Skip to content

History’s Only African Samurai

When a 6-foot-tall African slave landed in Japan, he stuck out like a sore thumb. People lost all modesty and nearly caused a stampede trying to get a closer look. Such a sight was so foreign in Kyoto — he was one of the first Africans to ever arrive on the island — that a powerful Japanese warlord ordered him to remove his clothes while a flock of servants tried to scrub the “black ink” off his skin. Little did the warlord know that the slave was destined to become the world’s first Black samurai.  Yasuke was abducted from his home somewhere in central or western Africa — or Mozambique, historians say — and sold to a Jesuit priest named Alessandro Valignano. His celebrity status soon piqued the curiosity of Oda Nobunaga, a medieval Japanese warlord who was striving to unify Japan and bring peace to a country racked by civil war. Nobunaga praised Yasuke’s strength and stature, describing “his might as that of 10 men,” and brought him on as his feudal bodyguard.