BornMozambique (most likely)
DiedAfter June 1582
Allegiance Oda clan, Oda Nobunaga
RankRetainer, weapon-bearer[1]

Yasuke (弥助 or 弥介) was a man of African origin who came to Japan in the Sengoku period and became a retainer in the household of Oda Nobunaga.[3] He was employed by the Japanese Sengoku daimyō Oda Nobunaga and served as a koshō (小姓, page or sword-bearer).[4][5] He was neither a menial nor an indentured servant, but a retainer who was given a stipend by Nobunaga.[5]

Birth and early life

Among those whose names have been ascertained, he is the oldest African to appear in Japanese historical records, but his confirmed period of stay in Japan was very short - about three years, from 17 August 1579 to 21 June 1582.[6] There are few historical documents on Yasuke, with only fragmentary accounts in the letters of the Jesuit missionary Luís Fróis, Ōta Gyūichi's Shinchō Kōki (信長公記, Nobunaga Official Chronicle),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.[5]

The name Yasuke was given to him by Nobunaga. His real name is unknown, and it is also unclear what he was called before that.[a] Few details are known about him, including his date of birth, family structure, place of birth, ethnicity and native language.[6]

However, there seems to be no doubt that he had African roots, and Luís Fróis wrote of Yasuke as Cafre[b] in his Letters.[5] Jean Crasset's Histoire de l'eglise du Japon states that Yasuke was a servant brought from India when Alessandro Valignano came to Japan, while François Solier's Histoire Ecclesiastique Des Isles Et Royaumes Du Japon states that he was from Portuguese East Africa (now Mozambique).[1][9][10][11] It is not certain where Valignano and Yasuke met, but it seems likely that it was either in Mozambique or India, as Valignano had made a stopover in Mozambique before coming to Japan, followed by a long stay in India.[c][6][12][13] It is not clear whether Yasuke was a slave or a follower, but if he was enslaved he likely obtained his freedom before meeting Valignano.[14][15]

Documented life in Japan

Oda Nobunaga

In 1579, Yasuke arrived in Japan in the service of the Italian Jesuit missionary Alessandro Valignano, Visitor of Missions in the Indies, in India.[6][9] He 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.[5]

Entering 1581, Valignano decided to visit the capital 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.[5] 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 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.[16][17] 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.[6][13][4]

Luís Fróis's Annual Report on Japan states that Nobunaga also longed to see a black man, and summoned him, and Fr. Organtino took him to him and that Nobunaga, seeing a black man for the first time, refused to believe that his skin colour was natural and not applied later, and made him remove his clothes from the belt upwards. 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.[4][18] The Shinchō Kōki manuscript of the Sonkeikaku Bunko [ja] archives describes him as follows:

A black bōzu (黒坊主, kuro-bōzu)[d] from the Christian country has arrived. He appears to be 26 or 7 years old. The blackness of his body is like that of a bull, and he is healthy and of fine physique. Moreover, he has the strength of more than ten men. The padres came with him and thanked Lord Nobunaga for his permission to proselytise.[3][5][19]

After this Nobunaga took a great liking to him and asked Valignano to give him over.[6][20] He gave him the Japanese name Yasuke,[e] made him a retainer at his side.[5][13] Nobunaga's nephew gave him a sum of money at this first meeting.[21] 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.[4]

Fróis wrote in the annual report of the Jesuits:

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").[f]

After becoming a vassal of the Oda clan, Yasuke followed Nobunaga to Azuchi in Omi Province, where he was appointed a koshō (page).[5][22]

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.[4][5] 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 sun (188 cm or 6 feet, 2 inches) tall. His name was said to be Yasuke.

On 14 May, Yasuke departed for Echizen Province with Fróis and the other Christians.[g][23] They returned to Kyoto on 30 May.[24]

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.[20] After his lord committed suicide, he went to Nijō Shin-gosho, the residence of Nobunaga's heir, Nobutada, where he engaged the Akechi forces.[13][20] Luís Fróis's Annual Report on Japan contains the following statements:

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.[4][22]

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.[4][25] As a result, Yasuke was sent to the Nanban-ji and treated by Jesuit missionaries.[4][5] 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.[5] However, there are no historical sources about him since then and it is not clear what happened to him afterwards.[4][22]

Information rumoured to be Yasuke

Sumō Yūrakuzu Byōbu, drawn in 1605.
Rimpa-style suzuri-bako, depicting a dark-skinned man in Portuguese clothing.
Nanban byōbu (painted by Kano Naizen), Europeans and their African followers.

