Today’s Wonder of the Day was inspired by David from Elizabethtown, KY. David Wonders, “Who was the first African Samurai Warrior Yasuke ?” Thanks for WONDERing with us, David!
For today’s Wonder of the Day, we’re traveling back in time. In fact, we’re going all the way back to Japan in the late 1500s. The country is a feudal state, ruled by many shoguns. They held onto power with help from fierce warriors called samurai.
Some of our Wonder Friends have already learned a bit about samurai. These brave fighters carried two swords as well as bows and arrows. They lived by a strict code of honor and played an important part in Japanese government until 1868.
While the samurai as a class of warriors is known around the world, few individual fighters rose to such fame. One who did was a talented warrior who stood above the rest—literally, as he was said to be much taller than the other samurai. His name? Historical records call him Yasuke.
Yasuke is also known as the Black Samurai or the African Samurai. He is believed to be one of the first people of African descent to set foot in Japan. Little is known about Yasuke’s origins, but he is believed to have come from Mozambique, South Sudan, Ethiopia, or Nigeria.
Experts believe Yasuke may have been enslaved as a young man. If this was the case, he was later given or took his own freedom. Some think this may have happened while he was living in India.
From India, Yasuke traveled to Japan with a group of Jesuits. The Jesuits were part of the Roman Catholic Church and went to Japan as missionaries. Their goal was to convert the people of Japan to Catholicism. Yasuke arrived on the island in 1579 with a Jesuit named Alessandro Vignano.
This is where Yasuke entered recorded history. He’s described as “possessing the strength of 10 men.” Yasuke was also six feet, two inches tall—about a foot taller than the average Japanese man at the time. He stood out in Japan, and many people wanted to meet him. One was the daimyo Oda Nobunaga.
Oda Nobunaga sought to unify all of Japan under his rule. After meeting Yasuke, Oda made him his bodyguard. Yasuke quickly learned to speak Japanese. He became very close with Oda, often dining with him. After about a year, Yasuke became a samurai.
Yasuke was the first person born outside of Japan to become a samurai. He fought alongside Oda Nobunaga until one of the latter’s generals led a mutiny against him. Then, Yasuke went to fight with Oda’s son. When the son was also defeated, Yasuke’s time as a samurai ended.
What happened to Yasuke? No one is quite sure. Historical records don’t include him after 1582. Some experts believe he may have gone to Kyoto, then the capital of Japan. There, he may have re-joined the Jesuits with whom he had traveled to Japan.
Today, Yasuke lives on in popular culture. The Japanese children’s book “Kuro-suke” tells his story, as does the manga series “Afro Samurai.” A feature film about the ancient warrior is currently in pre-production in Hollywood.
Do you want to learn more about Yasuke? Maybe you can uncover the secrets of the Black Samurai! Much of his life is still a mystery that many people around the world would like to unravel.
Standards: C3.D2.His.2, CCRA.L.3, CCRA.L.6, CCRA.R.1, CCRA.R.2, CCRA.R.4, CCRA.R.10, CCRA.SL.1, CCRA.SL.2, CCRA.W.2, CCRA.W.4, CCRA.L.1, CCRA.L.2