Characters make fun of the black samurai for being “servant”, although all samurai are essentially servants
Daimiô Oda Nobunaga personally gave Yasuke a pair of swords to promote him to the post of samurai, the first time that a non-Japanese was honored in this way – something that the anime highlights.
However, several anime characters insult Yasuke by calling him a “servant”, which demonstrates a great misunderstanding about the nature of the samurai in the Sengoku Period in Japan.
The samurai has been so mythical that it is often difficult to separate fact from fiction. Samurais were a hereditary caste of noble warriors, dedicated to serving regional lords called daimiô.
In the 16th century, they adopted a code of honor known as bushido. They were also legally allowed to kill any peasants who did not show due respect, demonstrating their high status.
The word samurai literally means “servant”, meaning his service to a feudal lord, although many preferred the term “bushi”, which means “warrior”.
Most samurai were born in the caste, but during the Sengoku Period, it was not uncommon for commoners to be promoted to the post of samurai. In some cases, a low-ranking samurai may even become a daimyo.
Oda Nobunaga, the daimyo who made Yasuke a samurai, was the most powerful man in Japan.
After his death, he was replaced by Hideyoshi Toyotomi, a man who started his career as a Nobunaga sandal-wearer but was continually promoted for his achievements until he finally inherited all the territories that Nobunaga conquered.
This demonstrates that service to a lord was an essential part of a samurai’s customs and that anyone could become a samurai through that service. As such, it makes little sense to hear Netflix anime characters repeatedly insist that Yasuke cannot be a samurai, since he was once a servant.
The first time Yasuke meets a samurai in the anime, he intervenes when the warrior tries to kill an unarmed boy. This nameless Bushi then tries to kill Yasuke for being a servant who dared to speak so directly to a samurai. Yasuke defeats him, which catches Nobunaga’s attention.
He later joins Nobunaga’s attack on the Iga clan, where Yasuke is mockingly called a “slave” and “servant”, which enemies and allies use to justify his beliefs that he cannot be a samurai.
He kills Commander Iga in individual combat, thus proving his worth. In celebration of the victory, Nobunaga personally conducts a toast to honor Yasuke’s achievements.
But even so, one of the daimyo’s generals, Mitsuhide, tells the black samurai that “servants will always be servants”. Comments like this are repeated throughout the Netflix anime, despite the fact that samurai are servants.
Big misunderstanding in the plot
It would be a mistake to suggest that all samurai have the same attitude about their role in society. Since most were born in a high-status position, many of them zealously protected themselves against what they considered an encroachment on the traditions that made them special.
However, Japan was a service-based feudal society, where peasants and samurai served their daimyo, who in turn served the shogun and the emperor. It was specifically because Yasuke distinguished himself as Nobunaga’s servant that he proved himself worthy of becoming a samurai.
Anyone who would reject the importance of such loyal service would be demonstrating an attitude, unlike a samurai.