Ubisoft Portraying Yasuke As A Samurai Is A Massive Contradiction To Actual History

While historical inaccuracies is nothing new for Ubisoft, cultural values should be respected at any cost.

Story Highlights

  • Ubisoft has depicted Yasuke as a samurai and the protagonist of Assassin’s Creed Shadows.
  • This action has sparked outrage from the Japanese audience, as well as fans of the franchise.
  • The portrayal isn’t only historically inaccurate but also goes against cultural values.

Ubisoft recently released the Assassin’s Creed Shadows trailer, which has sparked a huge controversy over the portrayal of its main character, Yasuke, as a samurai. While Yasuke has been extremely popular in fiction, not much is known about him from actual history. What we do know is that Yasuke was a retainer. It may not sound like a big difference to anyone, but these two roles are significantly different from a cultural perspective.

Representation is also another aspect that Ubisoft should’ve taken into account. Assassin’s Creed Shadows is the first-ever AC game set in Japan, and there were extremely high expectations from it, especially from the Japanese. Even though falling short of expectations is nothing new for Ubisoft, there was a much better way to handle these things.

Note that Yasuke’s Wikipedia page has been drastically vandalized since the release of Assassin’s Creed Shadows. Many fans are editing the page to justify his role in the title following the announcement of Assassin’s Creed Shadows.

For that reason, I am citing an older version of his Wikipedia page, which was recorded prior to the announcement, for some of the knowledge here. Additionally, you can find more info about Yasuke and his short stay in Japan in the book “Japan in Africa, Africa in Japan” and in the highly informative article written by Kenji Ando.

Yasuke, from the Assassin's Creed Shadows trailer. | Image source YouTube
Yasuke, from the Assassin’s Creed Shadows trailer. | Image Source: YouTube

Yasuke, A Retainer

According to actual history, Yasuke was taken in by Oda Nobunaga, a feudal lord from the second half of the 16th century. Nobunaga was fascinated by Yasuke’s dark-colored skin and muscular body before deciding to make him his servant/retainer. Note that a dark-skinned person was extremely rare from the Japanese’s perspective during that era.

A retainer is basically a servant who is allowed to carry a weapon, unlike a samurai who has authority over others. It is definitely not the same thing. Here’s an example from another game from Japan: Wolf/Sekiro was a retainer of the Divine Child despite being a shinobi.

In the eyes of society, he was considered the Divine Hier’s servant, nothing more than that.

The first in-game meeting between Sekiro and the Divine Heir. | Image source: YouTube
The first in-game meeting between Sekiro and the Divine Heir. | Image Source: YouTube

While we do see many pieces of fiction depicting Yasuke as an expert swordsman, there are no records of him winning any major battles, as most samurais of the era would. There’s also no record of him murdering any prominent figure. However, judging from what we know of his physique from historical texts, Yasuke might’ve been a great fighter.

Representation And Cultural Values

Representation shouldn’t only matter when we’re talking about Western countries. Ubisoft should’ve considered that the Japanese would like to be represented in a globally popular IP set in their country. Not only that, Ubisoft then goes on to mess with their cultural values, portraying a mere retainer as a samurai.

Respecting cultural values is of great importance, and I don’t have to explain why. Over the years, samurais have been an integral part of Japanese culture. The portrayal of a retainer as a samurai, which can also be considered nobility, has caused huge dissatisfaction among the Japanese audience, as can be seen in the comment section of the Assassin’s Creed Shadows trailer.

Despite all that, I think the fans are also at fault here. It is undoubtedly true that Yasuke has been portrayed as a samurai in several works of fiction, including Nioh, another title that is set in medieval Japan, but we never got to see such an outrage then. Nioh even had William Adams, an Englishman, as an MC, but his case is slightly different since William Adams was an actual samurai under a lord.

Yasuke appears as a samurai in Nioh. | Image source: YouTube
Yasuke appears as a samurai in Nioh. | Image Source: YouTube


Historical inaccuracies aside, Ubisoft should’ve been more considerate, but I think that’s too big an ask from a corporation with such a history. Retainer/servant or Samurai shouldn’t be considered the same due to the difference in authority and cultural value.

But then again, there’s very little recorded history regarding Yasuke, which makes it easy to manipulate and glorify. This is also the reason we see so many pieces of fiction portraying Yasuke differently. Furthermore, “the first African-born samurai” does sound exceptionally cool, even if it is not as true.

However, this isn’t the first time Yasuke has been portrayed as a samurai in a work of fiction, which is why I don’t fully understand the outrage. But as far as representation and cultural values matter, I’ll stand on the side of the Japanese audience as I feel like an injustice has been done here.

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Wikipedia[archived]Way Of BushidoJapan in Africa, Africa in JapanHuffingtonpost

Fahad is a news reporter at eXputer with a huge passion for fighting games. For the past year, he has been utilizing his skills to report on the latest and greatest in the gaming industry. Side by side with his bachelor's in computer science, Fahad has also acquired a certification in English for Journalism from Coursera. Fahad now dedicates all his time to either playing video games or reporting news at eXputer.

Experience: 1+ Years || Covers News Stories at eXputer || Bachelor's in Computer Science.

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