Yusuke — The Forgotten African Samurai In Japan

Almost 500 years ago, a tall African man arrived in Japan.

L. Small
4 min readAug 20, 2020


Photo by zhu wei on Unsplash

“He would go on to become the first foreign-born man to achieve the status of a samurai warrior.”

Samurai is one of the most remembered symbols of Japanese cultural heritage. Although most samurai are Japanese, there are also some examples of non-Japanese people becoming samurai. Among the most famous was an English sailor named William Adams (1564–1620) who came to Japan in 1600 and climbed the social level until becoming a samurai.

But one of the most surprising examples is perhaps an African by the name of Yasuke who was made a samurai by Daimyo Oda Nobunaga (1534–1582) after taking on the role of guard.

“Seppuku” by RoninKengo is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Yasuke Origin

Yasuke was brought to Japan in 1579 by Jesuit missionaries to the attention and interest of Japanese nobility. Yasuke’s origins are shrouded in mystery. He may have been born between 1555 and 1566, but that is uncertain. Historians are not even sure about the origin of the name, although it is most likely the Japanese form of the original name. According to one source, he may have been a Makua from Mozambique. It is also said that he was from Angola or Ethiopia. In addition, it is also believed that he may have been a European-born slave from Portugal.

However, Yasuke first appeared in history in 1579 as a servant to the Jesuit missionary Alessandro Valignano who had come to Japan to visit the missions that had been established there. Yasuke’s black skin generated a lot of interest from native Japanese and many say they came to see him at the church built by the Jesuits in Kyoto.

Yasuke Becoming a Samurai

This commotion caught the attention of Daimyo, Lord Nobunaga, who asked to meet him. Nobunaga initially doubted that Yasuke’s black skin was real and had him take off his shirt and rub the skin to show that it wasn’t ink.



L. Small

"One arrow alone can be easily broken but many arrows are indestructible" ~Genghis Khan~