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: some believe that this samurai is Oda Nobunaga or Toyotomi Hidetsugu, while others believe that the dark-skinned man wrestling in the centre is Yasuke and the one to his right, playing the role of a gyōji, is Oda Nobunaga.[22][25][26]

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 high-class clothing. Thomas Lockley argues that it could be Yasuke, as he does not appear to be subservient to the Portuguese in his Portuguese costume.[27]

However, there is no hard evidence for them and they are all speculation. Therefore, it is not possible to determine whether the person in those byōbu and historical documents is Yasuke or not.[22] Human trafficking was rampant in the world at the time, and it was not uncommon for Africans and other people from European colonial areas to come to Japan as followers and slaves of Jesuit missionaries and visitors.[4][6] Nanban Byōbu (南蛮屏風) painted by Kanō Naizen, a painter active in the same period, depicts dark-skinned followers holding parasols over Europeans.[20] 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.[3][22]

In popular culture

  • 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).[28][29][30]
  • Yasuke inspired the 1971 satirical novel Kuronbō (黒ん坊) by Shūsaku Endō.[31][32]
  • Since the late 20th century, various Japanese "period drama" (jidaigeki) television series and manga series have been produced about Yasuke.[28]
  • Yasuke appears in the 2008 novel Momoyama Beat Tribe (桃山ビート・トライブ) as one of the main characters. This novel was later made into a play in 2017.[33]
  • Yasuke plays a minor role in the 2005 to 2017 manga series Hyouge Mono by Yoshihiro Yamada.[34]
  • 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.[34]
  • Yasuke appears as Alessandro Valignano's servant in volume 29 of the ongoing manga series Nobunaga no Shefu (信長のシェフ, "Nobunaga's Chef") by Takurō Kajikawa.[34]
  • The ongoing time-travel manga series Nobunaga Concerto by Ayumi Ishii portrays Yasuke as a Black baseball player from the present day.[34]
  • It has been claimed that the Takashi Okazaki's Afro Samurai franchise is based on Yasuke.[28]
  • The 2017 video game Nioh and its 2020 sequel feature a fictional portrayal of Yasuke, voiced by Richie Campbell.[32][35]
  • 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.[36] 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.[37][38] In August 2020, Boseman died of colon cancer.[39] As of September 2021, Picturestart's official website states that the film is "in development".[40]
  • 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.[41]
  • 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.[42][43]
  • Koei Tecmo's 2021 video game Samurai Warriors 5 includes Yasuke as a playable character, voiced by Paddy Ryan.[44][45][46]
  • A black samurai inspired by Yasuke, named Nagoriyuki, appears in Arc System Works' 2021 fighting game Guilty Gear Strive.[47]
  • 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.[48]

See also


  1. ^ Thomas Lockley suggests that Nobunaga may have heard Valignano's group pronounce his name Isake (Jewish name Isaac) and named him Yasuke, or that Nobunaga may have learnt that Yasuke was from the Yao tribe of northern Mozambique and added suke, a common Japanese male name, to his name, making it Yaosuke (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.[7] However, these are their speculations and have no basis.[8]
  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. ^ At the time, ships from Europe to India often stopped in Mozambique when passing the Cape of Good Hope on the southern tip of Africa to buy slaves there, in addition to supplying food and drinking water.[4]
  4. ^ Bōzu means a monk, a kid or a shaved head.
  5. ^ The origin of his name is unknown.
  6. ^ It is assumed that 'tono' in this case meant a high position among the samurai, as a lord of a castle would be too high of a position.
  7. ^ Midori Fujita says that during this trip they met local warlords such as Shibata Katsutoyo, Hashiba Hidekatsu, and Shibata Katsuie.



