Samurai Gaiden: Inatomi Sukenao

 

In the year 1542 Portuguese matchlock firearms made their way, via shipwreck, to Tanegashima island. Many warlords and their samurai retainers gained renown for their way of using these new firearms, such as the Saiga and Oda clans.

But few samurai could claim to have founded their own gunnery dojo. Today we’ll talk about just one such individual – the arguable founder of the Inatomi-ryu school of gunnery, Inatomi Sukenao.

Inatomi Sukenao (1552-1611)

Sukenao was born near the capital city of Kyoto in 1552 and would have matured into adulthood in the late 1560s, which was about the time when Oda Nobunaga made his way into that region. Sukenao was the son of a no-name samurai named Inatomi Naohide, but that made him the grandson of Inatomi Sukehide.

Sukehide was said to have trained in gunnery arts with Sasaki Yoshikuni and developed a unique style of gunnery tactics. Sukehide also formed a foundry specializing in casting firearms, and particularly large ones that we commonly refer to as…cannon.

The Inatomi were hereditary vassals of the Isshiki clan of Tango province. When the Hosokawa family conquered the Isshiki in 1578, Sukenao would have been 26 years old. With Tango province being handed over to the Hosokawa the Inatomi family became Hosokawa vassals.

Now you see, Sukenao was the third generation cannon-maker. He had trained with his grandfather in what was to become known as the Inatomi-ryu school of Gunnery Martial Arts. Historical records seem to have differing accounts on who founded the school – Sukenao or his grandfather Sukehide – but they all seem to agree that Sukehide laid the framework that Sukenao built upon.

Sukenao was a bit of a strange fellow in his own right, it seems. He supposedly had a habit of wearing two suits of armor, one on top of the other, earning him the nickname Ni-ryo Gusoku or Two Collar Armor. Which is weird, but not the first time I’ve heard of that. You might remember when we were talking about the aftermath of the first Battle of Uji there was a giant of a warrior monk who wore two suits of armor as well.

Sukenao started his service, like his father and grandfather, as a samurai of the Isshiki clan of Tango province. However in 1578 the Oda clan came a-knocking on the Isshiki door. Hosokawa Fujitaka, with his son whom we’ve mentioned before – good ‘ol psychopath Tadaoki – were the leaders of the invasion.

The Isshiki were defensively strong, having once been a prominent clan of the realm, they were able to mostly hold the Hosokawa forces at bay. Oda Nobunaga sent Akechi Mitsuhide, back when they were still on good terms, to aid the Hosokawa. After Akechi’s arrival one of the Isshiki’s vassals, the Nuta, betrayed them and defected to the Oda.

Between Akechi’s reinforcements and the Nuta’s betrayal the Isshiki leader, Yoshimichi, was caught up in his castle as Yumiki. When the castle fell, Yoshimichi committed seppuku, leaving what remained of the Isshiki clan to his son, Yoshisada.

By the way I’ve also seen Yumiki Castle as Yumi Castle and Yuminoki Castle. Sukenao participated in the defenses at Yumiki and some accounts suggest he was in charge of the garrison defending the castle and is said to have continued to fight the Oda with a small cadre of gunnery soldiers. Impressed with his determination and courage they offered him the chance to defect as well and he agreed, becoming a samurai of the Hosokawa clan – serving our favorite nutjob, Tadaoki.

It was during this time under the Hosokawa that the Inatomi-ryu school of gunnery really started to pick up. With a wealthy, influential patron who had connections to the capital and Oda Nobunaga’s favor a gun school was a pretty solid investment.

One story posits Sukenao as sitting in a teahouse and being annoyed by the squawking of birds on the roof. He acquired his gun, aimed at the rooftop, and fired, hitting a bird without damaing the roof. The rest of the birds, presumably, were awed by his marksmanship and departed the roof.

