Cost of Living in Japan
This page addresses Japan as a whole. You may be interested in our page on the Cost of Living in Tokyo
There are many myths about the cost of living in Japan. Certainly, it can be a very expensive place to live, especially with regards to food and housing. However, many expat publications assume you will be living the high life on an expat package and their figures are often quite unrealistic... with some careful thought and planning, you can save much more of your income. The truth is that you don't have to spend a fortune to live comfortably in Japan.
There are hot spots in places like Tokyo, where land prices are some of the most expensive in the world, where even small apartments are very costly indeed. In fact, you should avoid the central areas of any Japanese city if you are to save money. That said, Japan has some competitors for the 'most expensive place' crown, Hong Kong being just one example. As is so often the case, if you can live away from central areas, live as a local and avoid the expat ghettos, the cost of living will be substantially reduced... so much, that your additional transportation costs will be more than compensated by what you will save in rent. In fact, most Japanese companies offer transportation subsidies of some kind.
However, you should also ask yourself how much time you are willing to spend commuting every day, how close you want to be to nightlife/expat bars. The closer you live to the city centre, the smaller the apartment for your money. You might find yourself living in a single room with a window facing a wall and only enough space to sleep. Choosing the right location is vital.
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It's very hard to give estimates about the cost of housing as there are so many variables, location being a very important factor...
At the bottom end of the market (less than 40,000 Yen) you will get a tiny room just big enough for a bed and a wash basin, maybe a small cooking stove. The toilet will be shared with 6-8 people and you will have to use public baths. There are many Japanese living like this.
At the other end of the market, large Western style apartments aimed at the wealthy, would cost you millions of Yen per month.
Second only to housing, will be your food costs. Eating locally produced foodstuffs and cooking at home will save you a lot of money. Also, there are abundant economical restaurants offering various tasty noodles, rice dishes and sushi, often in and around transportation hubs, such a train stations... the key is to think 'local'. You can eat a decent meal for around 1000 Yen.
An average restaurant would cost you double that... and there is really no upper limit on the cost of a meal in a high end restaurant.
Gas, electricity, telephone and internet costs are roughly on a par with Europe/America and there shouldn't be any nasty surprises there. In fact, Internet packages are especially cheap and the connections blazing fast. You can save money on international calls with Internet telephony, with services such as Skype.
Clothing and General Goods
Substantial savings can be enjoyed by shopping for clothes at supermarkets, which often have large clothing sections. There is also the phenomenon of the 100 Yen store where you can buy all sorts of cheap goodies. Clothing from such stores is likely to be lower quality. Department stores are more expensive and offer more choice of course.
All prices in Japanese Yen and only intended as a rough guide.
- Big Mac: 270
- Cornflakes: 300
- 1 litre orange juice (from concentrate): 180
- Starbucks short Cappuccino: 300
- 10 eggs: 250
- 450g Spaghetti: 300
- 1 Kg flour: 200
- 1 litre milk 190
- Coke: 120
- Heineken Beer: 220
- 20 Cigarettes: 290
- Multi vitamins (60 tablets): 1695
- Typical mobile phone bill: 5000 basic charges (See also: Mobile Phones in Japan)
- 4 Gillette disposable razors: 330
- Pack of 8 rolls toilet paper: 450
- Toothbrush: 100
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