Tag Archive: Japan

(Submitted by Skepticality listener Rich Catalano)

I am an English teacher in Japan. I have used a variety of ESL textbooks over the years, but this year caused a stir. Why?

In one of the stock images, I appear in the background. I checked, and this particular photograph was from Getty Images, a famous stock-image company. The setting is a museum, and it shows two people looking at an unseen piece. I am in the background, alone, looking at a different piece. It is obvious that I am not the focus of the photograph, so perhaps I was captured inadvertently.

I showed this photo to everyone who knows me, including my ever-doubting wife, and they all concur that the image is me.

In the past, I went to Europe every summer with a group of students and always visited museums. Perhaps this is when the photo was taken.

Not sure if the odds are against this, but they seem to be.

Below are the extended notes for use in Skepticality Episode 240 provided Edward Clint.  Clint produces the Skeptic Ink Network and writes about Evolutionary Psychology, critical thinking and more at his blog Incredulous. He is presently a bioanthropology graduate student at UCLA studying evolutionary psychology.  Take a look and leave your comments below. Also, please be sure to listen to the podcast for our own hilarious commentary.

Rarely can someone say that they have a “background in teaching ESL” and mean it so literally. The odds must be astronomical. No, probably worse than that, because the odds of liking astronomy are pretty good. Who doesn’t want to tool around the universe in a giant chrome leech with Neil deGrasse Tyson? When scientifically analyzing likelihood in questions such as this, we separate the larger question into two smaller ones termed the “boring part” and the “interesting part”. It’s a Bayesian method. Probably. Anyway, the comparatively boring part is how likely is it you’d wind up in a stock photo in the Getty Images library? Or, not just Getty but any similar image supplier? For a world-trotting agorafile like you, maybe not as bad as you think. The top eight such services have a combined 155 million images. There is a constant demand for new images, and every day thousands of these get sold to hundreds of clients from cable news networks to product catalogs. Not all of those 155 million images are photos of people, but your odds of being in there are higher if you are a in a labcoat holding a clipboard, like to stand in front of a lot of sunsets, or, in this case, were looking at one of those dumb Louvre statues that doesn’t even have arms.

The more interesting part is, what are the chances that image would find you once it was in the Getty bank, and in a textbook you’re teaching from? Unless you’ve been doing this job for 60 years, probably on the low side. On the other hand, our increasingly visual media-rich global culture might be making this sort of thing more common. Just two weeks ago The Nation website reported a math textbook in Thailand had to have its cover changed because the bespectacled professional woman center frame is Japanese adult cinema actress Mana Aoki. You and Ms. Aoki have something in common: your images might have been sold or used dozens or hundreds of times by now. Plus you’re both apparently highly recognizable by a small set of Japanese people. That’s a feather in your cap.

Friendly Faces on Foreign Foundation

(Submitted by reader Bruce Albright)

In 1985, probably late March, I was just finishing up a trip that started in Denver (my home), went to  England, then China, 5 weeks in China, 2 weeks in Tibet, then back to Hong Kong for two days before I flew home. I used to travel a lot in my 20s, when I had very little money but a whole lot of time. I was staying in a widely known (by relatively poor young traveler types) and inexpensive hotel near the tip of the Kowloon peninsula, in the ‘Chunking Mansions’ building. I happened to be walking down a street near my hotel when I heard someone call out my name.

I turned and there was a person I recognized, but at first I couldn’t place him. I thought maybe he was someone who stayed in a hotel in Chengdu, or maybe in Guilin. It turns out that he was from Denver – he had worked with a very good friend of mine for years, so I would call him a good acquaintance as opposed to a friend. He had spent the last two years in Japan teaching English.

Periodically (once a year?) he had to leave Japan, stay out for a week or two and renew his visa. The year before he spent his ‘vacation’ in the Philippines. This year, he was in Hong Kong. He had just got there the day before, I was leaving early the next morning, and we ran into each other on a crowded sidewalk in Hong Kong. So, I ask you, what are the odds?

[EDITOR: This fits the emerging pattern we’re picking up (not that we’re surprised) of people running into friends and acquaintances exceptionally far from home. See Two out of Thirty Million as an example, which we even featured on Skepticality. The frequency at which this occurs begins, at a certain point, to reduce its impact a bit and begins to reveal the reality of the situation: these things are guaranteed to happen. With the sheer number of people on this planet, the volume of travel that occurs, the (relatively) limited number of destinations, and the massive number of people one bumps into on a daily basis, a world in which this never occurred would, in fact, be far more indicative of something being manipulated from the outside. Without that, we can expect to hear these stories regularly. And we do. And we’ll keep posting them for as long as they’re interesting. – Jarrett]

(Submitted by reader Bethany G)

I lived in California and went to college, and lived in a small residence of 50 people down the hall from a Japanese student.

About 15 years later I went to Tokyo, and was walking down the subway platform of one of the numerous subway systems in Tokyo, and I literally bumped into him. We were both utterly, utterly astonished that this could happen in a city of 30 million people. I had lost touch with him until then, and actually hadn’t even expected to be in Tokyo at that time, let alone bump into someone I had lived two doors down the hall from for three years in college.

Updated 5/8/2012

Below are the exact notes provided by Barbara Drescher for use in Skepticality Episode 182. Take a look and leave your comments below.

Well, it seems that the odds of this happening would be two in 30 million (and it’s a great title for the post), but they really aren’t. Here are some monkey wrenches in that estimate:

  • The odds of running into someone and that person being from that residence hall are 50 times the odds of it being any specific person.
  • The odds of someone from Japan returning to Japan after college are relatively high compared to the odds of students from other countries returning home.
  • Normally, the odds of running into someone you knew is higher than one expects because the fact that you once knew them means that you shared some values or habits of some kind, which increases the probability that one can be found in a given location. However, in this case, the subway is an extremely common mode of travel in Tokyo, so the location is not as influential.
  • The odds of this event occurring at some point also rely on how long the author was in Tokyo, how active she was during that time, how active the friend was during that time, etc.

This story is comparable to the other stories of running into people, like mine. They seem like
stories of fate, but they would really only be astonishing if we predicted them – details intact.