In total, over 6,700 miles of land, sea and people lie between Knoxville and Japan. To the average observer, it may seem like a no-brainer to mark these two cities as totally distinct.

But for Noriko Horiguchi, UT’s associate professor of modern Japanese literature, the opposite rings true.

A native of Kobe, Japan, Horiguchi originally took a position at UT in 2002, before which she spent 10 years in the northeastern United States. Like many visitors to the U.S., Horiguchi initially assumed America’s culture was synonymous with its big cities. Yet, after interacting with southern hospitality, its politeness and the general “indirect manner” with which Knoxville residents speak, Horiguchi came to discover that the American South was much closer Japan than she originally believed.