The Real Afro Samurai —- The Story of Yasuke,
In the 16th century a young man was taken from his home in Mozambique and sold into slavery, becoming the property of a Jesuit Priest named Alessandro Velignano. Velignano was a missionary who made several trips to Asia, especially China and Japan. In 1579 Velignano went on a missionary trip to Japan, taking his slave with him.
When the African man arrived in Japan, he caused quite a stir as he was 6’ 2” tall and as a black man, certainly stood out in medieval Japan. News of the strange man traveled all over Japan, until eventually the most powerful daimyo Lord Oda Nobunaga learned of the large dark skinned man. Nobunaga requested a personal audience with the man, and upon meeting him had his skin washed to determine if the whole thing was a hoax. When it was found the darkness of his skin could not be washed away, Nobunaga gave him the name “Yasuke” and ordered he be trained as a samurai. Afterwards, Yasuke served as a bodyguard to Oda Nobunaga, taking part in the many battles and campaigns in which Nobunaga eventually would unify Japan. He was paid handsomely for his services, even being granted his own estate.
In 1582 one of Nobunaga’s generals, Akechi Mitsuhide, rebelled against him. The forces of Mitsuhide surround Nobunaga in a shrine, where Nobunaga was either killed in combat or forced to commit suicide. Yasuke escaped the battle and continued his service to the Oda Clan, serving his son Nobutada. Nobutada was also surrounded in his castle, where he was either killed or forced to commit suicide. Yasuke was captured by Akechi’s men and forced to surrender his sword, but he was allowed to live and set free. After the fall of the Nobunaga and Nobutada, Yasuke returned to the Jesuit Missionary and supposedly took up Holy Orders as a priest. Details of his life after being a samurai are unknown.