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BornMozambique (most likely)
DiedAfter June 1582
AllegianceMon-Oda.png Oda clan, Oda Nobunaga
RankRetainer, weapon-bearer, Samurai[1][2]

Yasuke (弥助 or 弥介) was a man of African origin who served as a retainer and weapon-bearer to the Japanese daimyō Oda Nobunaga.[4]

In 1579, Yasuke arrived in Japan in the service of the Italian Jesuit missionary Alessandro Valignano, Visitor of Missions in the Indies, in India. Yasuke was one of the several Africans to have come with the Portuguese to Japan during the Nanban trade and is thought by some to have been the first African that Nobunaga had ever seen.[5][failed verification][6] He was also present during the Honnō-ji Incident, the forced suicide of Nobunaga at the hands of his general Akechi Mitsuhide on 21 June 1582.[7]

Theories about early life[edit]

According to Histoire ecclésiastique des isles et royaumes du Japon, written by Jesuit priest François Solier of the Society of Jesus in 1627, Yasuke was likely from Mozambique.[1][8] This would be consistent with other accounts of Africans from Mozambique in Japan. According to Fujita Midori, the first African people who came to Japan were Mozambican. They reached Japan in 1546 as shipmates or slaves who served Portuguese captain Jorge Álvares (not to be confused with another explorer of the same name who died in 1521).[9]

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.[10] This name seems to be derived from the more popular Mozambican name Issufo.[11] However, the program provided little evidence for its conclusions. The Makua are not documented as having had any significant contact with the Portuguese based in Mozambique until 1585.[12]

Yasuke may have been a member of the Yao people,[13] or from the more inland area of Mozambique.[14] Yao people were just coming into contact with the Portuguese at the time, which might account for his name: that is, Yao added to the common Japanese male name suffix of suke produces Yao-suke.[13]

Yasuke may have been a slave. Thomas Lockley acknowledges it is possible that Yasuke was enslaved as a child and sent to India, where he could have been employed as a military slave or an indentured soldier, but that he likely obtained his freedom before meeting Valignano.[15][16] Valignano employed him as bodyguard and valet.

Sudanese claims[edit]

Another claim suggests that Yasuke was a Dinka from South Sudan. He was famous for his height and extremely dark skin color. The Dinka people are among the tallest in Africa, and have significantly darker skin compared to Ethiopians, Eritreans, or Somalis for example. Adult Dinka men had a ritual custom of drawing decorative patterns on their faces by tattooing, but no account of Yasuke having a face pattern was recorded.[17]

Ethiopian claims[edit]

According to another theory, Yasuke was from Ethiopia. Thomas Lockley suggested that this theory is most convincing. Like Yasuke, Ethiopians who were not Jewish (i.e. Beta Israel), Christian, or Muslim were often sold into slavery and called cafre by the Portuguese; they were well‐built and skilled soldiers.[18] According to this theory, his original name might be the Amharic name Yisake or the Portuguese name Isaque, derived from Isaac.[19] Yasufe was also used as a surname in Ethiopia.[20]

Documented life in Japan[edit]

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 (which at that time meant East Africa, South, Southeast, and East Asia). He accompanied Valignano when the latter came to the capital area in March 1581 and his appearance caused much interest with the local people.[21]

When Yasuke was presented to Oda Nobunaga, the Japanese daimyō thought that his skin must have been colored with black ink. Nobunaga had him strip from the waist up and made him scrub his skin.[22] 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.[23][24] When Nobunaga realized that the African's skin was indeed black, he took an interest in him.

The Lord Nobunaga Chronicle (信長公記, Shinchō Kōki) corroborates Fróis's account.[25] It describes the meeting thus: "On the 23rd of the 2nd month [23 March 1581], a black page (黒坊主, kuro-bōzu) came from the Christian countries. The man was described as robust, black as a bull, and of fine character.[25] Nobunaga's nephew gave him a sum of money at this first meeting."[26] 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.[27] They returned to Kyoto on 30 May.[28]

It is likely that Yasuke could speak or was taught Japanese, perhaps due to Valignano's efforts to ensure his missionaries adapted well to the local culture.[29] Nobunaga enjoyed talking with him (there is no indication that Nobunaga spoke Portuguese, and it is unlikely that Yasuke would have been able to communicate in classical Chinese, the East Asian lingua franca of the time). He was perhaps the only non-Japanese retainer that Nobunaga had in his service, which could explain Nobunaga's interest in him.[29] Yasuke was mentioned in a variant text of the Shinchō-ki (信長記) owned by Sonkeikaku Bunko (尊経閣文庫), the archives of the Maeda clan.[30] According to this, the black man named Yasuke (弥助) was given his own residence and a short, ceremonial katana[dubious ] by Nobunaga. Nobunaga also assigned him the duty of weapon bearer.[31][failed verification]

