In 1581, a striking young African, Yasuke, traveled to Japan as a servant to a Jesuit preacher. Standing more than six feet tall, beautiful ebony skin, very powerful physique, he was from the Makua ethnic group of Mozambique.
The excitement at this unique visitor drew crowds to the Jesuit residence. The mission’s door was broken down and several people were crushed to death in the clamber to get a glimpse of Yasuke.The powerful Japanese warlord Oda Nobunaga summoned Yasuke to his court for a personal viewing. At his behest, Yasuke stripped bare, bathed and scrubbed down to determine if his skin colour was natural and not some kind of paint or pigment.
Nobunaga was so fascinated by this black African, he presented him with a gift of money and retained him as a trusted attendant. Yasuke had apparently already picked up some Japanese and Nobunaga is said to have enjoyed speaking with him.As time went on, Nobunaga increasingly admired Yasuke’s braveness and intelligence and promoted him to a Samurai, worthy of bearing the warlord’s spear. He was also in line to be made a daimyō, would have made him the first and only African aristocrat in Japanese history.
Yasuke marched to war with Nobunaga’s army against another warlord Mitsuhide. The army was defeated and Yasuke, with some of Nobunaga’s men, was forced to surrender the swords that marked him as a samurai. Nobunaga committed the ritual suicide after defeat.According to the Shinchō kōki, while the other surrendered soldiers were ritually executed, upon examining Yasuke, Mitsuhide dismissed the black-skinned man as ‘not Japanese’. He then turned Yasuke over to a church in Kyōto as a ‘Visitor from India’.
Records of Yasuke’s adventures came to an abrupt end. Some said he returned to Africa and introduced the kimono there. The story of this young african turned fearsome warrior is certainly one of the most compelling tales of the Sengoku period.