Now, it was most likely under Tadoaki then, that he participated in the Korean invasions during the Imjin War. He was apparently a participant at Kato Kiyomasa’s Ulsan Castle defenses – well probably the capture of Ulsan before that, too.

Sukenao was one of the men tasked with guarding Tadaoki’s wife, Garasha, who was a political prisoner of the Toyotomi in Osaka castle. We’ve spoken before about what happened in 1600 when Ishida Mitsunari attempted to gather political hostages from amongst those within Osaka castle. But long story short, Garasha, bid one of her guardians to kill her to prevent Ishida from taking her captive to use against Tadaoki. Or, as we mentioned in that same story, the guards may have been under Tadaoki’s orders to kill Garasha if she was in danger of being captured.

Sukenao was part of the group of guards that were holding Ishida’s men at bay long enough for Garasha’s death to take place. Once she was dead, he and a few of his cronies decided…no point in sticking around, and like Sir Robin before them, they bravely ran away – they did.

Because of his abandonment of his post, Tadaoki came to distrust and resent Sukenao. There may be some indication he wanted Sukenao dead – which is actually kind of likely given the stories I’ve read about Tadaoki.

Sukenao, thus, was made a ronin after either fleeing Tadaoki’s wrath or being fired by Tadaoki. In all likelihood he probably never returned to the Hosokawa after abandoning his post. Tokugawa Ieyasu vouched for him though, because he wanted to ensure the Inatomi school of gunnery continued and he probably wanted to make sure that the Toyotomi rebels didn’t get that kind of information and training on their side. So Ieyasu arranged for Sukeano to serve his fourth son, Matsuidaira Tadayoshi. Tadayoshi was given control over the Owari domain of Kiyosu, worth some 520 thousand koku.

Unfortunately for Sukenao, Tadayoshi was wounded during the fighting at Sekigahara. He died in the year 1608 at the age of 28. His younger brother, Tokugawa Yoshinao, was given control of his lands and Sukenao was permitted to remain within the domain and transfer his employment to Yoshinao.

I’m not totally sure on the specifics but at some point within the Owari domain he adopted his elder sister’s son, Inatomi Hideaki, because he had no children of his own. Around this time he is said to have had a dream that led him to take the tonsure, become a Buddhist monk, and travel to Rikuji temple.

Sukenao died in the year 1611, passing the Inatomi clan onto his nephew whom he had adopted. And apparently that trend continued as Hideaki died without heir and passed the clan onto his younger brother, Hidetaka somewhere between 1645 and 1648.

Some places in Japan still celebrate the Inatomi-ryu’s Gun Corps and school of marksmanship with displays of marksmanship and re-enactments to this day.

Samurai Gaiden: Manabe Rokuro and Sugitani Zenjubo

This month we decided to get a little silly and talk about Ninjas.  We won’t do that very often because otherwise we would become…Ninja Gaiden.

If you don't get the joke, you don't understand how bad of a game it was.

If you don’t get the joke, you don’t understand how bad of a game it was.

So by now we’ve mentioned Oda Nobunaga quite a few times. We all know that he was a small daimyo from Owari province, he defeated Imagawa Yoshimoto at Okehazama, he was fairly accepting of Christians and used them to help tear down the militant Buddhist sects, let’s see…he was somewhat of an equal opportunity employer before that was even a thing, he was killed by Akechi Mitsuhide in 1582 at Honnoji, and he had several assassination attempts against him before that.

Wait…we haven’t really talked about any of those have we? We’ve only talked about Akechi’s betrayal. But did you know that one of the major enemies Oda Nobunaga fought against were the infamous, clandestinely-skilled…ninja?

Well you’re about to.

I told you we were getting a little silly.

I told you we were getting a little silly.

We’re going to touch on two people in this episode, because their stories are both kind of short…and are also both connected by a common theme. And that theme is trying to assassinate Oda Nobunaga.

Now what’s gotten me onto this subject? Has anyone ever played Inindo: Way of the Ninja? This KOEI game, long before they merged with Tecmo, was about an Iga ninja apprentice who has just graduated to the rank of Genin in the early 1580s.

