Yasuke (Japanese: 弥助 / 弥介, Japanese pronunciation: [jasɯ̥ke]) was a man of African origin[2][3] who served as a samurai to the Japanese daimyō Oda Nobunaga for a period of 15 months between 1581 and 1582, during the Sengoku period, until Nobunaga's death in the Honnō-ji Incident.[4][5][6][7]

BornMozambique (most likely)
DiedAfter June 1582
AllegianceJesuits, Alessandro Valignano
Oda clan, Oda Nobunaga (1581–1582)

There are few historical documents on Yasuke. From the fragmentary accounts, Yasuke first arrived in Japan in the service of Jesuit Alessandro Valignano.[8] He was summoned to Nobunaga after Nobunaga wished to see a black man.[8] Subsequently, Nobunaga took him into his service and gave him the name Yasuke. As a samurai, he was granted a servant, a house and stipend.[9] Yasuke accompanied Nobunaga until his death and was present at the Honnō-ji Incident. Afterwards, Yasuke was sent back to the Jesuits. There are no records of him afterwards.

Birth and early life

Yasuke is the earliest known African to appear in Japanese historical records, though few records exist. Much of what is known about Yasuke appears in fragmentary accounts in the letters of the Jesuit missionary Luís Fróis, Ōta Gyūichi's Shinchō Kōki (信長公記, Nobunaga Official Chronicle), Matsudaira Ietada's Matsudaira Ietada Nikki (松平家忠日記, Matsudaira Ietada Diary), Jean Crasset's Histoire de l'église du Japon and François Solier's Histoire Ecclesiastique des Isles et Royaumes du Japon.[10] His confirmed period of stay in Japan was about three years, from 17 August 1579 to 21 June 1582.

The name Yasuke was given to him by Nobunaga.[11] His real name[a], date of birth, family structure, place of birth, ethnicity and native language are unknown.

Yasuke had African roots, and Luís Fróis wrote of Yasuke as Cafre[b] in his letters.[10] Crasset states that Yasuke was a servant brought from India when Alessandro Valignano came to Japan, while Solier states that he was from Mozambique, then a Portuguese colony.[14][15][16] It has been suggested that Yasuke was likely a Muslim.[17]

Documented life in Japan

Oda Nobunaga, late 16th-century depiction

In 1579, Yasuke arrived in Japan in the service of the Italian Jesuit missionary Alessandro Valignano, Visitor of Missions in the Indies, in India.[8][15] Valignano had been appointed the Visitor (inspector) of the Jesuit missions in the Indies (which at that time meant East Africa, South, Southeast, and East Asia). Valignano's party spent the first two years of their stay in Japan, mainly in Kyushu.[10]

Entering 1581, Valignano decided to visit the capital Kyoto as an envoy. He wanted to have an audience with Oda Nobunaga, the most powerful man in Japan, to ensure the Jesuits' missionary work before leaving Japan.[10] These events are recorded in a 1581 letter Luís Fróis wrote to Lourenço Mexia, and in the 1582 Annual Report of the Jesuit Mission in Japan also by Fróis. These were published in Cartas que os padres e irmãos da Companhia de Jesus escreverão dos reynos de Japão e China II (1598), normally known simply as Cartas.[18][19] On 27 March 1581, Valignano, together with Luís Fróis, who had arrived in Japan earlier, had an audience with Nobunaga, and Yasuke is said to have accompanied them as an attendant.[20]

The Jesuit Luís Fróis wrote that while in the capital, a melee broke out among the local townsfolk who fought amongst themselves to catch a glimpse of Yasuke, breaking down the door of a Jesuit residence in the process and ended in a number of deaths and injuries among the Japanese.[2][8] Luís Fróis's Annual Report on Japan states that Nobunaga also longed to see a black man, and summoned him.[8] Fr. Organtino took Yasuke to Nobunaga, who upon seeing a black man for the first time, refused to believe that his skin color was natural and not applied later, and made him remove his clothes from the belt upwards.[19] Valignano describes how Nobunaga, thinking that he might have ink on his body, made him take off his clothes and wash his body, but the more he washed and scrubbed, the darker his skin became.[20][21] Nobunaga's children attended the event and one of his nephews gave Yasuke a sum of money.[22][19]

The Shinchō Kōki manuscript of the Sonkeikaku Bunko (尊経閣文庫) archives describes Yasuke as follows:[23][10][2]

On the 23rd of the Second Month, a blackamoor came from the Kirishitan Country. He appeared to be twenty-six or twenty-seven years old. Black over his whole body, just like an ox, this man looked robust and had a good demeanor. What is more, his formidable strength surpassed that of ten men. The Bateren brought him along by way of paying his respects to Nobunaga. Indeed, it was owing to Nobunaga’s power and his glory that yet unheard-of treasures from the Three Countries and curiosities of this kind came to be seen here time and again, a blessing indeed.[24]

