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Black Journalist Condemns Japanese Historical Drama For Lack Of Racial Diversity

Natasha Biase

A newly released Japanese period drama premiering on Hulu and FX is being slammed as “historically inaccurate” for excluding Black people. In an op-ed, Black journalist William Spivey claims that some “early real-life Shoguns” were Black and that Black people lived in feudal Japan.

Shogun premiered with its first two episodes on February 27, 2024, and follows the story of a European sailor’s clash with a powerful feudal lord in 1500s Japan. While it is historical fiction, it is loosely based on the story of William Adams, an English navigator who became the first Englishman to reach Japan. Williams became a prominent samurai in the Tokugawa Shogunate, which existed from 1603 to 1868.

But while Shogun has received praise from reviewers and audiences for its stunning cinematography, not everyone is happy with the series. One Black journalist has condemned the series for excluding Black people, who he claims existed in 1600s Japan.

“Black people were in Japan in 1600 and before, though Japan could teach Florida a thing or two about rewriting history, explains Spivey, adding the claim that one of the early Shoguns, Sakanoue no Tamuramaro (758–811), was Black.

“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,” continues Spivey.

Although he pulls examples from researchers and historians allegedly proving the presence of black people in Japan “dating back 22,000 years,” Spivey also mistakes a quote by a French Naval doctor from the 1870s for a Japanese Proverb:

“For a Samurai to be brave, he must have a bit of Black blood. — Japanese Proverb,” wrote Spivey.

While the phrase is commonly mistaken as a proverb, according to Quote.org, it was said by French Naval doctor Georges Maget in the 1870s and is considered an inaccurate statement about Japanese ancestry.

In addition to many online pointing out the inaccurate context of the quote, some, like one user on the subreddit r/Facepalm, noted that “black blood” is not literal and comes from the French slang “sang noir,” historically used to describe non-noble blood.

“That was my immediate thought, even if it were to be a real proverb it’d certainly mean metaphorical black blood,” responded another user.

Others, like one X user and film reviewer by the handle @MrHReviews, accuses Spivey of race-baiting, and explained that the show is an accurate dramatization of real-life events and people:

“FFS what is wrong with these people? Why are they like this?” joked journalist Josh Walkos.

Speaking with USA Today, Hiroyuki Sanada, a Japanese actor and producer for Shogun, explained that he “made it his mission to ensure authenticity” for the 10-episode series.

“After 20 years in Hollywood, I’m a producer. It means I can say anything, anytime,” he added, stressing his desire to ensure the show is authentic to Japanese history. “If something is incorrect, people cannot focus on the drama. They don’t want to see that kind of show. We needed to be authentic.”

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Natasha Biase

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