Inindo-jp-cover

The game starts off with your character, the Ninja, being forced to flee as Nobunaga invades Iga province and lays waste to the various ninja clans within. It then quickly becomes 1582 and your character watches as Nobunaga escapes from Akechi’s betrayal, a theme KOEI would revisit over a decade later in the game where you actually play as Nobunaga: Kessen III.

Inindo-way-of-the-ninja-snes-screenshot-cut-scenegfs_40241_2_3 The game was interesting in that it had two paths…if you were over level 5 by the time you left the first dungeon and witnessed Honnoji you would get a cinematic of seeing a bandage up and badly wounded Nobunaga leaving the temple. If you were under level 5, then you would instead only see Nobunaga from a distance. This also changed what kind of enemies you would fight later in the game.

The rest of the game you try to help other daimyo to eventually grow more powerful and fight against Nobunaga, in order to avenge the Iga ninja clans.

So…why does an old game make me want to talk about that stuff right now? Because this year marks the 25th anniversary of Inindo’s release under its original Japanese title, Inindo: Datou Nobunaga.

Manabe Rokuro (??-1573)

Manabe Rokuro (??-1573)

The first person we’re going to talk about is Manabe Rokuro. Rokuro served the Hatano family of Tanba. The Hatano were defeated by Nobunaga’s best friend in the whole wide world…Akechi Mitsuhide. The story goes that Akechi negotiated the Hatano’s surrender, but Nobunaga reneged on his deal to spare the Hatano brothers and had them executed, most likely via crucifixion.

So, in 1573, after the Hatano’s fall one of the Hatano retainers sent Rokuro to Nobunaga’s capital, Azuchi. Rokuro snuck into the castle with the intent to stab Nobunaga to death in his sleep. Sadly for him, a pair of Nobunaga’s guards discovered Rokuro and gave chase.

Rokuro attempted to escape the castle, having failed his mission. But he was trapped, about to be captured by Nobunaga’s guards.

He drew forth his blade and committed suicide. Nobunaga was awakened later in the morning and informed of the incident. He had Rokuro’s body prepared and displayed in the market place of Azuchi as a reminder that assassins were not real popular in Nobunaga’s bed chambers.

Sugitani_ripped

Sugitani Zenjubo (??-1573)

Now, a story that’s a little closer to Inindo’s plot is the story of Sugitani Zenjubo. Supposedly a member of the legendary “53 Families of Koga” he is rumored to have been the lord of a castle, or a captain under the command of Saiga Magoichi, or even a commander for the militant religious sect from Negoro Temple. I even read a suggestion that he worked as a bounty hunter and was nicknamed ‘Hunter Sugitani’. I find the last idea a little silly, but either way he seemed to be from Omi.

Regardless of who or what he served, Sugitani was a master marksman. In a day when smoothbore, black powder muskets were the newest, neatest idea and a spear backed up by a bow and arrow was still the norm, being an accomplished sniper is a pretty significant feat.

Generally ‘sniping’ was an elite thing back in the day that consisted of getting away from the main force and getting within a more effective range, often ambushing the enemy or sneaking around their vanguard forces; often from an elevated position. Umm…okay, so almost exactly like modern sniping, but at relatively shorter ranges. A modern sniper rifle has an accurate range that is further than the maximum range of the guns of Sugitani’s day.

Sugitani climbed up a tree and loaded two arquebuses. He lit the fuses and sat in the tree, waiting for his target to come into range. The moment came and Nobunaga appeared, wearing Portuguese-style, plate-breast armor referred to as Nanban-do; that is Southern Barbarian Armor.

This armor was often sold with dents in it to prove that it was bullet-proof. Of course who’s to say the dents weren’t made with a hammer and the bullet resistance was falsely assumed?

