Finding Shawn Mendes

In this day and age, celebrities have a lot of influence over our politics. Garthwaite and Moore estimated that Oprah Winfrey’s endorsement of Barack Obama in 2008 netted him an extra 1 million votes [1]. More recently, an Instagram post by Taylor Swift led over 160,000 Americans to register to vote prior to the 2018 midterm elections [2]. With the advent of social media, we have an ever increasing need to know celebrities’ opinions on the political issue of the day. Celebrities by and large have obliged — but with notable exceptions.

Shawn Mendes is a pop singer/songwriter from Canada who became famous several years ago. If you’re anything like me, you wake up every morning, thinking to yourself, “What is Shawn Mendes’ position on the Kuril Islands territorial dispute between Japan and Russia?” You try Googling the “Shawn Mendes Kuril Islands” — but alas, just like on every previous morning, you fail to find a public statement from Mendes on the issue. Indeed, as far as I can tell, Mendes has never publicly stated his position on the dispute.

Shawn_Mendes_Confused
Figure 1: Shawn Mendes looking alarmed after being asked his position on the Kuril Islands dispute. I wonder where he’s headed on that plane…

Well, lucky you: I believe I may have found out Mendes’ opinion, cryptically hidden in his 2018 single “Lost in Japan” [3].

The chorus of “Lost in Japan” 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-I-I can’t get you off my mind
Can’t get you off my mind
Can’t get you off my mind (oh)

Despite the song’s name, Mendes is clearly not lost in Japan: he is a “couple hundred miles” from Japan. This raises the question: if not in Japan, where exactly is Shawn Mendes lost? Let’s find out.

Map_1.png
Figure 2: Circles of radius 200 miles overlaying a map of Japan

Consider Figure 2: circles of radius 200 miles centered at various points in Japan. Not much land is a couple hundred miles from Japan, but there is some. Perhaps Mendes is in South Korea, perhaps the Russian far-east. South Korea seems much more plausible, since it’s substantially more populous than these parts of Russia; but we can’t be sure yet. Let’s take a closer look at the lyrics.

All it’d take is one flight
We’d be in the same time zone
[…]
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-I-I can’t get you off my mind
[…]
I know it’s more than just a friendship
I can hear you thinking ’bout it, yeah
Do I gotta convince you?
That you shouldn’t fall asleep?
It’ll only be a couple hours
And I’m about to leave

Mendes is a couple hundred miles from Japan and wants to fly there tonight to see his “more than just a friend” (henceforth, “friend” for short). There are several useful pieces of information in the lyrics, the first of which is “We’d be in the same time zone.” This implies that Mendes is currently not in the same time zone as his friend. Let us look now at a map of time zones in eastern Asia.

Time_Zones.png
Figure 3: Time zones of Eastern Asia

Aha! As demonstrated by Figure 3, Mendes cannot be in South Korea, because South Korea and Japan are in the same time zone.

Instead, perhaps Mendes is in China, and that “couple hundred miles” is an innocent understatement. However, China is too far from Japan for this to be a real possibility. Indeed, about the shortest flight that one could take between China and Japan is from Shanghai to Fukuoka.

Shanghai_Fukuoka
Figure 4: The distance from Shanghai to Fukuoka is 5.45 hundred miles.

The distance between Shanghai and Fukuoka is 545 miles, a quantity which cannot plausibly be called a “couple hundred miles.”

words_for_small_sets
Figure 5: Official definition of a “couple.” [4]
Indeed, as demonstrated by Figure 5, the word “couple” means “2 (but sometimes up to 5).” It would be a dishonest abuse of language to refer to 5.45 of something as a “couple.” So Mendes is not in China.

There is another possibility to consider: the Ryukyu Islands, an archipelago of islands belonging to Japan, stretch very far south, almost to Taiwan:

location_of_the_ryukyu_islands
Figure 6: The Ryukyu Islands and Taiwan

The most southwesterly of these islands is a small island called Ishigaki, which is approximately 200 miles from Taipei, Taiwan.

Taipei_Ishigaki_Distance
Figure 7: Taipei is a couple hundred miles from Japan (namely, Ishigaki).

