Yasuke, the Black Samurai

Did I mention that I was writing a samurai novel in English?

One of the main characters in the novel is Yasuke, an African slave brought to Japan by European missionaries who granted the status of samurai by Lord Oda Nobunaga upon entering his service. He is the only recorded black samurai in history.

In actual history, Yasuke starts serving Nobunaga around 1581, but I took a little liberty with that and had him enter Nobunaga’s service in 1573.
The reason is simple: I wanted him to witness events like the Battle of Nagashino, the Battle of Miki and the Battle of Kizugawa.

I chose this character because I liked the idea of a black samurai and, since so little is known about him, I have more room to bend him to fit my story.
James Clavell had William Adams (whom he renamed John Blackthorne). Yasuke is my Anjin-san.

Although James Clavell’s Shogun was hugely successful, both as novel and as screenplay, it had a few problems with the execution. The main problem was that it took time outs to explain Clavell’s interpretation of medieval Japanese culture. During these explanatory expositions, the story came to a standstill. Yet you could not omit these expositions because the reader would not understand the story without them.

I tried to solve this problem by creating two parallel story lines, one in the relatively modern world of 1928, the other in the world of 1573, and let one story explain the other.

The 1928 story line has an ominous cloud hanging over it, because this is just before the militarist dictatorship took over the government. Japan was still in a stable alliance with the UK. But we all know which direction history eventually drifted. The main characters in the 1928 story line is an Englishman, his half-Japanese son, and his Japanese assistant. A little of the Kyoto-Tokyo cultural rivalry is also exposed.

The first draft is taking shape nicely, but I still feel that there are too many explanations. I will have to cut ruthlessly in the final edit. For now, I will just keep piling on the story. I expect the first draft to be about 120000 words, give or take. Still only about a fifth of the way there. My day job is consuming about 60 hours of my time each week, so I am averaging only about 500 words a day at best. This is going to be a long bumpy ride.

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