Alessandro Valignano, late 16th-century depiction

Nobunaga was impressed by Yasuke and asked Valignano to give him over.[8] He gave him the Japanese name Yasuke,[c][3] accepted him as attendant at his side and made him the first recorded foreigner to receive the title of samurai.[25] Yasuke served as a kind of bodyguard to Nobunaga, was granted the honor of being his sword-bearer, and was occasionally allowed to share meals with the warlord, a privilege extended to few other vassals.[26][27]

The Shinchō Kōki states:

A black man was taken on as a vassal by Nobunaga-sama and received a stipend. His name was decided to be Yasuke. He was also given a short sword and a house. He was sometimes made to carry Nobunaga-sama's tools.[20][failed verification]

Father Lourenço Mexía wrote in a letter to Father Pero da Fonseca dated 8 October 1581:[28]

The black man understood a little Japanese, and Nobunaga never tired of talking with him. And because he was strong and could do a few tricks, Nobunaga took great pleasure in protecting him and had him roam around the city of Kyoto with an attendant. Some people in the town thought that Nobunaga might make him as tono ("lord").

Yasuke next appears in historical records on 11 May 1582. The Ietada Diary of Matsudaira Ietada, a vassal of Tokugawa Ieyasu, mentions that Yasuke accompanied Nobunaga on his inspection tour of the region after he destroyed his long-time arch-enemy, the Takeda clan of Kai.[20][10] The description of 11 May 1582 states:

Nobunaga-sama was accompanied by a black man who was presented to him by the missionaries and to whom he gave a stipend. His body was black like ink and he was 6 shaku 2 bu [182.4 cm or near 6 feet] tall. His name was said to be Yasuke.

On 14 May, Yasuke departed for Echizen Province with Fróis and the other Christians.[d][29] They returned to Kyoto on 30 May.[30]

The Honnō-ji Incident

On 21 June 1582, Oda Nobunaga was betrayed and attacked by his senior vassal Akechi Mitsuhide in the Honnō-ji Incident and Yasuke was serving near Nobunaga at this time.[31] After his lord was forced to commit suicide, Yasuke was captured and later released.[3] He later went to Nijō Shin-gosho, the residence of Nobunaga's heir, Nobutada, where he engaged the Akechi forces and eventually surrendered.[31] After being defeated, Nobutada also committed seppuku.[32]

A black man whom the visitor [Valignano] sent to Nobunaga went to the house of Nobunaga's son after his death and was fighting for quite a long time, when a vassal of Akechi approached him and said, "Do not be afraid, give me that sword", so he gave him the sword. The vassal asked Akechi what should be done with the black man, and he said, "A black slave is an animal (bestial) and knows nothing, nor is he Japanese, so do not kill him, and place him in the custody at the cathedral of Padre in India."[20]

There are no historical documents to show the true meaning of Mitsuhide's statement, and it is not known whether it was a sign of his discriminatory mindset or an expedient to save Yasuke's life.[20][33]

As a result, Yasuke was sent to the Nanban-ji and treated by Jesuit missionaries.[20][10] It is certain that Yasuke did not die, as Luís Fróis wrote five months after the Honnō-ji Incident, thanking God that he did not lose his life.[10] However, there are no historical sources about him since then and it is not clear what happened to him afterwards.[20]

Possible depictions of Yasuke

Detail from the Sumō Yūrakuzu Byōbu, drawn in 1605. It has been suggested that the black man on the left is Yasuke.

The Sumō Yūrakuzu Byōbu (相撲遊楽図屏風, Sakai City Museum collection), drawn in 1605 by an anonymous artist, depicts a dark-skinned man wrestling a Japanese man in the presence of noble samurai. There are various theories regarding the work: some believe that this samurai is Oda Nobunaga or Toyotomi Hidetsugu, while others believe that the dark-skinned man wrestling in the center is Yasuke and the one further to the right of the wrestlers (not depicted in the detailed image), playing the role of a gyōji (referee), is Oda Nobunaga.[33][34]

Rimpa-style suzuri-bako, depicting a dark-skinned man in Portuguese clothing

An ink-stone box (suzuri-bako) made by a Rinpa artist in the 1590s, owned by Museu do Caramulo [pt], depicts a black man wearing Portuguese high-class clothing. Author Thomas Lockley argues that it could be Yasuke, as he does not appear to be subservient to the other Portuguese man in the work.[35]

However, none of these theories are supported by firm historical evidence. Therefore, it is not possible to determine with certainty whether any of these works depicts Yasuke.[citation needed] Human trafficking was rampant in the world at the time, and it was not uncommon for individual Africans and other people from European colonial areas to come to Japan as followers and slaves of Jesuit missionaries and visitors.[20]

