· "Is Japan expensive?" My answer: It doesn't have to be! ·
One huge misconception of living in Japan, especially Tokyo, is that the cost of living is super high and you can’t live there unless your rich. This was made evident by my Wells Fargo banker’s face when I told him I was moving to Tokyo as a student. He was shocked and kept going on about how expensive it is there and would’ve been discouraging had I not known otherwise. Tokyo IS indeed in the top most expensive cities to live in but unlike New York, you can live cheaply an hour away and not fear for your safety. On top of having one of the lowest violent crime rates, Japan’s also a place where people leave their purses or drop their wallets and come back to find them still there. I do come from a small town so I understand this but after living in a large city for a few years, I couldn’t quite get comfortable enough to do that (not that there isn’t some theft in Tokyo). The biggest problem in getting to Japan though is the fact you do have to show proof of a certain amount of money depending on your student visa. This ranges from 10k-30k. Visas are for another post however, so I’ll continue on the topic.
Here is a breakdown of our living expenses:
Rent: We moved 3 times and paid 65000¥-87500¥. This is extra high because we lived in sharehouses and you get charged a fee for every extra occupant. If we had been able to stay two years, we could’ve gotten an apartment and paid as little as maybe 50000¥/mo for two people. (but there’s the initial crazy fees too)
Cell Phone: Andrew paid 3000¥/mo for his flip phone, I wanted a smart phone for GPS purposes so I paid 8000¥/mo
Transportation: I got a discount at my school, so about 8000¥ for two transfers on the Inokashira line to the Yamanote line. Andrew’s was 12000¥ just to Shibuya.
Utilities: Included in the sharehouses. The shared apartment we stayed with friends was about 4000-8000¥ depending on the season.
National Health Insurance: 1500¥ for me, 5000¥ for Andrew BECAUSE HE DIDN’T FILL IT OUT RIGHT. Haha, you have to specify you’re a student that makes no money.
Now we honestly didn’t have that many different bills and if you are just one person you can live pretty cheaply! The biggest factor in any monthly budget is food.
When I was younger, I never realized how much food costed and why my mom said we couldn’t get the fancy snacks, but when I grew up I realized why! In my first month of Tokyo while I waited for Andrew to join me, I lived a 35 minute walk away from TUJ. TUJ is literally located in the most expensive district in Tokyo and it’s a wonder I found a sharehouse (albeit a crappy one) that was so close. What I didn’t realize at the time was how insane the prices were at the supermarket I was going to. I heard Tokyo food was expensive, so I thought, this must just be how it is! NOPE. Some of the produce I bought there was literally twice the price of the supermarkets and local やさい屋(yasaiya, produce shops) that I found even not much farther away but in a cheaper district. Fruit is very expensive but in certain seasons you can get some cheap fruit, otherwise cabbage and bean sprouts will be your life saver! You can get filling meals for 500¥ and a delicious good sized margherita pizza for 350¥. As a single person, this is very cheap but with two people it adds up and meal planning becomes much cheaper. You can get chicken for 96¥/lb on sale, which is scarily cheap but good if you need food to live. Also if you’re into organic/all natural stuff, Japan’s standards for pesticides are waaaaay more natural than the U.S.’s and has a lot less additives in their food.
Also, my favorite go to snack is always my beloved onigiri (rice balls) usually around 100¥!!!