Living on a Budget in Japan

You’ve surely heard it before: Japan is expensive – really expensive.

Eating in hotels and shopping in the Ginza – where tourists gasp in horror at the price of a cup of coffee and super-expensive hotel rooms – does cost a great deal. However, the cost of living in Japan is not prohibitive for anyone willing to take a few precautions. Here are a few tips:

  • Bring the essentials with you. The less you have to buy in Japan, the better off you’ll be, especially in the first few weeks. Before you leave home, shop for clothing, camera equipment, toiletries, and whatever else you’ll need. Electronic goods are not always cheaper in Japan. In many cases, because of taxes and trade laws, Japanese-made electronics are cheaper in the United States and Canada. Remember, though, that the electric current is different in Japan, so you’ll need an adapter to use Western products in Japan and vice versa.
  • If you decided to join the throng of commuting cyclists, check the local dump for discarded bicycles. You may find adequate transportation at the best price – free! You can also check the dump for other items such as furniture.
  • Set up a savings plan once you’ve established yourself. After you find a job and pay for your initial expenses, figure out your monthly income and your fixed expenses – rent, transportation, food, and so forth. Depositing half or more of the remainder in a savings account will quickly result in substantial savings.
  • The interest rate for Japanese savings accounts is abysmally low, so you may want to send money back to your home account once or twice a year. Another thing to consider is setting up a dollar account in Tokyo. You can get a multimoney account that will allow you to deposit yen and change them to dollars (or another currency) with a phone call when the exchange rate looks especially tempting.
  • Make an effort to conform to a Japanese mode of living. For example, learn to eat rice as a staple and cook in your apartment whenever possible. And rather than eating expensive Western fast food for lunch, try an inexpensive bowl of noodles. Shop in bulk when you can, and try shopping thirty to forty-five minutes before closing time, when many items are discounted.
  • Think twice before purchasing foods that are relatively cheap in the United States or Canada. Many of these foods are not cheap in Japan. For example, melons are expensive. Therefore, melons are not eaten for breakfast, but rather on a special occasion like a wedding. The same goes for beef. A juicy steak can cost more than a week’s worth of Japanese food.

Remember, although many Japanese individuals earn much less money than you will be earning, most still manage to save a good portion of their income.


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