Book Launch: Thomas Lockley’s Gentleman from Japan

Book Launch: Thomas Lockley’s Gentleman from Japan

Thomas Lockley follows the life of a slave-turned-elite in his latest book


Uncover the untold journey of Christopher, from Asia to Queen Elizabeth’s Court, in “A Gentleman from Japan” by Thomas Lockley. From slavery to nobility, follow his extraordinary path that reshapes history. Available May 21, 2024.

Thomas Lockley wrote his first international book about Yasuke, a non-Japanese person who made a name for himself in Japan. After seeing its positive reception from both his university students and readers, Lockley wanted to find more inspirational stories. That was when he found Christopher, or as he puts it, Christopher found him.

That first book, Yasuke: The true story of the legendary African Samurai, follows the story of an African bodyguard in Japan that caught the attention of many, including the famous warlord Oda Nobunaga. After Nobunaga’s attention grew into a close friendship, he endowed Yasuke with a sword and a house on his castle grounds. This gained Yasuke the reputation as Japan’s first non-Japanese samurai. 

Lockley, an associate professor at Nihon University, found that stories of Yasuke piqued his students’ interest and helped get them engaged. Eventually, that translated to an engaged readership, too. But if Yasuke’s story was about someone coming from the outside in, what was there to say about the other way? To answer this question, Lockley set out to find a story that could showcase the accomplishments of Japan abroad.

An Idea Brought to Life

That was when he came across Christopher: “For people who are involved in Anglo-Japanese history, he’s always been a footnote. He’s in all the books. But if you look deeper at the surrounding documents his story is so much more complicated.”

That deeper look turned into Lockley’s new book, A Gentleman from Japan: The Untold Story of an Incredible Journey from Asia to Queen Elizabeth’s Court. It follows the life of Christopher, whose Japanese birth name was lost to the mists of time, but whose story of tragedy and travel has been resurrected in Lockley’s narrative non-fiction novel. 

One of the surprises that Lockley came across when unraveling this tale is right there in the title – gentleman. At first glance, the word “gentleman” might simply conjure up ideas of a courteous man, but as Lockley delved further into his research, he found that it actually referred to a social title. To be a gentleman was to be nobility. Perhaps even more surprising was that Christopher, a former slave, had been raised to that rank overnight by Thomas Cavendish. 

Despite Christopher’s background as a maritime slave, he went on to do a lot of extraordinary things. He was the first recorded Asian person to set foot in North America and in England, and the first to have an audience with Queen Elizabeth I. He learned English on the year-long boat ride from California to England. Christopher even played a crucial role in England’s seafaring, as his mapmaking and compass skills were far beyond anything the country had access to at the time. 

A New Perspective

“It seems like a story that would have been told many times, but it hasn’t.” Lockley reflected, explaining that most people think that the events of the Iwakura Embassy or the Edo period were the first time a Japanese person was recorded in Britain, but Christopher’s story came much earlier. “It’s a rewriting of historical ideas in a way that hasn’t really been done before in a mainstream capacity. I want people to read it and think ‘Ah, naruhodo (I see). I didn’t look at it that way before.’” 

He went on to explain that people often have an insular concept of Japanese history, with much of the public narrative and records being land-based, when in reality things are far more nuanced. Something that has changed Lockley’s perspective on Japanese history and particularly of Kyushu is just how much interaction the area had with overseas regions. 

“If you go to western Kyushu and get on a ship there, you’d probably get to China far quicker than Kyoto. People of the west were multicultural and in some ways more intertwined with lands across the sea than they were with the central capital regions of the time.”

What to Take Away

In Lockley’s deep-dive into the life of this extraordinary individual, he came away with a new perspective on both Japanese and British history, and in doing so wanted to create a book that he would like to read himself, shying away from the dry textbook style that plagues so many history books. He hopes that this narrative style and exploration of things from a previously overlooked perspective will allow readers to come away with that same sense of wonder. 

“I feel inspired by both Christopher and Yasuke. They were both dealt awful cards in life, and they went ahead and somehow made the best of things. I’ve been dealt pretty good cards and I’d like to think I can make something from those cards. Sharing their lives is my contribution.”
A Gentleman from Japan: The Untold Story of an Incredible Journey from Asia to Queen Elizabeth’s Court comes out on May 21, 2024, and will be available at bookstores across Japan and online. Book signings and conferences will be posted on his Facebook and Instagram pages.