Not all samurai were Japanese

In 1579, a young man arrived in Japan from Mozambique. He was the servant (or slave) of an Italian Jesuit who had been appointed Visitor of the “Indies” (East and South, and East Africa). Where exactly this young man was born is lost to time; he may have been Mozambican, perhaps a member of the Yao people.


In any case, he traveled with his Jesuit master/lord/owner/whatever to the capital area in 1581, and the people were quite amazed at him. According according to one account, several people were crushed to death as the Japanese clamoured to get a good look at the 6’2″ dark-skinned man. There’s no wonder; the Japanese, being an island nation, were relatively insular.

“On the 23rd of the 2nd month March 23, 1581, a black page (黒坊主, kuro-bōzu) came from the Christian countries. He looked about 26, 24 or 25 by Western count or 27 years old; his entire body was black like that of an ox. The man was healthy and good-looking. Moreover, his strength was greater than that of 10 men.”
信長公記 (Shinchō kōki), the chronicle of Oba Nobunaga

Suspecting the young man’s skin colour was due to black ink, warlord Oda Nobunaga (織田 信長) had him strip off his clothes and wash to prove the authenticity of his complexion, and that it wasn’t black paint or ink on his skin. Thus convinced, and impressed with the physical strength and physical attributes of this young man, and, apparently, his level of competence in Japanese, Oda took him into his service, awarding him the position of shikan (仕官), the samurai service. This was a rare honour for a foreigner, let alone a servant, and he was perhaps the warlord’s only non-Japanese warrior.


A  depiction of Yasuke by South African sculptor Nicola Roos

Oda gave him a short, ceremonial katana (刀), as well as the Japanese name Yasuke (弥助, 弥介, 彌助, or 彌介, depending on the source), perhaps a Japanese rendering of his original name, or a reference to his possible Yao ethnicity. In his service as samurai (侍), Yasuke was weapon bearer, and remained with Oda until 1582.

In this year, Oda was attacked by the forces of samurai general Akechi Mitsuhide (明智 光秀), and forced to do seppuku (切腹), suicide by disembowelment. It is said that Yasuke joined the heir and oldest son of his former master, Oda Nobutada (織田 信忠), and fought with Nobutada’s other men before eventually surrendering his sword to Akechi’s men.

After Yasuke’s surrender, Akechi’s warriors asked Akechi himself what they should do with him. The general said of Yasuke that he was a beast, undeserving of the title of samurai, and did not know anything, so they should not kill him. It is speculated that he said this because he pitied Yasuke, and that it was his way of giving him mercy. It is also possible, though, that he simply did not want to offend the Jesuits, in this time of political turmoil. Black people were not discriminated against in Japan at the time, it is said, but, they were admired, since the Buddha was often depicted in black in Japanese temples.

Thus, Akechi ordered that Yasuke be taken to the nanbandera/nanbanji (南蛮寺, literally “temple of the southern barbarians”). What happened next to the first and only African in history to be given the revered title of samurai may never be known. No records survive of his life after his return to the Jesuits.

Nonetheless, his story is still remembered to this day.



African History Lesson : Yasuke [The African Samurai]“, Africapublic

Yasuke“, Wikipedia

Posted in Miscellaneous Language Issues, 日本語 | Tagged , | 3 Comments

Essay on the other codas

Because I have been trying to keep myself disciplined, posting here every week, no matter how busy I am, I decided to let you guys know that I won’t be posting a “full” blog post today, because I have a full day of chores and schoolwork.

Remember the essay to told you I needed to write? Well, I’ve got to work on/start/finish it today. My topic: codas. No, not those CODAs from Deaf studies (Child of Deaf Adults), but  codas from linguistics.

My essay just might serve as inspiration for next week’s blog post… we’ll see.

Have a great week, everyone.

Posted in Just blog stuff, Linguistics | Leave a comment

I’m back on Fiverr!

Last semester, I made the decision break from my freelance Fiverr because of my busy schedule as a student working so many jobs. It was very stressful…. But now, I’m back!

Last week, I got my first order of 2017. And I got a 5-star review!


I’m back in the game, guys! I realise that most of my Fiverr revenue comes from writing back-cover previews (AKA blurbs) for books.


