yasuke: The mysterious african samuari

Almost 500 years ago, a tall African man arrived in Japan. He would go on to become the first foreign-born man to achieve the status of a samurai warrior, and is the subject of two films being produced by Hollywood.

Known as Yasuke, the man was a warrior who reached the rank of samurai under the rule of Oda Nobunaga – a powerful 16th Century Japanese feudal lord who was the first of the three unifiers of Japan.

In 1579, his arrival in Kyoto, the capital at the time, caused such a sensation that people climbed over one another to get a glimpse of him with some being crushed to death, according to historian Lawrence Winkler.

Within a year, Yasuke had joined the upper echelons of Japan’s warrior class, the samurai. Before long, he was speaking Japanese fluently and riding alongside Nobunaga in battle.

“His height was 6 shaku 2 sun (roughly 6 feet, 2 inches (1.88m)… he was black, and his skin was like charcoal,” a fellow samurai, Matsudaira Ietada, described him in his diary in 1579.

The average height of a Japanese man in 1900 was 157.9m (5 feet 2 inches) so Yasuke would have towered over most Japanese people in the 16th Century, when people were generally shorter due to worse nutrition.

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