After the Battle of Tenmokuzan, Nobunaga led his force, including Yasuke, and inspected the former territory of the Takeda clan. On his way back, he met Tokugawa Ieyasu. Matsudaira Ietada, the retainer of Ieyasu described Yasuke as "6 shaku 2 sun (6 ft. 2 in., or 188 cm.). He was black, and his skin was like charcoal." Matsudaira stated that he was named Yasuke (弥介).[32]

In June 1582, Nobunaga was attacked and forced to commit seppuku in Honnō-ji in Kyoto by the army of Akechi Mitsuhide. Yasuke was there at the time and helped fight the Akechi forces. Immediately after Nobunaga's death, Yasuke went to join Nobunaga's heir Oda Nobutada, who was trying to rally the Oda forces at Nijō Castle. Yasuke fought alongside the Nobutada forces but was eventually captured. When Yasuke was presented to Akechi, the warlord allegedly said that the black man was an animal as well as not Japanese and should thus not be killed, but taken to the Christian church in Kyoto, the Nanbanji (南蛮寺).[22][3] However, there is some doubt regarding the credibility of this fate.[33][25] There is no further written information about him after this.

Possible depictions in art[edit]

Rinpa-style ink-stone box (suzuri-bako), possibly Yasuke
Detail of Sumō Yūrakuzu Byōbu, depicting a dark-skinned sumo wrestler, drawn in 1605

There is no confirmed portrait of Yasuke drawn by a contemporary.

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, who does not appear to be subordinate to the Portuguese. It is possible that this man is Yasuke in Portuguese attire.[34]

Sumō Yūrakuzu Byōbu (相撲遊楽図屏風), drawn in 1605 by an anonymous artist, depicts a dark-skinned wrestler with a Japanese man in the presence of noble samurai. This samurai is said to be Oda Nobunaga or Toyotomi Hidetsugu.[35] Nobunaga was famous for his fondness for sumo and held many official matches. This byōbu is owned by Sakai City Museum.[35]

In popular culture[edit]

  • Yasuke is the main protagonist in the 2022 mobile Tactical RPG Yasuke - Black Ronin.[36]
  • 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).[37][38][39]
  • Yasuke inspired the 1971 satirical novel Kuronbō (黒ん坊) by Shūsaku Endō.[40][41]
  • Since the late 20th century, various Japanese "period drama" (jidaigeki) television series and manga series have been produced about Yasuke.[37]
  • 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.[42]
  • Yasuke plays a minor role in the 2005 to 2017 manga series Hyouge Mono by Yoshihiro Yamada.[43]
  • 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.[43]
  • 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.[43]
  • The ongoing time-travel manga series Nobunaga Concerto by Ayumi Ishii portrays Yasuke as a Black baseball player from the present day.[43]
  • It has been claimed that the Takashi Okazaki's Afro Samurai franchise is based on Yasuke.[37]
  • The 2017 video game Nioh and its 2020 sequel feature a fictional portrayal of Yasuke, voiced by Richie Campbell.[41][44]
  • 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.[45] 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.[46][47] In August 2020, Boseman died of colon cancer.[48] As of September 2021, Picturestart's official website states that the film is "in development".[49]
  • 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.[50]
  • 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.[51][52]
  • Koei Tecmo's 2021 video game Samurai Warriors 5 includes Yasuke as a playable character, voiced by Paddy Ryan.[53][54][55]
  • A black samurai inspired by Yasuke, named Nagoriyuki, appears in Arc System Works' 2021 fighting game Guilty Gear Strive.[56]
  • 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.[57]

See also[edit]



