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In Where Are The Black People in 'Shogun'? claims:

I don’t ask out of a desire to see representation when it wasn’t historically accurate. I inquire because there were Black people in Japan in 1600 and before, though Japan could teach Florida a thing or two about rewriting history.

Is this claim that there were Black people in Japan in 1600 when the story of Shogun takes place accurate?

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    This needs more context. Is the question "was there at least one single black person present in Japan in 1600?" Or is it about any noticeable percentage of the population being black? If the former, then it is not a good faith rebuttal against those who don't like that a movie or a video game is being populated by a historically inaccurate amount of "diversity". And the quote seems to want to do just that ("teach Florida a thing or two about rewriting history").
    – vsz
    Mar 12 at 5:23
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    Nevermind, reading the original article makes it clear that it was written by an afrocentrist black-supremacists, with claims that all Samurai were partially black, and that the original inhabitants of Japan were African, etc.
    – vsz
    Mar 12 at 5:46
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    How is this a 'relevant claim' or a 'reputable source'? Are we going to comb through the depths of Reddit or 4chan next?
    – user70366
    Mar 12 at 9:33
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    The article says: "There is a consensus he was something other than pure Japanese, and he is often considered descended from the Ainu, the darker-skinned indigenous people of northern Japan who were subjected to forced assimilation and colonization." Not what you are asking about, but I just want to point out that this is the opposite of reality, which very much indicates wishful thinking on part of the writer, in that the Ainu are noted for being more light-skinned and have historically been considered moer European-looking than their neighbors.
    – Pilcrow
    Mar 12 at 12:11
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    The answer to this question as expressed in the title is about the same as “Were there humans on the Moon in the 20th century?”. Sure, a few came and went.
    – jcaron
    Mar 13 at 21:42

1 Answer 1

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Yes, according to Historical Context of Black Studies in Japan:

Confucian scholar Nishikawa Joken, for example, published Kai tsusho ko (1695), in which he wrote that the Zimbabweans were caribals. He heard this tall story from the Dutch merchants in Nagasaki who bought African natives as their servants.

Nossa Senhora da Graça is a specific example of a ship that brought Black slaves (and their Portuguese masters) to Japan; it dramatically exploded off the coast of Japan in 1610.

The earliest Africans in Japan arrived in the previous century. According to Excluded Presence: Shoguns, Minstrels, Bodyguards, and Japan's Encounters with the Black Other:

In 1546 Portuguese captain Jorge Alvarez brought Africans to Japan. According to Alvarez, Japanese initial reaction to them was primarily one of curiosity: "They like seeing black people," he wrote in 1547, "especially Africans, and they will come 15 leagues just to see them and entertain them for three or four days". The most well-documented case is that Yasuke, a Mozambican brought to Japan by the Italian Jesuit Alessandro Valignano (1537 - 1606) who was presented to daimyô Oda Nobunaga in 1581.

[...]

Tohoku University professor Fujita Midori places the number of Africans temporarily residing in Japan during the 16th century at several hundred. Some came to Japan as slaves, servants, valets, sailors, soldiers, and interpreters. Their roles were not limited to serving Europeans. Like Yasuke, a number of Africans were employed by daimyô in various capacities, as soldiers, gunners, drummers, and entertainers. Whatever their position it appears they attracted the curious. During the Edo Period (1603 - 1867) a small number of black Africans lived in the Dutch settlement in Deshima. Despite the policy of national isolation, records reveal that black Africans mingled freely among the Japanese visitors and were allowed occasionally to leave the island, as were their European masters.

The Wikipedia page for Yasuke (in Japan from 17 August 1579 to 21 June 1582) also provides some examples of artwork depicting a dark skinned man (or men) in Japan and some other solid references like Chapter 2: Africans who came to Japan.

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    What's a "caribal"?
    – Malady
    Mar 11 at 22:46
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    @ShadowRanger Both are established English expressions. OED defines Caribal as "A Carib. (Sometimes regarded historically as equivalent to cannibal, n. 1b.)". And see "tall story" in Cambridge Dictionary.
    – Laurel
    Mar 12 at 12:07
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    I'm not sure this fully addresses the question. Although it shows that dark-skinned people were known to the Japanese of the day, and that some had visited Japan, the underlying premise being questioned is whether they were sufficiently commonplace in late 16th century Japan that an historically accurate depiction should have contained at least a few of them. Or maybe not, given that the OP accepted this answer, but that's certainly how I understood the question. Mar 12 at 17:27
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    @JohnBollinger : If you provide an answer that seems better reasoned, I'm happy to accept that.
    – Christian
    Mar 12 at 19:04
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    How could someone write about Zimbabweans in 1695? Of course the ruins in the inner of Africa existed, but it seems really unlikely that ruins were known in Japan, and even if they were, how could that lead to someone describing a group of people as Zimbabweans? Using the term Zimbabwe for a political entity did not happen until 1979-1980, I believe. Mar 14 at 15:20

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