HISTORY

Samurai File 12 / Yasuke

2013.05.18 [HISTORY,WHAT'S NEW]

Yasuke, The First Foreign Samurai.

Yesterday marked 393 years since William Adams, or Miura Anjin died at the age of 55.
The Englishman is often referred to as the first foreign samurai, however, before Adams,
there was Yasuke.

 

Remembered in the Diary of Oda Nobunaga, the Shincho Koki,
as well as in the records of the missionaries of the time, Yasuke
was a slave, believed to have originally come from Mozambique
or the Congo region, and brought to Japan in 1579 by the Jesuit
missionary, Alessandro Valignano. The man accompanied his
master to Kyoto and caused quite a sensation as crowds flocked
to see the 188cm tall, black skinned man. In fact, some people
were killed in the crush to see him.

 

On March 23, 1581, he was brought before Oda Nobunaga, who
believed the man’s dark skin was painted on, and so had the slave
stripped to the waist and scrubbed. Nobunaga was impressed with
the man’s size, strength and intelligence. This Yasuke had learned
to speak some Japanese, and Nobunaga enjoyed talking to the man.

 

Discribed as being about 25 years old, healthy and good looking,
Yasuke was well treated by the great lord, who requested he be
left in Nobunaga’s care, and was awarded the position of Shiki,
or samurai, and the two swords of the office. The loyal Yasuke
was with Nobunaga on that fateful day in June 1582, when
Nobunaga was assassinated by the traitor, Akechi Mitsuhide.
As Nobunaga died in the burning temple, Yasuke ran to where Nobunagas’s son and heir, Nobutada,
was staying and joined him in entering and defending Nijo Castle.

 

 

 

Yasuke fought alongside Nobutada before capitulating to the Akechi samurai. Mitsuhide was unsure of what
to do with the foreigner, and so returned him to the Jesuit church in Kyoto. After that, there is no record of
Yasuke, the first foreign samurai.  (The attached picture is from a book on Yasuke written by children’s
author Kurusu Yoshio in 1943.)

 


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