The Real Life Story of Yasuke, the First Black Samurai, is Coming to the Big Screen Starring Black Panther’s Chadwick Boseman

Yasuke, reportedly the first Black man to set foot on the Japanese islands, was was brought there as a slave and died a Samurai.

Chadwick Bosenan
Photo: Georges Biard
CC BY-SA 3.0

Based on the story of a real person, Yasuke was born into slavery in Portuguese colonized Mozambique and was later brought to Japan as a slave to Jesuit missionaries.

Reportedly the first Black man to set foot on Japanese soil, Yasuke’s arrival was noticed by of Nobunaga, a ruthless warlord seeking to unite the fractured country under his banner. A complex relationship developed between the two men as Yasuke earned Nobunaga’s friendship, respect — and ultimately, the honor, swords and title of samurai.

Above: An artist’s illustration of Yasuke, an African slave who traveled with Italian Jesuit missionaries when they arrived in Japan in 1579. Legend has it Yasuke caused such a commotion upon his arrival people came in droves and clamored over one another to see him. He was rumored to have stood between 6’3″ and 6’5″ tall, towering over the Japanese and even many of the Italians. Tales also stated he was either 26 or 27 years old, and stronger than 10 men. After traveling with the missionaries for a time, Oda Nobunaga, the famous Japanese warlord, asked the missionaries that Yasuke be left with him for a time as he was intrigued about the African’s homeland. Legend has it he was made a samurai in title only but was also said to have traveled with Nobunaga in full regalia and armaments.

Deadline reports, “Yasuke was a native of Portuguese Mozambique who was brought to Japan as a slave to Jesuit missionaries. The first black man to set foot on Japanese soil, Yasuke’s arrival aroused the interest of Nobunaga, a ruthless warlord seeking to unite the fractured country under his banner. A complex relationship developed between the two men as Yasuke earned Nobunaga’s friendship, respect — and ultimately, the honor, swords and title of samurai.”:

Slash Film noted, “There’s also an upcoming book about this story – African Samurai: The True Story of Yasuke, a Legendary Black Warrior in Feudal Japan, due out on April 30, written by Thomas Lockley and Geoffrey Girard. Here’s the book’s synopsis:

When Yasuke arrived in Japan in the late 1500s, he had already traveled much of the known world. Kidnapped as a child, he had ended up a servant and bodyguard to the head of the Jesuits in Asia, with whom he traversed India and China learning multiple languages as he went. His arrival in Kyoto, however, literally caused a riot. Most Japanese people had never seen an African man before, and many of them saw him as the embodiment of the black-skinned (in local tradition) Buddha. Among those who were drawn to his presence was Lord Nobunaga, head of the most powerful clan in Japan, who made Yasuke a samurai in his court. Soon, he was learning the traditions of Japan’s martial arts and ascending the upper echelons of Japanese society.

“The legend of Yasuke is one of history’s best kept secrets, the only person of non-Asian origin to become a Samurai,” Boseman said. “That’s not just an action movie, that’s a cultural event, an exchange, and I am excited to be part of it.”

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