What is Yamato’s gender identity in One Piece?
Or: a very long article addressing a loaded question that's actually not so easy to answer.
Of the over 1000 (literally) characters in the over 1000 (also literally) chapters and episodes of One Piece, few have catapulted into widespread popularity as astronomically as Yamato. Yamato ranked eleventh in last year’s Global Popularity Poll, which was run by manga publisher Shueisha and voted on by fans.
This is astounding for two reasons. One, Yamato outranked several Straw Hats, including Usopp and Chopper. And two, this poll happened before Yamato was even introduced in the anime, meaning the upvotes happened entirely from manga-readers. The character’s popularity is heartening for another reason: at the time of the poll, Yamato was widely accepted (and celebrated) among the One Piece fanbase as a trans man.
Is Yamato a girl or a boy? What is Yamato’s gender identity in One Piece? Some context is in order. After the Straw Heats head to Onigashima, Yamato is first introduced to us as “Kaido’s son” (Kaido is one of the “Yonko,” or Four Emperors). Yamato also starts off wearing a very figure-obscuring outfit and a Hannya mask (more on this in a second).
Everyone in the Beast Pirates refers to Yamato with “he/him” pronouns, as do the episode descriptions in Crunchyroll. After Yamato’s proper introduction, Luffy quickly jumps to calling Yamato “Yama-o,” which roughly translates to “Yama-guy” and is the same nicknaming structure he uses for Trafalgar Law (“Oi, Tra-o!!”).
But then in fall 2021, One Piece’s author, Eiichiro Oda, said in a set of Vivre Cards that Yamato is female. This sent the fanbase into disarray and confusion. Furthermore, after Yamato’s face reveal, both the anime and manga re-introduce Yamato as “Kaido’s daughter.”
Yamato self-identifies as Kozuki Oden, who is a man, and therefore “became a man, too.” But it’s also safe to assume that Kaido’s own referral to Yamato as his “son” is not out of respect for Yamato’s personal wishes, and it’s certainly not out of respect for Yamato’s reverence of the person who gave Kaido his scar. Yamato is introduced to us in explosive handcuffs shackled by Kaido himself, after all. Kaido is very much the type to give birth to a daughter and say, “No way, I need a son. So you’re my son.” All of this added confusion to Yamato’s pronouns as the battle on Onigashima wore on.
There’s also the matter of that Hannya mask, which is a potent symbol. However, as ubiquitous as it is in Japan, many outside of the country wouldn’t catch the symbolism. The Hannya mask is one of the most recognizable masks in Noh, which is a Japanese dance-drama. It specifically represents “female rage and pain.” Quite poetically, “When the mask is held straight ahead, it looks angry. When the mask is held a little down it looks sad,” which certainly reads for Yamato’s character.
So what gives? What pronouns should we all be using for this beloved badass?
Since the original penning of this article, the manga has provided us with a definite answer. Yamato is a trans man and uses “he/him” pronouns.
SPOILERS FOR THE ONE PIECE MANGA AHEAD
The answers came to us via a fateful trip to the onsen, or hot springs. The castle in the Flower Capital doesn’t have mixed baths, so the characters had to separate themselves by gender. And we got two major answers and victories from that simple set-up: Kikunojo identifies as a woman, and Yamato identifies as a man. Just like that, the series first two non-problematic trans characters were confirmed. (“Non-problematic” being a direct dig at Kama Bakka.)
Of course, Sanji’s and Brook’s reaction to someone with anatomical boobs in the men’s bath is about what you’d expect. (Momonosuke, not captured in this snapshot, also doesn’t understand what’s happening.) I’m choosing to interpret Sanji and Brook’s excitement not to mean that they don’t see Yamato as a man, but that they are body-positive and just really like boobies on anyone.
Meanwhile, look at Kikunojo down there: “This one always felt ashamed, being with the men.” Goddammit, I love her. I’m so happy for both of them.
Honestly, I original had a feminist read of Yamato’s infamous line: “Kozuki Oden was a man, right? So I became a man, too.” It resonated with me, personally, as a femme-identifying person working in male-dominated fields. My thought was: In the world order of both Wano and the Beast Pirates, and in our own, Yamato can’t be female and be allowed to move towards her dreams on an equal footing as a man. You have to, essentially, “become a man” to work towards your dream.
I’m glad I was wrong, though. My old reading of Yamato’s line is still there and still valid. Having a beloved, wildly popular character in one of the most prominent IP on planet earth turn out to be trans is a huge victory. You know what that means: IT’S A FEAST.
(image: Toei Animation)
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