But, of course, that’s not all I do. I write blogs, stories, do other miscellaneous writing projects, proofread/edit

Recently, I decided to add a new gig, Jamaican Creole translation:


One of my friends, Lexxy, a fellow writer who has been an inspiration to me since my teen years, who used to write great Digimon fanfics back in the day, once said to me that it’s great that I am making money from writing. A lot of writers haven’t been able to make revenue from their writing, she told me. I am definitely grateful for the person who told me about Fiverr.

It might be a become hard (again) to maintain Fiverr while dealing with my other responsibilities, but I don’t plan to give up!

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Cherology or phonology…?

When I was first learning sign language linguistics in school, I was exposed to the terms “cherology” and “chereme”.

To give you definitions: Cherology is “the description and analysis of the distinctive units used in the sign language of the deaf” (TheFreeDictionary), and a chereme is “the basic unit of signed communication” (Wikipedia).

These words were coined by Gallaudet University’s William Stokoe to describe sign language linguistics, but his terminology “has been largely abandoned” (Wikipedia), and the terminology of spoken language linguistics (phonology and phoneme) are used instead, even for signed languages.

I am unsure how I feel about this… I mean sign languages do not use phones (sounds), but gestures that often involve, but are not limited to hands. (Some signs, even in JSL, are entirely non-manual.) Certainly, “cherology” itself a bit of a misnomer since sign languages are about more than just hands. (The “cher-” part comes from the Ancient Greek word χείρ, which means “hand”.) But at the same time, linguistics could also be considered as much of a misnomer, since the “lingu” part of of the word comes from a Latin word meaning “tongue”, and speech is about more than just the physical tongue, right?

Hmm… If I ever get into sign linguistics academically, I’ll have to decide if I’m going to use cherelogy/chereme or phonology/phoneme…  Wonder which I’ll choose.

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How linguistics has affected my (creative) writing

There is a saying: “Writers write what they know.” It’s cliché and (of course) contested. As a science fiction/fantasy writer, there’s a clear limit to my own life experiences and what I put on paper: I’ve never wielded a magical sword, or rode on a winged horse, after all.

Still, since being exposed to linguistics, I’ve definitely seen a change in how I interact with art, mine as well as that of others. Two blog posts I wrote last year about language in the Avatar: The Last Airbender universe (“If language in Avatar was more realistic” and “Deaf Language and Culture in Avatar“are a testament to that.

Of course, since I don’t post my original stories online, my readers would not get much of glimpse at how I incorporate language in my work. But it’s definitely there in my fanfiction.

In one story I wrote, “Sailor Philiopa: Surge of the Lifestream“, Princess Saara Yemaya wanders into a chamber beneath her home. Here is what she sees:

It was beautiful. On its smooth white and aquamarine walls, there was writing in the pictographic language of her people. But it was an ancient form, difficult to understand. What she could make out was that where was a record about an ancient battle depicted on these walls. And there was something about… protection… destiny…

Here in a single paragraph, I referenced language evolution and orthography. I didn’t simply say the writing consisted of  “letters” or “symbols”, but pictographs.

Language diversity is something that I’m far more aware of in my writing nowadays, and try to feature it in my works. For one of my Digimon fanfics, I even went as far as to create Hebrew Digicode!

But there’s sort of a balance that has to be made as a writer: The reader might not be as interested in how realistic you make language in your story. If you spend too much time going into it, they might even get bored. Having language (and communication) simple and easy makes for a smoother story, after all. Though Rowling referenced many languages in Harry Potter, she ensured all the important characters spoke and understood English, and it was a success.

Christopher Paolini’s The Inheritance Cycle, on the other hand, is more realistic in its representation of language, with even an interpreter helping the main character communicate in at least one scene. But Inheritance is more mature, and a lot less fast-paced. That Eragon has to learn the Ancient Language is one of the aspects of the story that slow down its pace.

Not every reader loves when things slow down… That’s probably why most sci-fi/fantasy franchises don’t make language barriers much of an issue. They completely ignore language altogether, or use some sort of Universal Translator.