Well, in Nobunaga’s case at least, it was legit. Sugitani fired the first arquebuse and hit Nobunaga in the chest, then he dropped the arquebuse and picked up the second one. He touched off the match and fired the second shot, hitting Nobunaga in the chest, again.

nanbando

The armor stopped both bullets.

Realizing his opportunity was squandered Sugitani fled the tree and attempted to escape from Nobunaga’s angry forces. However, unlike Manabe Rokuro, Sugitani succeeded in getting away.

Sugitani was a wanted man and four years after he shot Nobunaga, twice, one of Nobunaga’s retainers, Isono Kazumasa is said to have found and arrested Sugitani around Amidaji Temple in Omi province.

Sugitani was brought before his target and Nobunaga ruthlessly sentenced him to execution by beheading. But there was more to it than a simple slash at the neck.

A deep hole was dug out by the roadside and Sugitani was buried up to his neck. The dirt was packed tight so that he couldn’t move, just loose enough that he could breath. A dull-bladed bamboo saw was then placed nearby.

Passersby were then given the ability to make a few heaves with the saw, against his neck; some sources suggest after paying a small fee for the chance, others omit that fact so it’s hard to say if it was free ‘entertainment’ or not.

James Clavell used this punishment for his character Ishido, based on Ishida Mitsunari, in the novel Shogun.

Not pictured: Anyone even remotely named Ishido.

Not pictured: Anyone even remotely named Ishido.

In the end, Sugitani lived for three days while people sawed away at his neck. Quite the unpleasant way to go.

So I guess the morale of the story is…if you’re going to try to kill Oda Nobunaga: Bring a whole army with you. Otherwise you die and…well, wait Akechi was killed in battle two weeks after Honnoji.

Okay, so morale of the story is…don’t kill Oda Nobunaga. You will get killed back.

~RCS

Samurai Gaiden: Hosokawa Tadaoki and Akechi Garasha

 

Aaah, February; the month of love and romance. Valentine’s Day is in just a little over a week. In the spirit of Valetine’s Day we’re going to talk about a love story. The love story of Hosokawa Tadaoki and Akechi Tamako, also known as…Garasha.

Hosokawa Tadaoki (1564-1645) Akechi Tamako (1563-1600)

Hosokawa Tadaoki was the eldest son of Hosokawa Fujitaka, also known as Hosokawa Yusai. Fujitaka had been a courtier of Ashikaga Yoshiteru, the Kengo Shogun we’ve mentioned…numerous times because we’re huge fans of his story. When Yoshiteru was killed Fujitaka was one of the primary forces in the push to bring Ashikaga Yoshiaki to power and he was one of the men who brought Yoshiaki to Oda Nobunaga.

When Nobunaga and Yoshiaki had a falling out, Fujitaka actually stayed in Nobunaga’s service. This is where Tadaoki comes in. At the age of fifteen Fujitaka’s boy fought in his first battle on the Oda side. For the Hosokawa’s loyalty and good service they were made the lords of Tango, worth some 110 thousand koku.

It was around this time that a certain associate of Fujitaka came calling, another lord in Oda Nobunaga’s service: Akechi Mitsuhide. You see, Mitsuhide had a daughter, Tamako, that he felt would be a perfect wife for young Tadaoki.

They were the same age, she was well-educated and poetic, and their fathers were close friends. The perfect arrangement! So Tadaoki and Tamako were married and began a happy life that eventually resulted in the births of several children.

You wouldn't believe, but this girl popped out 6 kids by the time she was 37!

You wouldn’t believe, but she popped out six kids by the time she was 37!

However, just as every rose has its thorns, every marriage, too, has its own set of hurdles to pass over. The incredibly romantic marriage of the Hosokawa boy and the Akechi girl, for political gain on both sides, was no different.

You see, just a few years after they were married  in case you haven’t been following along the last few months’ worth of videos) Tamako’s father betrayed Nobunaga and killed him at Honnoji. Mitsuhide quickly went about getting support from his political allies, such as the Hosokawa.

