Cost of Living in Japan

by Jose Marc Castro on August 10, 2009

costoflivingJAPANJapan has a very high standard of living. It is considered as one of the most expensive countries in the world to live in due to the very competitive market and its position as an economic giant. Everything from transportation to food to apartment rentals may be way over the limit of some individuals unless they are also working high-paying jobs which are rampant in the area. A lot of expatriates are working in big cities like Tokyo and Nagoya which sufficiently provide them with all of their daily needs including a few more for leisure and personal satisfaction. This has been captured in a post last February 26, 2009 in the Japan Expat Forum:

“In fact, I just read an article here that claims ex-pats are bailing out of the country left-and-right because they sense an impending shortage of jobs for non-Japanese. There are apparently a large number of ex-pats in the financial sector — and we all know how well financial companies are doing these days. Plus with so many new grads chasing an ever-shrinking job base, you’re going to be at the bottom of the list for just about anything you apply for unless you’re bringing with you some kind of skill that is hard to come by here. Of course, you never know until you try. No matter how many books you read and how many people you ask, there is nothing that can convey the experience of living abroad than actually living abroad”

Japan is the second largest economy worldwide, which is just a few trillions behind the United States in GDP. Japan leads all of Asia in terms of corporate fields like banking, retailing, telecommunications, stock exchange and transportation. The APEC tiger is owner to several of the most advanced technologies and machineries in the world.

For over four decades, Japan has continued to grow economically at a steady rate of 5% every year. Just recently, an inflation of over 5% occurred within one quarter, significantly higher than the United States and all members of the European Union. Basically, things can be very costly in Japan but with the right employment, these can also be affordable by many immigrants.

Food and Drinks Costs in Japan

Japan widely exports food, drinks and agricultural products all over the world. Several Japanese staples like rice, noodles, seaweed, sake and soy sauce are sold in the millions. The country also imports a lot of food products from the United States and Europe like chocolates, snacks and pre-packed hamburgers, meats and the like. The food in Japan can be expensive including raw materials like fruits, meat and vegetables. The average expatriate spends around 400 to 500 euros every month on food and drinks alone.

Japan locally produces a lot of food as well. In comparing the price of locally made and imported products, there is not much difference since the Japanese heritage values its own products very much. One can find fair prices of noodles, bread, fruits and vegetables at markets and grocery stores. So long as you keep within Japanese food staples such as seasonal vegetables, seafood, soya bean products and rice, you would be able to survive the high cost of living in Japan.

Usual fruits are oranges, kiwi, Fuji apples and papaya. Meat products are also available but the more preferred fish and seafood array like tuna, salmon, squid, prawns and squid tend to be quite expensive. Eating out in average Tokyo restaurants can range from 80 to 150 euros per person. Buying seasonal fruits and meat will help save more but there are also cheap alternatives called teishokus, which are set meals at low prices sold at food stalls.

Clothing and Accessories Costs in Japan

Japan both has affordable and expensive places to shop for clothing and accessories. There are supermarket chains, 100 Yen Shops and flea markets in some parts downtown where expatriates can find quality clothes and goodies. Department stores, boutiques and malls are expensive but these also provide a wider range of choices. All designer labels both foreign and local can be found in Tokyo. All the styles are up-to-date and prices usually shoot up during winter season.  In the worldwide market, Japan is a major textile and clothing producer for mass consumption.

Clothes and accessories are all sold inclusive of consumption tax. It is possible to find cheap wares in Japan but one can only expect medium or poor quality. Electronics are expensive since these are fresh out of most Japanese factories. Expatriates can save by purchasing older gadgets and styles. Some supermarkets and shops are also on sale every quarter. The average Japanese usually spends around 300 to 500 euros every month on clothes and accessories.

Housing Costs in Japan

Living inside Tokyo is very costly. In other major cities, houses are very pricey and several expatriates would opt to live in small apartments. Single-room apartments are still expensive if located within the city, prices decrease as the area moves out farther into surrounding prefectures and suburbs.

Most people choose to rent rather than own since home ownership in Japan is one of the most costly in the world. Rural areas are more affordable and here the residents are also the property owners. Toyama Prefecture is one place where people can find fair house prices.

Condominiums have become quite popular compared to the traditional homes and villas. In addition to the hefty housing prices, water utility, electricity, gas and telephone rates are quite high. The average Japanese spends around 1000 euros on all these housing costs alone.

It is still possible to live comfortably if expatriates choose smaller cities and provinces. The houses offered for rent are usually of good quality since landlords tend to rebuild and repair every two years or so. Some landlords also provide for electricity and water utilities at an extent for room tenants.

One of the most important events in the Japanese property market was the 1990 bubble that led to the crash of the property values and the property market. As the market recovered, the current financial recession has stunted the promising return of the market’s stability with current policies and procedures producing hyperinflated property prices in the highly urbanized areas of Japan.

Services Costs in Japan

Internet and telephone services in Japan are very good and also very expensive. There are several companies offering a variety of services. Most individuals also make use of cellular phones and rates are just as high especially in downtown Tokyo and Nagoya. A single person would most likely spend around 200 euros every month for phone bills. Broadband and WiFi hotspots are common anywhere in the major cities so it might help save to locate these.  For expats, rental phones are the most convenient means of utilizing the most advanced telecommunications system in the world.

Education in Japan is not subsidized although there are several public schools with very affordable tuition fees. Expatriates usually send their children back to their home country since Japanese teaching style is not influenced by Western or European culture. Half of tuition fees usually go to teachers and other administrative members.

Insurance policies are also available for everyone although these also have high prices. Depending on the quote, health insurance can increase or decrease. Overall, the medical services are excellent and policyholders can only expect great benefits. Transportation is also very modern and well-regulated in Japan. The trains, buses and airplane services are one of the world’s finest.

Employment Costs in Japan

Japan is currently looking for more people to aid the health care sector. At present there is an estimated need for 10,000 nurses and a few hundred physical therapists and medical transcriptionists. More hands are also needed for computer development, information technology and other machinery-related occupations. Employment for expatriates can be promising if they are in the business or technology sector. At present, Japan manages to keep its employment rate at nearly 95%.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Mel July 22, 2010 at 4:46 pm

What cities are cheapest to live in? I am considering a move to Japan to teach English.
I'd appreciate any help from those who have "been there done that!"
Any language schools better than others to teach in?
Cost of living better if you avoid the bigger cities?
Crime rate?
Mel in Asheville, NC, US


camel January 23, 2011 at 5:18 am

the cheapest place to live in is horsetown japan


Matt December 5, 2010 at 9:39 pm

Did you ever receive any kind of response from this question? Crazy enough I'm also in Asheville and asking the same questions. I hope you clicked the subscribe to reply link.


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