A still from the music video to "Lost in Japan" composited with a map of Japan and its surroundings.

Where is “Lost in Japan”?

Shawn Mendes’ song “Lost in Japan” has had me geographically confused since I first heard it covered by Scary Pockets. If you haven’t listened to the lyrics, the song is about a person who is thinking about their crush and the possibility of taking a last-minute flight to Japan to see them.

The question I can’t get off my mind is: where is the song supposed to be taking place?

The chorus goes:

Do you got plans tonight?
I’m a couple hundred miles from Japan, and I
I was thinking I could fly to your hotel tonight
‘Cause I can’t get you off my mind

from which we can infer that

  1. the crush is somewhere in Japan
  2. the singer is outside of Japan, and
  3. both people are close enough to an international airport for one to entertain the idea of flying to the other’s hotel.

The most likely candidates for airports within “a couple hundred miles from Japan” are in South Korea.

When I first considered the geography of the song, I was satisfied with that answer: couple of hundred miles, South Korea, that sounds about right. But then I noticed the opening lyrics:

All it’d take is one flight
We’d be in the same time zone

That would seem to rule out South Korea, which is in the same time zone as Japan. With the closest locations out of the picture, we have to stretch our interpretation of the song. Here are the possibilities I can see.

The singer could be in Shanghai

Shanghai is 500 miles (in different directions) from Okinawa and Kyūshū Islands. Shanghai Pudong International Airport was the eighth-busiest airport in the world when “Lost in Japan” was released, and has plenty of routes to both Naha and Nagasaki.

This is probably the most plausible answer if we make the thematically appropriate assumption that the lovestruck protagonist is downplaying the distance in order to convince themself that taking a last-minute flight is a good idea.

The singer could be in Vladivostok

Vladivostok is also within 500 miles of New Chitose Airport in Sapporo. This possibility is pretty funny, but unfortunately it’s ruled out by logistics. The only regular flight I could find between the two was only opened by Ural Airlines after “Lost in Japan” was released, and did not last long before world events shut it down permanently.

The singer could be in Taipei

There’s only one location that geographically fits the lyrics exactly: our protagonist is in Taiwan, and their crush is less than 200 miles away in Ishigaki on Japan’s southwesternmost inhabited archipelago.

With a creative enough interpretation, this is also consistent with the second verse:

Do I gotta convince you
That you shouldn’t fall asleep?
It’ll only be a couple hours
And I’m about to leave.

The singer is presumably in a hurry to leave because they have just checked the timetable for the only direct flight from Taipei to Ishigaki, which runs on Wednesdays and Saturdays during the tourist season. The flight is short enough that “a couple hours” is realistic if customs is quick.

The line about falling asleep is, of course, a request for the romantic interest to skip their usual afternoon nap, since China Airlines flight 124 arrives at 11:35am.