Fujitaka and Tadaoki decided…not to support the Akechi and sided with his enemy, Toyotomi. This makes perfect sense since Toyotomi would almost have to go through their lands to get to his battle with Mitsuhide so that made them fodder in the political arrangement.

Tadaoki had Tamako locked up and planned to send her back to her father. However this didn’t come to fruition because Mitsuhide lost at the battle of Yamazaki, as we mentioned before, and Tamako was left in a bit of limbo. She was the daughter of the most notorious traitor in the country, at least at that particular moment in time.

An unexpected savior came in the form of…Toyotomi Hideyoshi himself. Hideyoshi pardoned Tamako and convinced Tadaoki to take her back and keep her as a wife.

So the romance was allowed to blossom, once more.

Fast forward about fifteen years to when Tadaoki was fighting for Toyotomi during the Invasions of Korea which occurred in 1592 and 1597, each for about a year’s time. During this time a fellow we’ve discussed recently, Takayama Ukon Shigetomo, introduced Tamako to a thing called Christianity. Although some records suggest that she had already been introduced to it by a handmaid who had converted years earlier.

Either way Shigetomo helped her get baptized, taking the name Gracia, which is where we get her more common name: Garasha, the Japanese pronunciation of Gracia. When Tadaoki returned from Korea to find out that his wife had converted to Christianity he was overjoyed.

Sorry, did I say overjoyed? I meant to say infuriated. He had her locked in a tower where she remained for about a year. Some sources say he demanded she recant her conversion and she refused. Either way she spent some time locked up.

Strange...he looks like such a level-headed fellow.

Strange…he looks like such a level-headed fellow.

It seems that after a year Tadaoki softened up some and released her from her confinement. She seems to have spent much of her time housed in the Hosokawa mansion in Toyotomi-held Osaka, even as Tadaoki got his own castle at Nakatsu in Buzen province.

Finally we come to 1600, Toyotomi Hideyoshi is dead, his young son Hideyori is the nominal leader of Japan and Tokugawa Ieyasu is about to wage a war against the rest of the country to take that position away from Hideyori.

Tadaoki is on the fence about who to side with. On the one hand, he’s a Toyotomi loyalist, on the other hand…Tokugawa Ieyasu gave him a bunch of money to pay off Toyotomi Hideyoshi’s brother-in-law, Hidetsugu. Hidetsugu was a pretty cruel guy and being in his debt was probably not a good thing, especially when he annoyed Hideyoshi and got killed taking numerous associates down with him.

The leader of the pro-Toyotomi forces, Ishida Mitsunari, decided that he needed an extra few cards in his deck and he tried to kidnap all of the daimyos’ families staying in Osaka. One of those families was the Hosokawa.

Tamako saw that the Ishida forces were intent on taking her captive and, as legend has it, she called upon a faithful retainer to murder her because she knew that Christians were forbidden to take their own lives. The retainer killed her to prevent her from being used as a political pawn against her beloved husband.

Lord? I know I prayed for it to warm up this Autumn, but this was not what I meant!

“Lord? I know I prayed for it to warm up this Autumn, but this was not what I meant!”

In reality…European sources of the time suggests that every time Tadaoki left his wife he had standing orders for them to kill her if she might come to danger of dishonoring the family name.

This is also pretty believable because some old writings suggest that Tadaoki had a thing for murdering handmaidens. When he or his wife’s maids made him angry, he was not above simply drawing his sword and cutting them down where they stood, apparently.

All right, so maybe the romance of Tadaoki and Tamako is just a revisionist legend and the truth was that Tadaoki was a brutal, psychotic man who married an unlucky chick.

In the game Kannou Mukashibanashi, Tadaoki is a loving, devoted husband...and this is how they portray him.

In the game Kannou Mukashibanashi, Tadaoki is a loving, devoted husband…and this is still how they portray him.

