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In Yokomichi Yonosuke (A story of Yonosuke) each time Yonosuke introduces himself other people seem to be amused by his name. Why is that? Is this some kind of Japanese wordplay?

  • Isn't it explained in the movie? Something about the YY or Yo-Yo initials being funny? – Walt Mar 15 '15 at 23:45
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As it was brought up in the chat over at japanese.stackexchange, here's my take on it from a language perspective. I haven't watched the movie.

The Japanese spelling of his name is 横道(yokomichi) 世之介(yonosuke). Note that in Japanese the surname comes first.

Here's an interview with the writer Shuuichi Yoshida (吉田修一) I found.※

I decided I wanted to write a story about an 18 years old teenager who comes to Tokyo to start his life as a student at an university. I thought I would name it after the protagonist. I came up with the name Yonosuke first, and had been thinking what to make of his surname, when the mistress of the pub where I went regularly suggested "Make it rhyme." Together with the other customers we started to scribble many surnames beginning with "yo" on our beverage coasters: Yoshida, Yoshio... we came up with many candidates. As the name Yokomichi came up, everybody was like "Ah!" and we all agreed on this name unanimously. So it was decided. I'm from the Nagasaki prefecture, and there we've got a word "Yokomichi-mono" (横道もの) that refers to somebody who's a bit lazy or is slacking off, and there's also the expression "Yokomichi ni soreru" (lit. stray off to a side road; stray away from the topic) .., that's the kind of nuance behind his name.

His surname, Yokomichi is a normal Japanese word and literally means "side road". It's not exactly a common surname, and it's like if you introduced yourself as I'm Mr. Sideroad. It sounds like somebody from a more rural area as well.

Often you might introduce yourself with your surname only, but imagine you add his given name Yonosuke as well. It sounds a bit funny just by virtue of rhyming (alliteration) with his surname.

介 (suke) derives from the name for a governmental official's rank; and quite commonly used for male given names, and doesn't really mean anything anymore and is more like a staple name. 世 (Yo) is "world, epoch, current times". Suke might also be a pun on 助 (suke), "support, help".

"John Smith" is an English staple name, and to illustrate, Yonosuke would be a bit like John (of the) World.


※ For reference the relevant part of the interview in the original Japanese.

執筆にあたり、18歳の青年が上京して大学生活を送る話にしようと決めて、その主人公の名前を作品タイトルにしたいと思ったんです。まず『世之介』という名前が降ってきて、じゃあ名字はどうしようと考えているときに、行きつけの飲み屋のママさんが「韻を踏んだほうがいい」と。で、その場にいたお客さんも一緒に、「よ」から始まる名字をコースターにいろいろ書き出して、吉田、横尾といろいろ候補を挙げていくうちに「横道」という名字が出た瞬間、「ああ~!」と、みんなから声があがり、満場一致で決まりました。僕は長崎県出身なんですけど、長崎には横着な人間を表す「横道もの」という言葉があって、ほかにも「横道にそれる」とか、そんなニュアンスも含んでいます。

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Sounds like it's the sort of name you'd expect to hear on a country bumpkin... like Cletus in the US, maybe (sorry to anyone named Cletus who may be on SE).

Much of the charm of THE STORY OF YONOSUKE inevitably rests on the character at the centre of the film. Although it may not be evident to outsiders, the very name Yonosuke Yokomichi has a peculiar resonance in Japanese that amuses everyone who meets him. It’s a joke name, the name a comedian would have, a name that could only come from rural Japan and sound ridiculous to the more sophisticated young people of Tokyo.

  • Yes, suggestions that this could be a comedian name (and second one on same initials) is present in the movie. However this does explain why is it so funny. – rostok Mar 16 '15 at 17:35
  • sorry I must have somehow ommited 'not'. I appreciate the effort but unfortunately I still don't get it. I guess I must have been looking for some more direct translation or hint. I am also afraid that this will remain a mystery to me as I don't understand the Cletus example as well. – rostok Mar 17 '15 at 22:33
  • I don't think there's a translation that will make it obviously funny... I did look at the translation but it's not anything that, to a native English Speaker is funny... I think it's just something that only make sense to Native Japanese... That being said, I'm contacting Anime and the Japanese room to see if anyone can offer an answer. – Catija Mar 18 '15 at 5:05

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