The lyrics say, “All it’d take is one flight.” Is there really a direct flight from Taipei to this tiny island? Indeed, there is — for part of the year. China Airlines flight 124 is a direct flight from Taipei to Ishigaki that flies between the months of April and October

CI_124
Figure 8: the schedule of the last flight of China Airlines 124 in 2019. It is a daytime flight [5].
However, there are two issues with this theory. First, the flight is a daytime flight, departing from Taipei at 11:40am. This contradicts the song lyrics, which clearly state “I was thinking I could fly to your hotel tonight.” There are no other flights from Taipei to Ishigaki, or from any other Taiwanese city to Ishigaki, or from Taipei to any other Japanese city within anywhere close to 200 miles away.

(You might object that perhaps Mendes charters flights and so is unconstrained by public flight schedules. However, this is not the case: see here [6].)

The second issue is that Shawn Mendes is allergic to mosquito bites [7].

The Asian tiger mosquito is a mosquito species native to eastern Asia, and Taipei is teeming with these mosquitoes practically year-round [8].

aedes_albopictus
Figure 9: The Asian tiger mosquito. Shawn Mendes wouldn’t be so foolish as to venture into places where these creatures abound. No wonder he lives in Canada.

It is therefore unlikely that Mendes would find himself in Taipei to begin with. This leaves us with only one possibility: Mendes is flying in from the barren lands of the Russian far-east. Let’s take a closer look.

Russia_Hokkaido_Kurils.png
Figure 10: Map of Japan and the Russian far east

The land masses belonging to Russia that are within 200 miles of Japan include: part of the Sakhalin Island; small parts of the east coast of the Russian mainland; and the Kuril islands to the northeast1. It turns out that between all of these places, there is only one airport with direct flights to Japan: the Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk Airport, based in the town of Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk, the largest on Sakhalin Island (population 180,000).

Yuzhno_Sakhalinsk_Airport
Figure 11: flights from Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk, the only Russian city with short direct flights to Japan [9]
Aha! Perhaps Mendes is flying from Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk to Sapporo, the largest city in northern Japan. There is one flight from Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk to Sapporo: Aurora flight HZ4536. On most days of the week, the flight is not an evening flight — but on Sunday it is, departing Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk at 6:30pm. So maybe Mendes plans to take the Sunday night flight from Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk to Sapporo. This sounds reasonable, but there are a couple issues with this theory:

  • The flight, which departs at 6:30pm, arrives at… 6:00pm, due to a time zone difference.2 In the song lyrics, Mendes asks his friend, “Do I gotta convince you? / That you shouldn’t fall asleep?” But 6pm is hardly late enough that his friend might be thinking about going to sleep.
  • Mendes goes on to say, “It’ll only be a couple hours / And I’m about to leave.” The flight alone takes 90 minutes. Mendes would presumably need to take a taxi to the airport, pass through security and customs, and upon arriving in Sapporo, take a taxi to wherever his friend is staying — all in all, probably at least four hours.

(One very reasonable objection is that the flight schedule could very well have changed since Mendes wrote the song. However, as far as I can tell, this is not the case: I checked the Web Archive for archives of the Sapporo Airport’s arrivals page, and going back as far as 2016 it appears that all flights from Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk arrived in the afternoon or early evening.)

It seems that we’ve overlooked something. And indeed, I believe we have: there are two airports to the east-northeast of Sapporo, labeled with red dots in Figure 11. These flights are to Iturup Island (the more northeasterly one) and Kunashir Island, both of which belong to the Kuril Islands chain.

It is helpful at this point to go over some history. The Kuril Islands have been a point of contention between Japan and Russia for quite some time. In the 1855 Treaty of Shimoda, the two countries agreed that the four southernmost islands — including the aforementioned Iturup and Kunashir Islands — would belong to Japan, while the more northerly islands would belong to Russia.

However, after World War II, Russia occupied these four islands, much as the allies occupied Germany after World War II. Ever since then, Japan has seen this occupation as a violation of its sovereignty, and although the islands are now unambiguously under Russian administration, Japan maintains its claim [10].

Kuril_Islands_Dispute.png
Figure 12: The Kuril islands in contention

It is plausible, however, that Shawn Mendes thinks of the four southernmost Kuril Islands as rightfully belonging to Japan. So when Mendes says he’s flying to Japan tonight, perhaps he is talking about these islands.