To further this point in James Clavell’s novel, Shogun, which is a fanciful tale based on the period around Sekigahara, several of the characters are based on the Hosokawa household. The love interest of the main character, John Blackthorne, is named Toda Mariko; she is loosely based on Tamako. Likewise her husband, the violent and scary Buntaro, is based on Tadaoki, and “Iron Fist” Hiromatsu is supposed to be based on his father, Fujitaka.

Even so, Tadaoki and Tamako’s relationship is often shown as one of the most romantic tragedies in Japanese lore; even though in reality there was very little love between the two of them.

~RCS

Samurai Gaiden: Akechi Samanosuke Hidemitsu

We brushed upon the battle of Yamazaki and Akechi Mitsuhide’s betrayal of Oda Nobunaga in the video on Takayama Ukon Shigetomo, last month. This month let’s talk about arguably the most famous Sengoku Samurai in video games, Akechi Samanosuke.

Akechi Hidemitsu (1560-1582)

Akechi Hidemitsu (1557?-1582)

What does Hamlet and the Betrayal at Honnoji have in common? Well…Demons, of course!

That’s right! We’re talking about Capcom’s very own Onimusha: Warlords. Originally released, in Japan, on January 25th, 2001; that makes it fifteen years old this month. Fifteen years old? I…remember when it was released; I was in High School.

I’m gonna need a minute!

Well, regardless of showing my age there, let’s talk about the hero of the game: Akechi Samanosuke. Did you know that he is based off a real person? Akechi Hidemitsu, also known by his government title, Sama no-Suke. The rank of Sama no-Suke roughly translates to Vice-Commander of the Left Cavalry Division.

Now the Onimusha series opens with Hidemitsu watching the Oda and the Imagawa fight at Okehazama. In reality Hidemitsu was probably only three years old when that happened. His birth date is generally regarded as either 1557 or 1560, Okehazama having occurred in 1560.

Hidemitsu was the son of Akechi Mitsuyasu, making him Akechi Mitsuhide’s cousin; although he is often referred to as Mitsuhide’s nephew in some translations. Hidemitsu’s father, Mitsuyasu, was the son of Akechi Yorihisa while Mitsuhide’s father, Mitsukuni, was the son of one Akechi Mitsutsugu. So…their branches of the Akechi family had separated at least 3 generations ago.

Most likely the term ‘nephew’ is used because Mitsuhide was thirty years older than Hidemitsu, so they use it to notate the age difference between the two cousins. That would be my guess.

Anyway, Hidemitsu, unlike his Onimusha counterpart was actually not strongly opposed to Oda Nobunaga. Hidemitsu is rumored to have advised against attacking Nobunaga when Mitsuhide decided to betray the Oda and kill him at Honnoji. Nonetheless, Mitsuhide decided the surprise attack was still going to take place and Hidemitsu led the charge.

At this point we all know what happened. And if not…let me know in the comments and that might be another Samurai Gaiden at some point.

Anyway, long story short, the Akechi are victorious and Hidemitsu is placed in charge of Mitsuhide’s old castle at Sakamoto. Mitsuhide takes over the capital, plunders Azuchi castle, and begins his takeover of the capital region.

Legends claim that Hidemitsu found Nobunaga’s head in the burned out remains of Honnoji and buried it with honor. These are more than likely false; if for no other reason than the fact that Mitsuhide probably would have lost trust in Hidemitsu for such an action and had him executed for treason.

When Toyotomi Hideyoshi came to the capital region to avenge Nobunaga, Mitsuhide fought him at Yamazaki. Again, long story short, Mitsuhide was defeated and killed in the battle. Part of the reason for this was that Mitsuhide’s allies didn’t come to his aid as quickly as he would have liked; or at all in many cases.

One of those allies was Akechi Hidemitsu. Hidemitsu brought his army from Sakamoto to aid his Uncle-Cousin but Yamazaki was over before he arrived.

