Welcome to ... how would you pronounce that name?

Welcome to ... how would you pronounce that name? (Joseph Giordono / S&S)

YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — When Petty Officer 2nd Class David Sharp stepped off the military flight that brought him to Japan from the United States, a simple mistake almost got him hopelessly lost.

“There was a guy standing there asking if anyone needed to catch the bus for ‘Yakuuska.’ For the whole time I was getting ready to PCS here, all I’d heard people say was ‘Yokosuka,’ so I walked right by him,’” Sharp recalled.

“Now, every time I hear someone say it that way, I want to punch them.”

Not everyone at this Navy base south of Tokyo has such a visceral reaction, but you can be sure they’ve got an opinion on how to say the name of the city in which they live.

The variations are numerous but come down to two basic pronunciations: “Yo-ko-ska,” with the second “o” slightly clipped (this is how the Japanese pronounce it); or “Ya-kuu-ska,” which inevitably sounds like it has a slight southern American twang.

The second, according to Japanese-language guides and Yokosuka city officials, is wrong. So why do so many people here insist on saying it that way?

“I dunno. It’s the way that my chief said it when I got here, and I always felt like I’d have to say it that way around him, so that’s the way I’d always say it,” said Craig Doyle, a former Kitty Hawk sailor in his mid-30s who stayed in Japan after getting out of the Navy last year.

“I don’t say it that way to Japanese people, but for some reason, I say it that way around the sailors.”

Some sailors have an even quicker answer.

“What’s the difference? I don’t want to live here however you say it,” said one sailor, when asked how he says the name.

Other veteran Yokosuka hands don’t know where the mispronunciation comes from, either.

“I mean, you wouldn’t say ‘Dez Moines,’ would you? So why would you say ‘Yokosoko’ or anything else?” asked Jon Nylander, a longtime spokesman for U.S. Naval Forces Japan, who first saw Yokosuka as a sailor in 1969.

For public affairs and protocol officers, correcting pronunciations used by high-ranking officials can be dicey.

“Generally, I just try to say it right, and hope that they catch on. I won’t really challenge them directly about it, especially if they outrank me,” Nylander said. “I used to tell people on the ship to say it right, but I wasn’t too polite about it. Guess I can’t do that now.”

Of course, even Japanese officials have some questions about the name.

According to a Yokosuka City spokesman, there is no definite origin of the name Yokosuka. Instead, he offered an excerpt from a history book written and published by the Yokosuka Cultural Association.

“The name ‘Yokosuka’ can be found not just at our city but various places around the country. Places such as Aichi, Shizuoka, and Ibaraki prefecture also have places called ‘Yokosuka’ but uses different Chinese characters,” the book reads.

“The meaning of ‘suka’ can be interpreted as a mountain of sand in shallow waters that appears above the waters. Since it is often used for geographic names near coasts, it can also be used to mean ‘coast’ or ‘boat slip.’”

Separately, “su” and “ka” also have multiple interpretations.

“Su” can mean simply a place where people live, or a new residential area to be developed.

“Ka” typically means to celebrate or to be delighted and would be combined with “su” to signify a place that is praised. On the other hand, “ka” can also just mean “a place.”

“As for ‘yoko,’” the book reads, “it means to be spread to the left and right, which means it is opposite of longitudinal. Some say longitudinal is north and south and transversal is east and west. Therefore, it could mean that the geological formation of the coastal mountain of sands are spreading east and west rather than north and south.”

Confused? Welcome to Yokosuka. Just be sure to pronounce it right.

— Hana Kusumoto contributed to this report.

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