In Japan, a Shogun is a military leader on a rank equivalent to general. Individuals were given this title after a successful military campaign. The first time ever for the Shogun title to be used was during the Heian period (794-1185).
The first man to be given the Shogun was a black soldier called Sakanoue no Tamuramaro. He became the Sei-i Taishōgun (commander in chief of the Expeditionary Force Against the East-Barbarians) during the military campaign against the Emishi people of Northern Japan.
Born in 758, Tamuramaro became one of the most popular soldiers in Japan, that he became known as the “paragon of military virtues.”
He rose to prominence under the 50th emperor, Emperor Kanmu.
His first military expedition was in June 794.
In the Nihongi Ryaku (Summary of Japanese Chronologies) it is written:
“Vice general Sakanoue no Tamuramaro attacked the Emishi” in June. On September 28, the court prayed to the shrines for the conquest of the Emishi, so the campaign continued.
General Ootomo reported the result on October 28. They “killed four-hundred fifty-seven men, caught one-hundred and fifty, got eighty-five horses and burned seventy-five places.” The Emishi force at the Battle of Subuse was less than two-thousand. We do not know the Japanese casualties, but this was not important for Isawa. We can only imagine the effects on the Emishi population since they were not able to replace them easily.
The success of the raid earned him top military honours. He was appointed to the post of Supervisory Delegate of Michinoku and Ideha and Governor of Michinoku on January 25, 796. He was then promoted to the General of Peace Guard before being named the Seii-Tai Shogun in 797.
Under his command, more people moved to the Korehari Castle, and he oversaw the development of Horse stations established between Korehari and Tamatsukuri. People were able to change their names and military members earned promotions.
His second military expedition was in 801 when he was given the ‘command sword’ on February 24. The expedition went on until April when Tamuramaro subdued the Emishi and expanded Japan’s territory.
In 804, an expedition that had been planned was cancelled after the dispute arose, with one party seeking the end of military conquest and the other supporting continued military expedition.
Tamuramaro died seven years later. He held the titles of great counselor (dainagon) and minister of war (hyobukyo).
He had established a series of fortresses in the towns he stayed including Izawa and Shiwa. He is also considered the soldier on which the Samurai shaped their discipline.
According to the historian, James Murdoch
“In as sense the originator of what was subsequently to develop into the renowned samurai class, he provided in his own person a worthy model for the professional warrior on which to fashion himself and his character. In battle, a veritable war-god; in peace the gentlest of manly gentlemen, and the simplest and unassuming of men.”
Not only was he remembered as the hero of Japan but as a superhero in Japan fantasy story.
He was also featured in a number of historical books and journals including an essay by an anthropologist Alexander Francis Chamberlain, who said:
“And we can cross the whole of Asia and find the Negro again, for when, in far-off Japan, the ancestors of the modern Japanese were making their way northward against the Ainu, the aborigines of that country, the leader of their armies was Sakanouye Tamuramaro, a famous general and a Negro.”
W.E.B Dubois also included Tamuramaro in the list of most distinguished Black rulers and warriors in antiquity.