, Japan, in 1579, the sight of the 6-foot-2 Black man caused a frenzy in the marketplace. The loud commotion caught the attention of Japanese warlord Oda Nobunaga, who was impressed with Yasuke’s towering stature. The daimyo was all too fascinated with the African man’s skin, characterizing him as “handsome” and someone who possessed “the strength of 10 men,” as recorded in the “Lord Nobunaga Chronicle,” the principle Japanese source that describes Yasuke.
Because he was a foot taller than most Japanese men at the time, Yasuke was a sight to see. Nobunaga soon made him his personal bodyguard.
His Skin Was So Black, Warlord Oda Nobunaga Thought He Was Covered In Ink
Upon seeing Yasuke, the Lord Nobunaga Chronicle states that Nobunaga demanded that the African man strip to his waist and scrub his skin to prove he wasn’t covered in ink.
He Was Soon Appointed As High-Ranking Samurai
Yasuke soon rose to prominence as a high-ranking samurai after he was appointed to the top position by Nobunaga. “Yasuke, conflicted about the violence of his past when he got to Japan, embraced samurai culture and became a useful warrior for the warlord,” said director Gregory Widen, who’s producing the period action film “Black Samurai” on Yasuke’s life.
“He became a samurai warrior,” Widen said. “They presented him with a blade and he went to work.”
He Was Allowed to Dine with Lord Nobunaga, a Very Prestigious Honor
Yasuke enjoyed moderate fame as a high-ranking samurai with his own katana, or traditional Japanese sword. Unlike other officials of the military order, the Black samurai was regularly invited to dine with warlord Nobunaga. Such an honor was reserved for a select few.
His Career As an All-Powerful Samurai Was Short-Lived
Unfortunately, Yasuke’s time as a powerful samurai lasted only a short year (1581-1582), thanks to the successful overthrow of Nobunaga by one of his former generals, Akechi Mitsuhide, in June of 1582. As a result, the warlord and his supporters were forced to perform the ritual suicide of “seppuku.”
Nobunaga’s successor apparently took pity on the Black samurai and spared him from performing the ritual.
Yasuke was returned to Italian Jesuit missionary Alessandro Valignano and lived in obscurity until his death.