Simeon Bar-Asher is a fictional character, but he is based on potentially real roots. As far as we know there were no Chinese warriors—Jewish or otherwise—in Heian-Kyo (Kyoto) during the reign of Emperor Murakami, or any other time in the Tenth Century.There are, however, stories and legends of Jewish warriors—most likely of Persian descent—fighting for the New Song dynasty. These events are recorded on a stela created by the Jewish community of Kaifeng, but the stela was made centuries later and it is unclear whether it depicts real events or an idealized history. Yet, there are numerous accounts of Jewish traders, at least, reaching China as far back as the Tang Dynasty (and some believe earlier). This was hundreds of years before Emperor Taizu assumed power and welcomed foreigners living in China to the new capitol, Kaifeng. Is it possible there were Jewish warriors fighting for Emperor Taizu as he sought to unify Southern China? Absolutely! Is this definite history? Absolutely not! Is it likely? I believe so, at least in small numbers, but I am not a China historian.
What about Bar Asher’s trip to Heian-Kyo? It is an open question whether foreign traders made it to Heian-Kyo in the latter part of the Tenth Century. Trading and diplomatic ships were generally routed through Hakata (near modern day Fukouka) during the Heian era, but that does not mean there were no foreign traders that came by other routes. In The Accidental Samurai the Hui, the ship on which Bar-Asher sailed, ended up landing near Izumo, far to the North of Hakata due to an unusual weather pattern and damage to the ship from the attack in Silla. Moreover, the Hui did not land directly at Izumo, but rather near a small village which may have had little communication with the Capitol. Also, the arrival of a foreign trading vessel that did not want its arrival announced would have been a great opportunity for the villagers who were suffering high taxation at that time (the book explains that this was so throughout Japan at that time).
Additionally, Chinese Buddhist monks did visit Heian-Kyo during that time, and therefore Li Cheng’s advice that Bar Asher stay at Ninna-Ji made good sense both because the Temple would likely be more welcoming to foreigners than the surrounding community, and because a foreigner might be less noticeable if staying at a Temple outside the central city. Bar-Asher’s other adventures in Heian-Kyo are fictional, but that is the joy of historical fiction. Authors can tell a thrilling fictional story set in a meticulously researched setting that was once real!