I’m still working on how to perfect this… Maybe one day, I’ll get there.

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When it rains, it pours…. Bye, 2016!

Happy New Year, everyone!
Api Nyuu Ier, evribadi!

This past year… man, what a crazy one it was for me. A lot of things happened that made it rather difficult, especially . I got so busy with work and school that I had to put my Fiverr account on vacation mode. (Useful feature…) Of course, that means I was making no money from my writing, which I felt sad about… But I was too busy to do anything about it.

It was one course in particular that was making me feel so busy/crazy. Some academic writing thing. Anyway, I am done with that course. I think… I hope… It’s one of those courses that I don’t really care about getting a good grade in… just want to pass!

And then… my laptop died. I asked a Deaf guy who’s very good with computers to see if he could fix it. Nope. It’s dead… Gone for good. Just when I finally got a holiday, and have an essay to write.


This… is why I haven’t been blogging lately, guys…

But… with the help of my father, I was able to buy another one. So, back to writing my blogs, my stories (good thing I saved my documents in online clouds to make sure I don’t lose them…), and my essay.

I set up my new laptop. I think I’ll call him… 洸二(こうじ、Kouji)Hopefully this coming year, I’ll have more time to do creative writing… I miss it. My author friend told me about a bit of freeware called FocusWriter that helps provides a distraction-free writing environment. I downloaded it, and customised the theme:


Got the background image from a Deviant Artist. Poliwag was a favourite Pokémon of mine as a child, and I thought this was a very serene backdrop for my writing. I plan to make time to make use of it!!! Robyn, my dear friend, did you know about program?

Anyway, I’m back. Nothing particularly language-related today, but don’t worry. Next week, it’s business as usual!

Posted in Non-language issues | Tagged , | 2 Comments

Bridges and Numbers

I knew I’d have fun with this course. The essay isn’t even due till January, and I’m already thinking about it, even though I’ve got the exam Friday.

I was thinking about doing loan word phonology, specifically words borrowed into Jamaican speech from Japanese. (Changed my mind, though; still Japanese, but a different topic.)

But the idea of loan words reminded me of a topic I’ve wanted to blog about for a while: two games whose names come from Japanese.


A friend of mine told me about this game either this year, or last year. It’s a puzzle game that is extremely addictive if you let it overtake you! I downloaded the app, and went crazy.

My friend told me it means chopsticks, but はし (hashi) is a homophone, written with the same hiragana (sound-based writing), but different kanji (meaning/idea-based writing). Written 箸, it means chopsticks, but written as 橋, it means bridge. And that’s what the name of the game comes from: the idea of bridges. It’s alternate name Hashiwokakeru (橋をかける) means “building bridges”. It’s available in the Google Play Store:


The idea behind the game is that you build bridges to connect “islands”. Each island has a numbers on it, and, in order to solve the puzzle, the number of bridges connected each “island” must be the same as the number on it.

It can be tricky depending on the difficulty of the specific archipelago you’re given; the numbers assigned to the islands, and the size of the puzzle. Sometimes, a single difference can determine if you solve the puzzle.

I haven’t played it in a while, though. I should give it a try again soon.

If you try it, let me know!


I suspect this one is more popular. I’ve seen it in book stores, and on people’s phones. In English, we say Sudoku, but in Japanese, it’s Sūdoku (数独、すうどく), which means “digit single”. The game’s history dates back to outside of Japan; when it got there, it received the name 数字は独身に限る (すうじはどくしんのかぎる、Sūji wa dokushin ni kagiru, “the digits must be single”), which became shortened to the name we know today.

As you can see in these pics from Wikipedia, sudoku is a grid based puzzle game in which the player tries to ensure that the numbers 1 to 9 are all present in 3 by 3 squares. To make matters even more complicated, no number can be repeated in the the 3 by 3 squares or in vertical and horizontal lines. It’s a brilliantly simple and fun puzzle; simple in its concept, not so simple to solve!

I’ve spent quite a bit of time having fun with both these puzzle games. Hashi was more fun for me, though. These games remind me just how much of a global village we’ve become. I suspect people play these games all the time without even the slightest idea that their names are Japanese loan words!

Anyway, back to studying!

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