Netflix’s latest anime ‘Yasuke’ has just premiered around the world, but is the series’ title character based on a real person from feudal-era Japan?

Netflix continues to provide us with excellent anime originals and today, have added another stylish series to its already vast library of content.

Arguably one of the most highly-anticipated anime series of this Spring, Yasuke has finally premiered online!

The anime may have only just been made available on Netflix, but fans around the world are wondering if the title character of Yasuke is based on a real person and a true story?

Was Netflix’s Yasuke a real person?

  • Netflix’s anime series is loosely based on a true story; the series is set in an alternative reality, but Yasuke himself was a real person who lived in feudal Japan.

The recently released Netflix series is set in an alternative reality of feudal Japan, where magic and advanced-mechanical robots exist.

However, the title character in the anime is loosely based on a real person, an African man called Yasuke who arrived in feudal Japan in 1579 as part of an Italian Jesuit missionary visit.

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Yasuke would end up staying in the country, becoming a famous retainer and bodyguard for the leader of the nation’s largest clan and Chancellor of the Realm, Oda Nobunaga.

Yasuke’s origins…

Unfortunately, we don’t know much about Yasuke’s early life, but the most likely theory is that he came from Mozambique.

This has been suggested from various historical texts and aligns with the view that the first African people who came to Japan in 1546 were Mozambican.

However, another investigation in 2013 that also stated Yasuke was from Mozambique has been criticized for not meeting journalistic standards and providing a lack of evidence.

Another theory is that he was from Ethiopia, as suggested by Thomas Lockley. The evidence for this is that non-religious Ethiopians were known as ‘Cafre’ by the Portuguese; a term Yasuke is referred to in the historical texts.

A final hypothesis is that the man was a Dinka from South Sudan. The Dinka people are among the tallest in Africa and are known for having a significantly darker skin tone – two features Yasuke was known for.

Whilst there remains some mystery about Yasuke’s origins, historians are confident that the man did travel to Japan and became employed by the most powerful man in the country, Oda Nobunaga.

Arriving in feudal Japan…

In 1579, Yasuke arrived in Japan in the service of an Italian Jesuit missionary called Alessandro Valignano and was immediately of interest to the local people.

Yasuke was presented to Oda Nobunaga, who first thought that his skin was covered with black ink as he had never seen someone from Africa.

After making Yasuke strip to the waist and wash in front of the crowd, Nobunaga took a special interest in him – eventually hiring Yasuke into his service.

Yasuke became a retainer, bodyguard and weapon bearer for Nobunaga, who gifted him his own house, ceremonial katana and servants in return.

Yasuke’s life in Japan…

It is unclear whether Yasuke either spoke or was taught Japanese, but it has been recorded that Nobunaga enjoyed talking to him – possibly because he was the only foreign retainer in his service.

Following the Battle of Tenmokuzan in 1582, Yasuke accompanied Nobunaga and his army to inspect their newly gained territories.

Later that year, Nobunaga was attacked and as Yasuke was on the front lines fighting against the oncoming Akechi army, the famous leader was forced to commit suicide.

Yasuke would then serve Nobunaga’s heir, but was later captured after a battle at Nijo Castle. According to some historians, he was then sent to a Christian church in Kyoto, after Akechi refused to execute him, but there is also some doubt about the credibility of this occurring.

So, whilst the Netflix anime may not be a direct representation of who he really was, Yasuke was indeed a man who became famous as one of the first African-born warriors in feudal Japan.

By Tom Llewellyn – [email protected]

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