Hidemitsu got caught up fighting against Hori Hidemasa at Uchide-hama shortly after Yamazaki’s completion. Hidemitsu’s forces were defeated by the Hori and Hidemitsu was forced to flee, riding atop his horse, Great Bay, he floated across the southern tip of Lake Biwa and rode as hard and fast as he could to Sakamoto castle to prepare a defense.

Unfortunately for Hidemitsu the Hori were right behind him and quickly besieged the castle. Deciding that the war was over Hidemitsu murdered what remained of the Akechi family and after setting fire to the castle, he and his retainers committed seppuku.

Not quite the daring rogue portrayed in Onimusha, rather more like a loyal lackey to his arguably more famous cousin. Nonetheless an interesting figure, especially contrasted to how he is depicted in modern lore.

~RCS

Samurai Gaiden: Yasuke, the 1st Black Samurai

Tales of a large man in the service of Jesuit missionary Alessandro Valignano are resounding through the streets of Kyoto. They say he is as dark as the night sky, over six feet tall, and as strong as ten men!

Citizens of Kyoto beat down the door of a Jesuit missionary’s home, crushing several people in the melee, just for a chance to see the strange man. This man, commonly referred to as either Yasuke or Kurosuke, is making the rounds on social media lately. So we’ve decided to talk a bit about him. Yasuke, the First Black Samurai.

Yasuke (??-??)

Yasuke (??-??)

Yasuke, as he is commonly referred to nowadays, is suspected to have been born in what is now known as Mozambique. It is unknown what his name originally was but in the old days he was referred to as Kurosuke in Japan, which simply means Black Man.

Yasuke was brought to Japan by the visiting Inspector of the Catholics, Alessandro Valignano, who was tasked with increasing the conversion levels of the Japanese and maintaining friendly relations with the Japanese warlords in control at the time.

He replaced the trends of Francisco Cabral, who treated the conversion of the Japanese as something of ‘fixing the barbarians’. Instead he began instituting seminaries within Japan and training native priests. He also convinced the Jesuits to attempt to act Japanese: To dress like them, learn the Japanese language, participate in common rituals, etc.

This was in the hopes of making the conversion from Shinto-Buddhist to Christian as seamless as possible, compared to Cabral’s way of openly criticizing the Japanese way of life and trying to force European culture onto the Japanese people.

Regardless, Valignano had a certain African slave in his retinue, Yasuke. Yasuke was quite the imposing thing to see on the streets of the capital city, Kyoto. One day a group of onlookers kicked in the door of one of Valignano’s associates in Kyoto and trampled several people to death, just to catch a glimpse of Yasuke.

This event brought Yasuke to the attention of one Oda Nobunaga. Nobunaga called for Valignano to bring Yasuke to the castle and present him for inspection. Believing that he had been painted black with ink, Nobunaga had Yasuke stripped and bathed in front of him. When it was proven that Yasuke’s skin was truly black, Nobunaga was even more intrigued.

Yasuke was also able to speak at least basic Japanese, if not actually somewhat fluent in the language. To this end Nobunaga enjoyed conversing with the man and after some time of entertaining, either Valignano gave Yasuke to Nobunaga as a servant or Nobunaga requested Yasuke be given to him.

Given Valignano’s stances on how to interact with the Japanese and how much of his success was due to Nobunaga’s good graces, I imagine that the latter is true; Valignano probably saw this as another way to get in good with Nobunaga.

One story I’ve heard on the trade was that Valignano gave Yasuke’s service over to Nobunaga as Yasuke was a slave and so it was just the gift of property from one man to another to Valignano. But Nobunaga, not familiar with the slave trade, assumed that a man of Yasuke’s stature was a retainer of some minor prominence, like a Knight Bachelor, whom Valignano was loaning into Nobunaga’s service. As such Nobunaga honored the man by making him samurai and giving him title or lordship over one of Nobunaga’s castles.

