First Black Japanese Samurai (1500s)
Yasuke first appears in history in 1579 as an attendant of the Jesuit missionary Alessandro Valignano who was coming to Japan to visit the missions that had been set up there. Yasuke was most likely a slave. Yasuke’s black skin generated a lot of interest from the native Japanese and many are said to have come to see him at the church which the Jesuits had constructed in Kyoto. This commotion caught the interest of the Daimyo, Lord Nobunaga, who asked for an audience with him.
Nobunaga was impressed by Yasuke’s height. He is recorded to have been over 6 feet (182cm) tall in an era where most Japanese men were closer to 5 feet (152 cm) tall. This height would have made him very imposing to most indigenous inhabitants of the islands.
Nobunaga soon made Yasuke his retainer and body guard. He was eventually made a samurai in 1581 and stationed at Nobunaga’s Azuchi Castle. After this, Nobunaga would invite Yasuke to dine at his table, an unusual privilege even for a samurai. He was also made the Daimyo’s sword bearer with his own katana (sword).