Yasuke, an African page, arrived in Japan in 1579 as the attendant of the Italian Jesuit missionary Alessandro Valignano. Before the arrival of the Englishman William Adams, it is thought that Yasuke was possibly the inaugural non-Japanese samurai, arriving about twenty years earlier.

Documented in the Shincho Koki, the Diary of Oda Nobunaga, as well as in the accounts of contemporary missionaries, Yasuke's origins are speculated to be from Mozambique or possibly from the Bakongo region (modern-day Congo), where the Portuguese had extensive trade connections. Standing at a height of 6 shaku 2 sun (about 6 ft. 2 or 188 cm), Yasuke's stature was quite remarkable compared to the average Japanese of the time, who stood around 150 to 165 cm. It was estimated that he was approximately 25 years of age.

Yasuke accompanied Valignano to Kyoto in March of 1581, causing quite a stir among the locals. Crowds gathered to catch a glimpse of him, with some people being crushed in the commotion. The War Lord Oda Nobunaga, intrigued by the reports of this "black man," demanded to meet him.

On March 23, 1581, Yasuke was presented before Oda Nobunaga, who initially thought his dark skin was painted on. To verify, Nobunaga had Yasuke stripped to the waist and cleaned. Impressed by Yasuke's size, strength, and intelligence, Nobunaga engaged in conversation with him. Recognizing Yasuke's formidable strength, Nobunaga requested that Valignano leave Yasuke in his service. Yasuke had learned some Japanese, and Nobunaga either saw him as a potential bodyguard or simply a curiosity. Regardless, Nobunaga treated Yasuke with great favor, even awarding him the status of Shiki, or samurai, along with the two swords of the office.

Yasuke remained loyal to Nobunaga and was with him on the day of his assassination in June 1582 by the traitor Akechi Mitsuhide. As Nobunaga perished in the flames of the temple, Yasuke rushed to defend Nobunaga's son and heir, Nobutada, at Nijo Castle.

Yasuke fought alongside Nobutada before eventually surrendering to Akechi samurai. Unsure of what to do with the foreigner, Mitsuhide eventually returned Yasuke to the Jesuit church in Kyoto. After that, there are no further records of Yasuke, the first foreign samurai.

In 1943, author Kurusu Yoshio penned a children's book about the African samurai.

Another story surrounding Yasuke involves his actions during the Honno-ji Incident. According to the tale, Yasuke fled to Nijo Castle to deliver an important package to Nobunaga's son, Nobutada — the package being Nobunaga's head!


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