Indeed: on Sundays, Aurora Flight HZ4617 departs from Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk at 7:50pm and lands on Iturup Island (the more northerly of the two red dots in Exhibit 11) at 8:55pm.

UUS_ITU_Flight
Figure 13: Schedule of Aurora Flight HZ4617 from Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk to Iturup Island [11]
Compare this flight to the one from Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk to Sapporo:

  • Mendes would arrive at Iturup Airport at 8:50pm and probably wouldn’t make it to his friend’s hotel until well past 9pm. The lyrics “Do I gotta convince you? / That you shouldn’t fall asleep” make much more sense with this flight in mind.
  • In addition to the flight time being 20 minutes shorter, this is a domestic flight (since the Kuril Islands are administered by Russia), so Mendes wouldn’t need to go through customs. This means that, while Mendes is optimistic in saying that “It’ll only be a couple hours,” it’s a much less egregious underestimate on his part.

(There is also a 7-8:30pm flight from Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk to Kunashir Island on Thursdays. This flight also fits the constraints of the song lyrics, albeit somewhat less closely.)

Now, you might be skeptical of a step or two in the above reasoning. Perhaps flight schedules have changed. Perhaps I overlooked something. However, I believe that I have found incontrovertible3 photographic evidence that Shawn Mendes did in fact visit Iturup Island:

Mendes_in_Iturup
Figure 14: Shawn Mendes on the Iturup Airport concourse, most likely shortly before departing Iturup for Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk after visiting his friend.

***

The case is closed: beyond a reasonable doubt, we may conclude that Shawn Mendes was in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk, looking to fly to Iturup Island to see his friend. Crucially, then, when Mendes sings, “I’m a couple hundred miles from Japan tonight,” he is referring to Iturup Island as “Japan,” thus taking a clear stand on the territorial dispute over the Kuril Islands.

Prior to pursuing this line of inquiry, the Kuril Islands dispute was one of few political issues on which I had no opinion. However, learning of Shawn Mendes’ bold stance — his subtle, cryptic, yet cutting reference to these islands as “Japan” — has clarified my thoughts on the issue. I am now firmly on Japan’s side in this dispute and believe it imperative that we stand up to Russia and its immoral 1945 land grab.

Do you got plans tonight? Because if not — and if you happen to be reading this in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk on an evening — then you’re a couple hundred miles from Japan tonight.

 

References

[1] Garthwaite, Craig and Moore, Tim. “The role of celebrity endorsements in politics: Oprah, Obama, and the 2008 Democratic Primary.” Aug. 2008.

[2] Gabbatt, Adam. “The Taylor Swift Effect: Nashville Sounds off on Singer’s Political Endorsements .” The Guardian, 12 Oct. 2018.

[3] Mendes, Shawn. “Shawn Mendes – Lost In Japan (Lyrics).” YouTube, YouTube, 23 Mar. 2018.

[4] “Flight Search.” FlightMapper.Net Flight Search, https://info.flightmapper.net/.

[5] Munroe, Randall. “Words for Small Sets.” Xkcd, 18 June 2012.

[6] Tarr, Matt. “This Shawn Mendes Picture Is Going Viral Because Of A Hilarious Game.” Capital, 12 July 2018.

[7] Mendes, Shawn. “Im Allergic to Mosquito Bites .. It Sucks.” Twitter, Twitter, 26 May 2014

[8] “Aedes Albopictus.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 20 Nov. 2019.

[9] FlightConnections.com – All Flights on a Worldwide Map!, FlightConnections, https://www.flightconnections.com/.

[10] “Kuril Islands Dispute.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 17 Oct. 2019.

[11] “All Routes and Scheduled Flights from Every Airport.” Worldwide Routes and Flights from All Airports – FlightsFrom.com, https://www.flightsfrom.com/.