Nanban byōbu (painted by Kano Naizen), Europeans and their African followers

A Nanban byōbu (南蛮屏風, folding screen featuring scenes of Europeans) painted by Kanō Naizen, a painter active in the same period, depicts dark-skinned followers holding parasols over Europeans.[31]

Other references to people who appear to be African can be found in various records from other parts of Japan relating to this period, such as Toyotomi Hideyoshi rewarding the Cafre[b] for their dancing.[23]

  • In 1968, author Yoshio Kurusu and artist Genjirō Mita published a children's book about Yasuke titled Kurosuke (くろ助). The following year, the book won the Japanese Association of Writers for Children Prize (日本児童文学者協会賞, Nihon Jidō Bungakusha Kyōkai-shō).[36][37][38]
  • Yasuke inspired the 1971 satirical novel Kuronbō (黒ん坊) by Shūsaku Endō.[39][40]
  • Yasuke appears in the 2008 novel Momoyama Beat Tribe [ja] as one of the main characters. This novel was later made into a play in 2017.[41]
  • Yasuke plays a minor role in the 2005 to 2017 manga series Hyouge Mono by Yoshihiro Yamada.[42]
  • Yasuke is featured in the 2016 to 2020 manga series Nobunaga o Koroshita Otoko (信長を殺した男, "The Man Who Killed Nobunaga") by Akechi Kenzaburō and Yutaka Tōdō.[42]
  • Yasuke appears as Alessandro Valignano's servant in volume 29 of the ongoing manga series Nobunaga no Shefu [ja] ("Nobunaga's Chef") by Takurō Kajikawa.[42]
  • The ongoing time-travel manga series Nobunaga Concerto by Ayumi Ishii portrays Yasuke as a Black baseball player from the present day.[42]
  • Yasuke was the inspiration for Takashi Okazaki's Afro Samurai franchise.[36]
  • The 2017 video game Nioh and its 2020 sequel feature a portrayal of Yasuke, voiced by Richie Campbell.[40][43]
  • In March 2017, Lionsgate announced plans for a live-action film about Yasuke titled Black Samurai. Michael De Luca and Stephen L'Heureux would serve as producers in a co-production between De Luca Productions and Solipsist Films, with Gregory Widen as the screenwriter.[44] In May 2019, Deadline reported that the film, retitled Yasuke, had left Lionsgate for Picturestart, with Doug Miro replacing Widen as the screenwriter. Chadwick Boseman signed on to portray Yasuke in the film and to serve as a co-producer through his production company, Xception Content.[45][46] In August 2020, Boseman died of colon cancer.[47] As of September 2021, Picturestart's official website states that the film is "in development".[48]
  • In April 2019, MGM announced plans for their own live-action film about Yasuke, to be produced by Andrew Mittman and Lloyd Braun of Whalerock Industries, with a script written by Stuart C. Paul.[49]
  • Yasuke is the main protagonist in the 2021 Netflix anime series Yasuke, created by LeSean Thomas and animated by MAPPA. He is voiced by Jun Soejima in Japanese and LaKeith Stanfield in English.[50][51]
  • Koei Tecmo's 2021 video game Samurai Warriors 5 includes Yasuke as a playable character, voiced by Paddy Ryan.[52]
  • A black samurai inspired by Yasuke, named Nagoriyuki, appears in Arc System Works' 2021 fighting game Guilty Gear Strive.[53]
  • In February 2023, the Brazilian samba school Mocidade Alegre of the São Paulo city carnival performed a samba-song about Yasuke, winning that year's competition.[54]
  • In April 2024, a new feature film spec script titled Black Samurai written by Blitz Bazawule was acquired by Warner Bros. for Bazawule to direct.[55]
  • On 15 May 2024, Ubisoft announced that Yasuke would be a primary character in the upcoming video game Assassin's Creed Shadows.[56] This caused controversy, with some fans complaining that he was not a "real" samurai and criticizing Ubisoft for creating a game set in Japan with one of the leading characters not being Japanese.[57]

See also


  1. ^ Thomas Lockley suggests that Nobunaga may have heard Valignano's group pronounce the name "Isake" (Jewish name "Isaac") and named him "Yasuke", or that Nobunaga may have learnt that Yasuke was from the Yao people of northern Mozambique and added suke, a common Japanese male name, to his name, making it "Yaosuke" (shortened then to "Yasuke"). In 2013, a Japanese TBS television program titled Sekai Fushigi Hakken! (世界ふしぎ発見!, "Discovery of the World's Mysteries!") suggested that Yasuke was a Makua named "Yasufe".[12] However, these are their speculations and have no basis.[13]
  2. ^ a b "Cafre" is a word of Arabic origin and referred to the inhabitants of the area around the east coast of Africa (Swahili Coast) at the time.
  3. ^ The origin of his name is unknown.
  4. ^ Midori Fujita says that during this trip they met local warlords such as Shibata Katsutoyo, Hashiba Hidekatsu, and Shibata Katsuie.



