The samurai has maintained an image of fierceness, mystery, and honor across the mediums of film and literature. While the samurai is a synonymous figure within Japanese culture, an upcoming film will turn its focus on Yasuke, who is said to be the first Black samurai.
Historians have disagreed over Yasuke’s origin, but he was said to have been born around 1555 and was a slave from the Portuguese Mozambique, the name of the African country when it was colonized by Portugal. Yasuke’s country of origin has also been a point of discussion among scholars. What is universally agreed upon is that he traveled to Japan around 1579 with Italian Jesuit missionary Alessandro Vaglignano.
Writings from Portuguese missionary Luís Fróis detail a chaotic series of scenes when Vaglignano and Yasuke arrived in Kyoto. The pair was greeted by warlord Oda Nobunaga who reportedly made the African slave scrub his skin to see if his hue was painted on. Most likely because of his size, which was thought to be 6 feet, a foot taller than many Japanese men, Nobunaga made Yasuke his bodyguard.
Soon after, Yasuke became a high-ranking samurai with his own katana. And unlike many of the military order, Yasuke allegedly dined with the warlord. Yasuke’s reign as a samurai didn’t last long as Nobunaga was the target of a successful coup by one of his generals. With Nobunaga and others committed the ritual “seppku” suicide at the hands of defeat, the successor relieved Yasuke of his services instead of demanding the honored tradition. Yasuke was returned to Vaglignano and lived in obscurity after.
The Black samurai will be the subject of an incoming film with eighties cult film “Highlander” creator Gregory Wilden handling the script.
PHOTO: Public Domain