 

1. That is, if one considers these islands to be part of Russia; continue reading for further discussion.

2. The time zone map I used earlier in the post mislabels Sakhalin; it is GMT +11, not +10.

3. Ordinarily I would be skeptical of such an image: perhaps it is sophisticated handiwork of the Japanese government as part of its campaign to reassert control over the southern Kuril Islands. The reason I believe this image to be authentic is that I have already demonstrated it to be likely that Shawn Mendes flew from Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk to Iturup; thus, we ought not be surprised to find a photograph of Mendes at Iturup Airport.

10 thoughts on “Finding Shawn Mendes

  1. The very beginning of your article contains a logical error. You say; “We’d be in the same time zone.” This implies that Mendes is currently not in the same time zone as his friend.
    Take the statement “If I flew to you then we’d be in the same time zone” as a conditional of the form “If X then Y” where X = “If I flew to you” and Y = “We’d be in the same time zone”. You are saying that “Shawn Mendez has not flown to his friend so he is not in the same time zone as them” which is a conditional of the form “If not X then not Y”; this is the inverse. The inverse is not necessarily true.
    As far as I can tell, this makes the rest of the article invalid.

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    1. Thanks for the comment! I disagree: while what you’re saying is true in formal logic, it’s not true in the English language. Generally sentences of the form “If I were to do X, Y would be true” implies that without doing X, Y wouldn’t be true. For instance, if someone says “If I were to move to Seattle, I could work at Microsoft” probably implies that they currently can’t work at Microsoft — they wouldn’t be saying that if they very well could just as easily work at Microsoft without moving. Similarly, I think it’s quite clear from context that “[If I were to fly to Japan] we’d be in the same time zone” means that Mendes isn’t currently in Japan’s time zone.

      (Inference from context is also what allows us to say that Mendes’ friend is in Japan. Nowhere in the lyrics does he mention that his friend is in Japan — just that Mendes himself is a couple hundred miles from Japan — but it’s a very reasonable inference to make given what we know from our experience speaking English.)

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  2. There is another issue with time zones. If Mendes’ friend is in the Kuril Islands and Mendes himself is in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk, then they are both in the same time zone (UTC +11). Even if Mendes believes that the Kurils belong to Japan politically and thus *should* be in Japan’s zone, the song’s lyrics are clearly referring to the current time zone situation.

    However, given your incontrovertible photographic evidence that Mendes has been to Iturup Airport, perhaps this theory still merits further investigation. 🙂

    [Sorry for the delay in my comment on this urgent political issue; I was only now alerted to the existence of this blog post by Abi.]

    Like

    1. Thanks for the great point, Mira 🙂

      My best guess is that Shawn Mendes is either (a) so used to thinking of the Kurils as belonging to Japan that he mistakenly believes them to be in Japan time, or (b) so insistent that the islands belong to Japan that he, as a political statement, treats the time on the islands as being in Japan time. (E.g. if he has an appointment with someone at 12pm on Iturup Island, he’ll show up at 12pm Japan time.)

      You might enjoy this post, by the way (and I’m curious if you have any thoughts/insights): https://ericneyman.wordpress.com/2019/12/26/beyond-the-mean-median-and-mode/

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  3. On March 18, 2017, Shawn played a show in Manila, Philippines, and the next day he tweeted that he was on his way to Tokyo, Japan. Manila is a lot farther than a “couple hundred miles” from Japan (it’s almost 2000 miles away) but it’s the closest location to Japan he’s ever toured, other than Japan itself. Manila’s PHT time zone is only an hour behind Japan’s JST.

    Source: https://genius.com/14147648

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    1. What you say is true, but observe that the words “hundred” and “thousand” are both trochees, so he could have just as easily written the lyrics “I’m a couple thousand miles from Japan tonight” (which would have been accurate!). So the fact that he didn’t suggests to me that he wasn’t in the Philippines, but instead somewhere a couple hundred miles from Japan, not on tour.

      Like

      1. Agreed, but if you sing it in your head it doesn’t sound as good. I don’t know the technical terminology to describe this, but the consonant sounds in hundred are much “softer” and roll off the tongue more easily. In any case, I didn’t intend to challenge your findings, just wanted to share a possible “real” answer in case you were curious.

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      2. After pondering this more, I think another benefit of “hundred” is that it contributes to the internal rhyming of the line, with every initial vowel sound being an “uh” or a soft “i” (sorry I don’t know phonetic notation).

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