Born around the 1550s, was a Black samurai who served the daimyo Oda Nobunaga in Japan during the Sengoku (“Warring States”) period. He was the first known foreigner to achieve samurai status.
Much of Yasuke’s life remains shrouded in mystery. His birth name, date, and exact birthplace are unknown, though estimates suggest the 1550s. While he hailed from Africa, the specific location of his birth remains uncertain. Historians speculate he may have been born in modern-day Ethiopia, Mozambique, or South Sudan, drawing evidence from his name, physical appearance as described by contemporaries, trade connections among Japan, Europe, and Africa, among other factors. It’s unclear if Yasuke was enslaved and transported from Africa; some historians propose he might have left Africa as a mercenary. What is certain is that Yasuke arrived in Japan in 1579 with an Italian Jesuit missionary, Alessandro Valignano, possibly serving as Valignano’s bodyguard. However, his status as enslaved or free at the time is unknown.

In 1581, Valignano and Yasuke journeyed to Kyōto, where they encountered Oda Nobunaga, a formidable daimyo aiming to unify Japan. Nobunaga was reportedly astonished by Yasuke’s height and skin color. Yasuke, described as towering over the average Japanese person and being the first Black man many had seen, impressed Nobunaga. Upon their meeting, Yasuke gained Nobunaga’s favor, conversing in Japanese and proving his military skills. Shortly after, Nobunaga granted Yasuke his Japanese name, enlisted him into his service, and bestowed upon him the title of samurai, the first recorded foreigner to receive such an honor. Yasuke dined with Nobunaga, demonstrating their close bond.

As a samurai, Yasuke likely participated in numerous battles for Nobunaga, although the exact count is unknown. However, his service was brief. Yasuke was present at Honnō Temple in Kyōto in 1582 when Nobunaga was betrayed by Akechi Mitsuhide. After Nobunaga’s demise, Yasuke briefly joined Nobunaga’s son, Nobutada, before both were defeated by Mitsuhide and Nobutada committed seppuku on the same day as his father. Subsequently, Yasuke was escorted by Mitsuhide’s men to a Jesuit mission house, and little is known about him after this event.

Yasuke’s tale as a Black samurai has inspired literature, films, and other media forms. Notably, in 1968, Kurusu Yoshio published “Kuro-suke,” a children’s book about him. Yasuke has also appeared in video games like Nioh. Additionally, a film featuring Chadwick Boseman as Yasuke was announced in 2019, and in 2021, an animated series titled “Yasuke” was released, recounting a fantastical narrative about his life post-1582, featuring magic and robots.