  1. ^ a b "Yasuke: le premier samouraï étranger était africain". Rfi.fr (in French). 2 January 2015. Archived from the original on 14 January 2020.
  2. ^ 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.
  3. ^ a b c "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. Retrieved 12 September 2023.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Ando, Kenji (6 May 2021). "織田信長に仕えた黒人武士「弥助」の生涯とは?ネトフリのアニメ『Yasuke -ヤスケ-』のモデルに" [What was the life of Yasuke, a black warrior who served Oda Nobunaga? The model for the Netflix anime Yasuke]. HuffPost (in Japanese). BuzzFeed Japan. Retrieved 12 September 2023.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l "ハリウッドで映画化!信長に仕えた黒人、弥助とは何者だったのか?" [Movie made in Hollywood! Who was Yasuke, a black man who served Nobunaga?]. WARAKU web (in Japanese). Shogakukan. 30 August 2019. Retrieved 12 September 2023.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g "戦国時代にアフリカから日本へ? 織田信長に仕えた黒人従者「弥助」とは【前編】" [Did he come to Japan from Africa during the Sengoku period? Who is Yasuke, a black servant who served Oda Nobunaga? [Part 1]]. excite news (in Japanese). Excite Japan. 27 September 2020. Retrieved 12 September 2023.
  7. ^ 信長最期の刻 — 本能寺にいた「漆黒のサムライ」を追え! (in Japanese). Archived from the original on 11 June 2013. Retrieved 6 September 2013.
  8. ^ Lockley 2017, pp. 200–202
  9. ^ a b Crasset 1925, p. 384 (number of frames 207)
  10. ^ Solier 1627–1629, p. 444
  11. ^ Histoire ecclésiastique des isles et royaumes du Japon [Ecclesiastical History of the Isles and Kingdoms of Japan] (in French). Vol. 1. p. 444.
  12. ^ Crasset 1925, pp. 427–430 (number of frames 228–230)
  13. ^ a b c d "日本初の黒人武士・弥助〜信長に仕え本能寺で巻き込まれたその後は?" [Japan's first black warrior, Yasuke-What happened after he served Nobunaga and got caught up in Honnoji?]. Busho Japan (in Japanese). Tokyosha. 22 February 2023. Retrieved 12 September 2023.
  14. ^ "The True Story of Yasuke, the Legendary Black Samurai Behind Netflix's New Anime Series". Time. Retrieved 12 November 2021.
  15. ^ Aga Khan Museum (18 February 2021), Lunchtime Lecture — Yasuke: An African Warrior in Japan with Prof. Thomas Lockley, retrieved 17 November 2021
  16. ^ 1581 letters of the Jesuits Luís Fróis and Lorenço Mexia
  17. ^ They came to Japan : an anthology of European reports on Japan, 1543-1640. Michael Cooper. Ann Arbor, Mich.: Center for Japanese Studies, University of Michigan. 1995. p. 71. ISBN 0-939512-73-4. OCLC 33162564.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: others (link)
  18. ^ Fujita 2005, pp. 8–9.
  19. ^ Russell, John G. (March 2008). "Excluded Presence : Shoguns, Minstrels, Bodyguards, and Japan's Encounters with the Black Other". ZINBUN. 40: 15–51. doi:10.14989/71097. ISSN 0084-5515.
  20. ^ a b c d Watanabe, Daimon (19 May 2021). "織田信長が登用した黒人武将・弥助とは、いったい何者なのか" [Who was Yasuke, the black warlord promoted by Oda Nobunaga?]. Yahoo! News (in Japanese). Yahoo! Japan. Retrieved 12 September 2023.
  21. ^ Lockley 2017, p. 65.
  22. ^ a b c d e f "戦国時代にアフリカから日本へ? 織田信長に仕えた黒人従者「弥助」とは【後編】" [Did he come to Japan from Africa during the Sengoku period? Who is Yasuke, a black servant who served Oda Nobunaga? [Part 2]]. excite news (in Japanese). Excite Japan. 29 September 2020. Retrieved 12 September 2023.
  23. ^ Fujita 2005, pp. 7–8.
  24. ^ Fujita 2005, p. 8.
  25. ^ a b Ayukawa, Tetsuya (4 October 2020). "信長に仕え本能寺の変を生き延びた"黒人侍"" [Black Samurai who served Nobunaga and survived the Honnoji Incident]. Aera (in Japanese). The Asahi Shimbun Company. Retrieved 12 September 2023.
  26. ^ 『第八回特別展 すもう 天下の力士』、葛城市博物館、2007年10p
  27. ^ Lockley 2017, pp. 147–148