  1. ^ Murakami, Naojiro; Yanagitani, Takeo (2002). イエズス会日本年報 上 [Society of Jesus – Japan Annual Report, First Volume]. New Foreign Country (in Japanese). Maruzen-Yushodo. ISBN 978-4-8419-1000-1.
  2. ^ a b c Russell, John G. (1 January 2007). "Excluded Presence: Shoguns, Minstrels, Bodyguards, and Japan's Encounters with the Black Other" (PDF). Zinbun 40, Kyoto University. 40: 15–51. doi:10.14989/71097. Archived (PDF) from the original on 17 May 2024. Retrieved 19 May 2024. The most well-documented case is that Yasuke, a Mozambican brought to Japan by the Italian Jesuit Alessandro Valignano
  3. ^ a b c Wright, David (1998). "The Use of Race and Racial Perceptions Among Asians and Blacks: The Case of the Japanese and African Americans". Hitotsubashi Journal of Social Studies. 30 (2): 135–152. ISSN 0073-280X. JSTOR 43294433. Archived from the original on 13 March 2023. Retrieved 19 May 2024. In 1581, a Jesuit priest in the city of Kyoto had among his entourage an African
  4. ^ Lopez-Vera, Jonathan (2020). A History of the Samurai: Legendary Warriors of Japan. Tuttle Publishing. pp. 140–141. The name given to this black slave was Yasuke (until recently the reason for this was unknown—investigations carried out in Japan not long ago claim his real name was Yasufe) and from then on he always accompanied Nobunaga as a kind of bodyguard. It is worth pointing out that henceforth he was no longer a slave, since he received a salary for being in the daimyō's service and enjoyed the same comforts as other vassals. He was granted the rank of samurai and occasionally even shared a table with Nobunaga himself, a privilege few of his trusted vassals were afforded.
  5. ^ Atkins, E. Taylor (2023). A History of Popular Culture in Japan: From the Seventeenth Century to the Present (2nd ed.). Bloomsbury Academic. p. 72. Impressed with Yasuke's height and strength (which "surpassed that of ten men"), Nobunaga gave him a sword signifying bushi status. Yasuke served as Nobunaga's retainer and conversation partner for the last year of the warlord's life, defending Azuchi castle from the traitorous Akechi forces in 1582, where Nobunaga committed ritual suicide (seppuku). Although there are no known portraits of the "African samurai," there are some pictorial depictions of dark-skinned men (in one of which he is sumo wrestling) from the early Edo period that historians speculate could be Yasuke.
  6. ^ Germain, Jacquelyne (10 January 2023). "Who Was Yasuke, Japan's First Black Samurai?". Smithsonian Magazine. Retrieved 27 June 2024.
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  15. ^ a b Crasset 1925, p. 384 (number of frames 207)
  16. ^ Solier, François (1627–1629). Histoire ecclesiastique des isles et royaumes du Japon [Ecclesiastical History of the Isles and Kingdoms of Japan] (in French). Vol. 1. p. 444. Archived from the original on 8 July 2024. Retrieved 8 July 2024. Or auoit le Pere Alexandre mené auecſoy des Indes vn valet More, auſſi noir que ſont les Ethiopiens de la Guinee, mais natif du Mozambic, & de ceux qu'on nomme proprement Cafres, habitans vers le Cap de Bonne eſperãce. [Now Father Alexander had taken with him from India a Moor valet, as black as the Ethiopians of Guinea are, but a native of Mozambique, and one of those who are properly called Kaffirs, living near the Cape of Good Hope.]
  17. ^ Morris, James Harry (2 January 2018). "Christian–Muslim Relations in China and Japan in the Sixteenth and Early Seventeenth Centuries". Islam and Christian–Muslim Relations. 29 (1): 37–55. doi:10.1080/09596410.2017.1401797. ISSN 0959-6410. Archived from the original on 18 May 2024. Retrieved 18 May 2024.
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  23. ^ a b "第14回 アフリカの日本、日本のアフリカ 第2章 日本に渡ったアフリカ人" [Part 14: Japan in Africa, Africa in Japan Chapter 2: Africans who came to Japan]. 本の万華鏡 (in Japanese). National Diet Library. Archived from the original on 23 October 2023. Retrieved 12 September 2023.
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Further reading

  • Matsuda, Kiichi, ed., Jūroku-jūnanaseiki Iezusukai Nihon Hōkokushuu, Hōdōsha, 1987–1998.
  • Ōta, Gyūichi, Shinchō Kōki, 1622.