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Published:September 2nd, 2009 19:18 EST
From Indianapolis, Missouri to Tokyo, China

From Indianapolis, Missouri to Tokyo, China

By Geoff Dean

 I have spent much time here and elsewhere highlighting the differences between Tokyo, my home for the past twenty years, and Indianapolis, my place of birth and home for my first twenty. It is much easier to generate humor (am I a humor generator?) by looking at these differences and subtly dilineating them. Or mocking them tactlessly, whichever garners more cheap laughs.

 Still, in all honesty, Tokyoites and Naptowners, for lack of better appellation, have so much more in common than the sum of their differences. We share in the common humanity, we love, we grieve, we fight, we share, we are the world, we are the ones who make a brighter day! Cue the Disney soundtrack. It`s a small world after all! Feel free to slap me at any time...

 One thing that Tokyo citizens and their Circle City counterparts share (Indianapolis is sometimes referred to as the "circle city", even though a cursory glance at a map of Indy will show that it is square) is utter ignorance of each other.

 When I meet people from back home in Indiana, they often ask me insightful questions like, "Have you been to the Great Wall of China yet? Have you ever seen a panda? What do you think of Chinese food?" Great Wall? You can see it from the moon, they say, but not from Tokyo. Panda? I saw one in Ueno Zoo. Chinese food? I love it and eat some whenever I visit Chinatown in Yokohama. What I don`t bother to say is that I am not in China, I am in Japan. I don`t want to give anyone a heart attack.

 For Hoosiers, Japan is indistinguishable from China, Korea and the rest of Asia. Not that I can put my fellow Midwesterns down too much. I thought that people in Japan wore kimonos all the time and rode around in rickshaws before I came, too. I guess I didn`t notice that everyone I knew had a Japanese car. My knowledge of Japan extended to a misunderstanding of sumo, sushi, and bonsai as presented by Mr. Miyagi of Karate Kid fame.

 You might hope that cosmopolitan Tokyoites would be much better and in a sense, they are. If you mention America, most have been at least once. They know West Coast cities like Seattle (Ichiro), Los Angelos (Disneyland), and San Francisco. They go inland as far as Las Vegas. From Las Vegas, America suddenly becomes the East Coast of Boston (Matsuzaka), New York (Matsui), and Florida (Disneyworld). Between Las Vegas and New York however there is a void like the Forbidden Zone in the Planet of the Apes.

 When I tell people that I am from Indiana, they usually ask if that is near New York or LA. I tell that it is near Chicago, a name that seems to be the American version of Timbuktu to them. I add that Indianapolis is south of the Great Lakes. I digress but in Japan, the Great Lakes are called the Five Lakes. I think we should adopt this straightaway. After all, "great" is highly subjective. I`ve been to Lake Michigan many times and it seemed a pretty average lake to me. "Five" on the other hand in indisputable. I don`t appreciate people telling me that lakes are great or canyons are grand or deserts are great and sandy as if I can`t judge things one my own. We will now return to our regularly schedule topic in progress...

 Sometimes, I go whole hog and say that I am from Indianapolis. After all, if they don`t know Indiana anyway, why not be more specific? Reactions have been varied. Many simply smile knowingly and say, "Oh, Indianapolis?" as if they have some idea, which they do not. Several have asked me if I were Indian, as in Native American. One asked me if I was from Calcutta. My favorite response was a man, who in all seriousness said, "Indiana Police? Are you with the Indiana Police?" Yes, I`m here on a special covert operation, posing as a middle aged English teacher to seek and root out crime in Japan`s capital.

 Still, none of that compares to a friend of mine in Indiana who asked me if I could see the pyramids and Sphynx from my balcony. The Sahara Desert in Tokyo? He didn`t just put me in the wrong country. He was off a whole continent! Sarah Palin was mocked, fairly or unfairly, for claiming to be able to see Russia from her window and for thinking that Africa was a country and not a continent. If she ever becomes a Presidential candidate, I have the perfect running mate.