  28. ^ a b c Jozuka, Eimiko (19 May 2019). "African samurai: The enduring legacy of a black warrior in feudal Japan". CNN. Retrieved 21 May 2019.
  29. ^ "Kuro-suke [Black One]". International Institute for Children's Literature, Osaka. Retrieved 13 May 2021.
  30. ^ くろ助. Digital Daijisen Plus (in Japanese). Shogakukan. Retrieved 13 May 2021 – via Kotobank.
  31. ^ Bridges, Will (2020). "Genre Trouble: Breaking the Law of Genre and Literary Blackness in the Long 1970s". Playing in the Shadows: Fictions of Race and Blackness in Postwar Japanese Literature. Michigan Monograph Series in Japanese Studies. Vol. 88. University of Michigan Press. p. 137. ISBN 978-0-472-07442-6. Retrieved 13 May 2021. ... Kuronbō (Darkie), Endō Shūsaku's (1923–96) 1971 satirical more-fiction-than-history historical fiction of Yasuke and Nobunaga?
  32. ^ a b Berlatsky, Noah (2 May 2021). "The Real Yasuke Is Far More Interesting Than His Netflix Show". Foreign Policy. Retrieved 12 May 2021.
  33. ^ 舞台「桃山ビート・トライブ Momoyama Beat Tribe」. Mottorekishi.com. Retrieved 21 May 2021.
  34. ^ a b c d Kayama, Ryūji (29 April 2021). Netflixアニメ『Yasuke -ヤスケ-』の主人公・弥助、マンガの世界ではどう描かれてきた?. Yahoo! Japan (in Japanese). Retrieved 7 May 2021.
  35. ^ "Yasuke Voice - Nioh (Video Game)". behindthevoiceactors.com. Retrieved 30 May 2022. Check mark indicates role has been confirmed using screenshots of closing credits and other reliable sources.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: postscript (link)
  36. ^ Fleming, Mike Jr. (23 March 2017). "Lionsgate Taps 'Highlander' Creator Gregory Widen To Script Film On First Black Samurai". Deadline. Retrieved 12 May 2021.
  37. ^ Fleming, Mike Jr. (7 May 2019). "Chadwick Boseman To Play African Samurai 'Yasuke' In Deal With Picturestart, De Luca Productions, Solipsist & X●ception Content". Deadline. Retrieved 14 February 2021.
  38. ^ Vlessing, Etan (7 May 2019). "Chadwick Boseman to Star in Samurai Drama 'Yasuke'". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 12 May 2021.
  39. ^ Yamato, Jen (28 August 2020). "'Black Panther' star Chadwick Boseman dies of cancer at 43". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 12 May 2021.
  40. ^ "Yasuke: Not just an action movie, a cultural event". Picturestart. Retrieved 22 September 2021.
  41. ^ Fleming, Mike Jr. (18 April 2019). "MGM Sets Film On 'Yasuke', History's Sole African Samurai". Deadline. Retrieved 12 May 2021.
  42. ^ "Yasuke Anime Unveils Japanese Cast With New Teaser". Anime News Network. 13 April 2021. Retrieved 30 May 2022.
  43. ^ Armstrong, Vanessa (1 April 2021). "Netflix's epic Yasuke trailer finds LaKeith Stanfield as a reluctant ronin in magic & mech-filled Japan". Syfy Wire. Retrieved 3 May 2021.
  44. ^ Romano, Sal (23 April 2021). "Samurai Warriors 5 adds Nobunaga Oda (Mature), Mitsuhide Akechi (Mature), Hanzo Hattori, Sandayu Momochi, Magoichi Saika, and Yasuke". Gematsu. Retrieved 12 May 2021.
  45. ^ "Samurai Warriors 5: Yasuke". Koei Tecmo America. Retrieved 12 May 2021.
  46. ^ "Yasuke - Samurai Warriors 5 (Video Game) - Behind The Voice Actors". behindthevoiceactors.com. Retrieved 30 May 2022. Check mark indicates role has been confirmed using screenshots of closing credits and other reliable sources.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: postscript (link)
  47. ^ Walker, Ian (26 June 2021). "Guilty Gear Strive's Vampire Samurai Says Black Lives Matter". Kotaku. Retrieved 16 September 2021.
  48. ^ "Watch: Sao Paulo carnival champions tell the story of Mozambique's Yasuke, who was a samurai in Japan". Club of Mozambique. 23 February 2023. Retrieved 25 February 2023.


Further reading

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

External links