Geoffrey Girard and Thomas LockleyFeb 24, 2021
The True Story of Yasuke, a Legendary Black Warrior in Feudal Japan
Hanover Square Press 2021
The remarkable life of history's first foreign-born samurai and his astonishing journey from Northern 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, and trained into a boy soldier in India, he had ended up an indentured servant and bodyguard to the head of the Jesuits in Asia, with whom he visited India, China and the budding Catholic missions in Japan. From the volatile port city of Nagasaki to travel on pirate-infested waters, he lived it all and learned more every day. His arrival in Kyoto, however, literally caused a riot. Most Japanese people had never seen an African man before, and many of them viewed him as the embodiment of the black-skinned (in local traditions) Buddha or a local war god or demon. Among those who were drawn to his presence were 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, fighting in battles and ascending to 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, combining all the primary sources for the first time, African Samurai: The True Story of Yasuke, a Legendary Black Warrior in Feudal Japan (Hanover Square Press, 2021) 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, faith and war in medieval Japan.
Jingyi Li is a PhD Candidate in Japanese History at the University of Arizona. She researches about early modern Japan, literati, and commercial publishing.