Warrior. Samurai. Legend.
“A readable, compassionate account of an extraordinary life.” —The Washington Post
The remarkable life of history’s first foreign-born samurai, and his astonishing journey from Northeast Africa to the heights of Japanese society.
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.
In the four hundred years since, Yasuke has been known in Japan largely as a legendary, perhaps mythical figure. Now African Samurai presents the never-before-told biography of this unique figure of the sixteenth century, one whose travels between countries, cultures and classes offers a new perspective on race in world history and a vivid portrait of life in medieval Japan.
Academic Lockley and novelist Girard (Mary Rose) combine their talents in this eminently readable but somewhat speculative biography of Yasuke, the only known African samurai. The few records that exist indicate he arrived in Japan in 1579 as bodyguard to the Jesuit Alessandro Valignano, the pope's "Visitor to the Indies." One Japanese account describes Yasuke as unusually tall and dark and thus of fascination to the Japanese of the time, so much so that when the Catholics met the great lord Oda Nobunaga, the general summoned Yasuke before summoning Valignano and later took Yasuke into his service as one of his samurai. The authors flesh out the scant data points with supposition about Yasuke's life before Japan (for example, the uncomfortable slog of sea travel he endured with Valignano), details about Japanese life in the 16th century (what it must have been like to look up at the town of Kuchinotsu from the beach; descriptions of clan flags), and more novelistic passages imagining Yasuke's actions and thoughts. The final third of the work considers the possible paths his life may have taken after records cease. The solid scholarship on and imaginative treatment of Yasuke's life make this both a worthwhile and entertaining work.