  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. ^ Mohamud, Naima (14 October 2019). "The mysterious life of an African samurai". BBC News. Archived from the original on 1 November 2020.
  3. ^ a b 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.
  4. ^ Matsudaira, Ietada (1968). Ietada Nikki. Kyoto: Rinsen Shoten. pp. 14–15. ISBN 978-4-04-703304-7.
  5. ^ Cooper 1965, pp. 41–43
  6. ^ Cooper 1965, p. 66
  7. ^ Ōta, Gyūichi (2017). Shinchō Kōki. Tokyo: Chikuma Shobō. ISBN 978-4-480-09777-4.
  8. ^ Histoire ecclésiastique des isles et royaumes du Japon [Ecclesiastical History of the Isles and Kingdoms of Japan] (in French). Vol. 1. p. 444.
  9. ^ Fujita 2005, pp. 1–2.
  10. ^ 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.
  11. ^ Lockley 2017, pp. 199–200
  12. ^ Lockley 2017, pp. 180–181
  13. ^ a b Lockley 2017, pp. 200–202
  14. ^ Lockley 2017, pp. 181–182
  15. ^ "The True Story of Yasuke, the Legendary Black Samurai Behind Netflix's New Anime Series". Time. Retrieved 12 November 2021.
  16. ^ Aga Khan Museum (18 February 2021), Lunchtime Lecture — Yasuke: An African Warrior in Japan with Prof. Thomas Lockley, retrieved 17 November 2021
  17. ^ Lockley 2017, pp. 187–88.
  18. ^ Lockley 2017, pp. 193–94.
  19. ^ Lockley 2017, pp. 198–202.
  20. ^ Lockley 2017, p. 200.
  21. ^ Hollingworth, William (15 June 2019). "'African Samurai': The story of Yasuke – black samurai and warlord's confidant". The Japan Times. Retrieved 18 December 2019.
  22. ^ a b Fujita 2005, pp. 8–9.
  23. ^ 1581 letters of the Jesuits Luis Frois and Lorenço Mexia
  24. ^ 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)
  25. ^ a b c 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.
  26. ^ Lockley 2017, p. 65.
  27. ^ Fujita 2005, pp. 7–8.
  28. ^ Fujita 2005, p. 8.
  29. ^ a b Lockley 2016.
  30. ^ 然に彼黒坊被成御扶持、名をハ号弥助と、さや巻之のし付幷私宅等迄被仰付、依時御道具なともたさせられ候、
  31. ^ Kaneko Hiraku, 「織田信長という歴史 『信長記』の彼方へ」、Bensei Shuppan: Tokyo, 2009, pp. 311–12.
  32. ^ Lockley 2017, pp. 77–79.
  33. ^ 咲村庵 『明智光秀の正体』 73頁 2017年 ブイツーソリューション
  34. ^ Lockley 2017, pp. 147–148
  35. ^ a b 『第八回特別展 すもう 天下の力士』、葛城市博物館、2007年、10p
  36. ^ "Sankofa Games Announces Tactical RPG Yasuke - Black Ronin". Gamerhub. Retrieved 17 June 2022.
  37. ^ 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.
  38. ^ "Kuro-suke [Black One]". International Institute for Children's Literature, Osaka. Retrieved 13 May 2021.
  39. ^ くろ助. Digital Daijisen Plus (in Japanese). Shogakukan. Retrieved 13 May 2021 – via Kotobank.
  40. ^ 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?
  41. ^ a b Berlatsky, Noah (2 May 2021). "The Real Yasuke Is Far More Interesting Than His Netflix Show". Foreign Policy. Retrieved 12 May 2021.
  42. ^ 舞台「桃山ビート・トライブ Momoyama Beat Tribe」. Mottorekishi.com. Retrieved 21 May 2021.
  43. ^ 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.
  44. ^ "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)
  45. ^ Fleming, Mike Jr. (23 March 2017). "Lionsgate Taps 'Highlander' Creator Gregory Widen To Script Film On First Black Samurai". Deadline. Retrieved 12 May 2021.
  46. ^ 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.
  47. ^ Vlessing, Etan (7 May 2019). "Chadwick Boseman to Star in Samurai Drama 'Yasuke'". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 12 May 2021.
  48. ^ Yamato, Jen (28 August 2020). "'Black Panther' star Chadwick Boseman dies of cancer at 43". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 12 May 2021.
  49. ^ "Yasuke: Not just an action movie, a cultural event". Picturestart. Retrieved 22 September 2021.
  50. ^ Fleming, Mike Jr. (18 April 2019). "MGM Sets Film On 'Yasuke', History's Sole African Samurai". Deadline. Retrieved 12 May 2021.
  51. ^ "Yasuke Anime Unveils Japanese Cast With New Teaser". Anime News Network. 13 April 2021. Retrieved 30 May 2022.
  52. ^ 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.
  53. ^ 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.
  54. ^ "Samurai Warriors 5: Yasuke". Koei Tecmo America. Retrieved 12 May 2021.
  55. ^ "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)
  56. ^ Walker, Ian (26 June 2021). "Guilty Gear Strive's Vampire Samurai Says Black Lives Matter". Kotaku. Retrieved 16 September 2021.
  57. ^ "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.


  • Cooper, Michael (1965). They Came to Japan: An Anthology of European Reports on Japan, 1543–1640. Berkeley: University of California Press. ISBN 0-520-04509-2.
  • Fujita, Midori (2005). アフリカ「発見」日本におけるアフリカ像の変遷 [Discover Africa―History of African image in Japan (World History series)] (in Japanese). Iwanami Shoten. ISBN 978-4-00-026853-0.
  • Lockley, Thomas (February 2017). 信長と弥助 本能寺を生き延びた黒人侍. Translated by Yoshiko Fuji. Ohta Publishing. ISBN 978-4-7783-1556-6.
  • Lockley, Thomas (2016). "The Story of Yasuke: Nobunaga's African Retainer". Ōmon Ronsō. Tokyo: Nihon Daigaku Hōgakubu. 91. ISSN 0288-1411.

Further reading[edit]

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

External links[edit]