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The true Story of Yasuke

rs=w_1280Ok all you Wakanda fans, in this post we are dealing with history only, no racial bias, no fantasy “wokeness”, or revisionist nonsense… just the facts.


We will begin with the fact that Yasuke was a real person, he did exist, he was of African descent and he was put into the service of Oda Nobunaga. This is fact, and is not disputed.

What is disputed are all the revisionist stories of Yasuke as a great warrior, as  having been awarded Samurai status, and earning respect of the Japanese people and other Damiyo that he encountered in the service of the Oda…  THIS IS NOT FACT.

Romantic stories of the famed Black Samurai are nothing more than fables no more real than the futuristic comic book land of Wakanda.

Recent books  by authors such  as Thomas Lockley provide a plethora of speculation portrayed as fact, typically referencing historical documents and then interpreting them in a way to fit the narrative that sells books.

However we won’t go to far into the motivations of authors and commercialization of romantic stories, these have their purpose and remaining true to the historical records is rarely one of them.

Here is a high level overview based upon known recorded facts…

Yasuke arrived in Japan in 1579 in service of the Italian Jesuit missionary Alessandro Valignano, who had been appointed the Visitor (inspector) of the Jesuit missions in the Indies (East Africa, South and East Asia). He accompanied Valignano when the latter came to the Kyoto area in March 1581 and his appearance caused a lot of interest with the local people.

According to Histoire ecclésiastique des isles et royaumes du Japon, written by François Solier of the Society of Jesus in 1627, Yasuke was likely from Mozambique however this is not confirmed.

When Yasuke was presented to Oda Nobunaga, the Japanese Daimyō thought that his skin must have been coloured with black ink. Nobunaga had him strip from the waist up and made him scrub his skin. These events are recorded in a 1581 letter of the Jesuit Luís Fróis to Lourenço Mexia, and in the 1582 Annual Report of the Jesuit Mission in Japan, also by Fróis.

These accounts were also  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.

“When Nobunaga realized that the African’s skin was indeed black, he took an interest in him.”

According to a Japanese accounting of Yaskue states: “On the 23rd of the 2nd month [23 March 1581], a black page came from the Christian countries. The man was healthy with a good demeanour and Nobunaga praised Yasuke’s strength. 

Some say that Yasuke could speak or was taught Japanese, and it is stated Nobunaga enjoyed talking with him. However, it is more likely that a Jesuit missionary translated for them, in order to control the dialogue as they were not ones to miss an opportunity to interact with Nobunaga in order to advance their mission.

Reportedly, Nobunaga’s nephew gave him a sum of money at this first meeting, for his travels, and on 14 May, Yasuke departed for Echizen Province with Fróis and the other Christians.

During this trip, they met local warlords such as Shibata Katsutoyo, Hashiba Hidekatsu, and Shibata Katsuie,  They returned to Kyoto on 30 May.

At some point, although when is not exactly clear, Yasuke entered Nobunaga’s service.

Yasuke was also mentioned in the prototype of Shinchō ki owned by Sonkeikaku Bunko , the archives of the Maeda clan.

According to this, the black man named Yasuke was given his own residence and a short, ceremonial katana by Nobunaga. Nobunaga also assigned him the duty of weapon bearer (much to the annoyance of actual samurai)

Here is where the facts morph from what is known, to what is “wished for”…

Nobunaga had a propensity for the unique, and he was particularly interested in all things foreign. Clearly he was fascinated by Yasuke, and this was documented to be to the chagrin of many of his top generals such as Akechi Mitsuhide, who is reported to have been disgusted by the site of Yasuke, and saw him as nothing more than a wild beast.

After the Battle of Tenmokuzan, Nobunaga led his force, including Yasuke, and inspected the former territory of the Takeda clan. So people make the assumption that Yasuke actually fought in this battle, and that he donned Samurai armor and fought valiantly as a samurai hero.

Fact check: A sword bearer stays behind with the general camp, near to the lord, they don’t go out on the battlefield, and there is ABSOLUTELY POSITVELY NO RECORD OF YASUKE FIGHTING IN ANY BATTLE!

There is also NO RECORD of Yasuke receiving martial arts training, or use of the Japanese sword, either when in the service of Nobunaga or the years prior.

The truth is that his time with Nobunaga was limited, as they first met in 1581 and Oda Nobunaga was dead a year later. This is hardly enough time for Yasuke to be trained to be the great warrior all the Waukanda dreamers want him to be.

Yasuke as a Samurai?  

Sadly, for either commercial purpose, or some social equity rationale, some people attempt to equate Yasuke as a non Japanese Samurai in the same way the English sailor William Adams (Pilot) was later viewed.

However Adams was actually presented Samurai status, and  there is no record of Yasuke being bestowed similar Samurai status. The FACTs are that Oda Nobunaga made him a servant for a few months.

A few months… not a lifetime of service dedicated to serving his lord, ready to give his life in the service of the Oda.

Another fact that is clear;  Yasuke was kept around as talking piece, an oddity for Nobunaga to show off, much in the same way he enjoyed irking other Daimyo by showing them Azai Nagamasa’s gold plated skull.

Fate of Yasuke

They say that Yasuke was present at Honnoji and took part in the fighting that lead to Nobunagas death.

However it is recorded that perhaps only a single individual from the Oda survived the Honnoji incident and it wasn’t Yaskuke.

Yasuke was alleged to have been taken by Mitsuhide troops soon after the Honnoji incident, but Akechi had his men return him to the Christian missionaries stating that you don’t kill the beast, for the fault of his master.

Was he an Honorable Samurai?

Despite modern romanticized versions of Yasuke, if he was this great Samurai some would have you believe, then it stands to reason that he would have either fought to the death at Honnoji, or at the very least he would have committed Seppuku.

Nope…. didn’t happen.

Or if he was an honorable Samurai like the 47 Ronin, at the very least he would have begged to join Hideyoshi in the fight against Mitsuhide and gotten revenge…. don’t you think?

Nope,  didn’t happen

All that is known about the fate of Yaskue , is that he was seen with the Christian Missionaries after Nobunagas death and reportedly fled the country soon after.

So while people may attempt to romanticize the story of Yasuke to suit their agenda, the truth is that such blatantly false attempts to rewrite history are pure revisionism and nothing more.

Faking history because it makes you “feel good” does nothing but a disservice to all students of the culture, the Japanese nation and the historical record.

There was no black samurai, no great Yasuke, no hero…. just a man who was a victim of circumstance and the times he lived in,

In conclusion

The last decade brought us the phenomenon of Fake News, the last thing the world needs now is Fake History!