This story is pretty dubious though, first and foremost because Nobunaga never made Yasuke a lord in his own right. Secondly, the European slave trade was alive and well in the Philipinnes, Malaysia, India, and the rest of Southern and Eastern Asia by this point in time. I’ve read reports that the Japanese in Kyushu had started selling people who owed them money and their own children to the Europeans to take as slaves back to Europe. So the idea that Nobunaga wouldn’t know what an African slave’s role in the master-slave relationship was is pretty dubious, too.

Either way Yasuke became a member of Nobunaga’s regular retinue and was at some point even made one of Nobunaga’s weapon bearers. It was during this time that one of Nobunaga’s relatives gave Yasuke a gift of money to live on; some sources I read said a nephew, maybe one Tsuda Nobusumi, others said it was one of his sons, probably Oda Nobutada.

Nobunaga also is said to have honored the man by granting him the name we know generally know him by, Yasuke. The reason for this name is unknown, however a theory is that Yasuke was a member of Makua tribe of Mozambique and was originally named Yasufe. Another dubious account, since the Makua weren’t enslaved by the Portuguese until several years after Nobunaga’s death, in the mid-late 1580s.

Another theory as to the name is that Yasuke was from the Yao tribe of Mozambique and so they simply called him Yao-suke basically Yao Man or more stylistically, Man of the Yao People. But really nobody knows, especially since it is spelled about four different ways in various different sources. It may have just been something Nobunaga liked the sound of one day and so he called him that. We are talking about a man who nicknamed two of his chief generals Inu and Saru, that is Dog and Monkey.

"Steve? Wait, wait...you've got a face like a potato. I know what I'll call you...Potato-Face!"

“Wait, wait…you’ve got a face like a potato. I know; I’ll call you…Potato-san!”

Nonetheless Yasuke was apparently present at Nobunaga’s side when he marched east and fought against Takeda Katsuyori in Shinano and Kai. By this time the Takeda was all but broken and between the Oda, Tokugawa, and Hojo picking away at them, nothing was left.

Nobunaga returned to the capital region and some time later was visiting Honno Temple. Akechi Mitsuhide, as might know by now, attacked said temple and killed Nobunaga. Yasuke was present for this and he was part of the group who fled to Azuchi castle with Oda Nobutada after Honno Temple burnt to the ground.

Akechi attacked Azuchi castle and Nobutada was defeated, Yasuke is rumored to have fought for some time against Akechi’s men but was eventually forced to surrender.

Akechi is largely regarded as to have said something about Yasuke not being Japanese, possibly called him a beast, and told his men that Yasuke wasn’t actually involved in the dispute since he was a foreigner. Yasuke was taken prisoner and handed over to the nearest Jesuit church. Another claim I personally find dubious is that the church was ecstatic about Yasuke being freed by Akechi as they were very worried about him being killed; considering he was a slave, I highly doubt they were really all that worried about him. If anything they were worried about the fact that someone as learned and physically imposing as Yasuke would be able to fetch a really high price from another Japanese warlord.

As for the claim that Mitsuhide called Yasuke a ‘beast’, it is often touted to show Mitsuhide as the ‘evil backstabber’ to also make him sound like a racist. The problem with this is that…the Japanese at the time were very Xenophobic and referred to all of the Europeans, and the people who came along with them, as Nanbanjin or Southern Barbarians.

The Japanese believed that the Europeans were from Western India, since they didn’t understand how large the world was compared to them, and believed they came from the south since they landed on the southern tip of Kyushu, Tanegashima Island. So to Mitsuhide, and his peers, Yasuke, Valignano, Cabral, and any other non-Japanese basically was considered a beast to them.

At this point Yasuke disappears from the history books. There is a reference to an African Arquebusier working for the Arima clan a few years after this, but it’s highly unlikely that this person is Yasuke.

Yasuke is often regarded as the First Black Samurai, or even the only Black Samurai.

Except, of course, for Forest Whitaker.

~RCS

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