Where is the song "Lost in Japan" set?

Where is the song "Lost in Japan" set?

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. As 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

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

The chorus implies that the crush is somewhere in Japan, the singer is close to but outside of Japan, and 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.

The area 100–500 miles from a Japanese airport with year-round scheduled international flights.

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 [1]. 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 Taipei

The four main islands of Japan are nowhere close to Taiwan, but the Ryūkyū archipelago spans most of that gap. The Yaeyama Islands, Japan's southernmost and westernmost inhabited archipelago, are less than 200 miles from Taipei! The singer will have to have very good timing, though, if their crush is that close: they'll have to catch a specific flight from Taipei to Ishigaki, which is only possible if the song takes place sufficiently early on a Wednesday or Saturday during the tourist season.

More options are available if "a couple of hundred miles" is an optimistic description of the 410 miles between Taiwan and Okinawa Island; Several airlines have routes between Taipei and Naha Airport.

The singer could be in Shanghai

If we're being lenient on the distance quoted in the chorus, we might also consider Shanghai, which 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.

In an alternate interpretation of the song, the distance separating the two main characters might be more than the couple of hundred miles from the protagonist to the closest point in Japan. The difference can't be too great, because a later lyric tells us that

It'll only be a couple hours
And I'm about to leave

but as long as we consider Shanghai to be close enough to Japan to satisfy the chorus, the singer could be considering catching a two-hour flight from Shanghai to Ōsaka.

The singer could be in Vladivostok

The most entertaining possibility is that the song concerns the twice-weekly flight from Vladivostok to New Chitose Airport in Sapporo. Unfortunately, Ural Airlines did not open this route until after "Lost in Japan" was released, and it did not last long before world events shut it down permanently.

Conclusion

The geography of "Lost in Japan" was never meant to be dissected to this degree. As the songwriter himself put it:

It's a metaphor for getting lost in love with somebody… It's one of those songs that doesn't need to make sense to me.

Shawn Mendes

But if you do want to overthink it — and I do — it is likely that the song takes place a little further away from Japan as the chorus would have you believe, as the lovestruck protagonist exaggerates how close they are to their crush to convince themself that taking a last-minute flight is a good idea. Which is pretty appropriate to the themes of the song!


  1. It would be a very different song if the lyrics went off on a tangent about the history of standardized time in South Korea and Japan:

    All it'd take is one flight
    We'd be in the same tz
    ('88 Olympics —
    Seoul used daylight saving time)

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