Japan has a reputation for being expensive but the cost of living in Japan isn’t as bad as it seems. Like anywhere, it has its ups and downs and that’s certainly true of the costs as well. Besides, sometimes you just have to think outside the box a bit to find the cheaper way of living.

Location

The first thing to consider when looking at living costs in Japan is location. As with many countries, there can be a big variance between locations, between north and south and cities and countryside.

With Tokyo being one of the most populous metropolitan areas in the world, resources are inevitably at a premium and this can significantly raise prices. However, if you look further afield at Fukuoka or Hokkaido, or even more closely at Kyoto and Osaka, living costs can vary significantly and it’s worth exploring your options when picking a city to live and study in.

Japanese accommodation

Accommodation

Accommodation can be one of the biggest costs of living in Japan, particularly for a foreigner. The square footage costs are generally a lot more expensive than other places, but it’s also generally well designed so that you get the most out of your space.

If you want to go for traditional apartment living, you’re likely to be a bit overwhelmed. A lot of the upfront costs mean that once you’ve found a property you have to spend the equivalent of six months rent in deposits, key money and gifts and this is before you’ve even moved in.

Don’t panic though! You can do things more cheaply, even if you’re only there for a short while. There are plenty of agencies that help with short-term rental accommodation and there are also plenty of share houses in most of the major cities.

Average costs:

Apartment in Toyko – 1 room (70,000 yen), 2 rooms (90-100,000 yen)
Utilities – ~21,000 yen per month

Food

This is one of the best parts of Japan but also one of the most variable when it comes to costs. If you stick to local foods, as with many countries, it’s not that expensive and you can eat pretty healthily. The one thing that is often a shock in Japan though is fruit. It’s very expensive, wherever you are but it is delicious and almost always perfectly formed.

There are plenty of ways to eat cheap and it’s very easy to eat out for both lunch and dinner, even on a limited budget when studying in Japan. From izakaya’s to onigiri there are a lot of cheap eating choices. 1 coin (500 yen) places are cheap and often come with generous portions. There are also cheap salaryman hot spots like Sukiya, Matsuya and Yoshinoya, where you can get a lot of food and often free rice refills.

Average costs: 

Beer – average 300-700 yen
Ramen – average 500-700 yen
Coffee at Starbucks – 400-700 yen
Bento box – 400-600 yen

Shinkansen - transport in Japan

Transport

Trains, planes and automobiles. Japan has the usual transport and being Japan it’s exceptionally good. However, this can come at a price.

The Shinkansen is very expensive and local trains are about the same as many western European costs. There are cheaper ways to get around though. Subway travel in the cities is pretty cheap and more importantly reliable and good quality.

For inter-city travel, night buses are the best and cheapest way to get around and unlike in some countries, they’re generally on time and very nice. If you really get stuck or have time, hitchhiking is a viable alternative. The Japanese are friendly, welcoming and often curious. This makes for some pretty interesting rides and is the cheapest way to get anywhere a bit more out of the way or when travelling long distances as you can get lifts on the expressways that have hefty tolls.

Average costs: 

One way underground ticket – 210 yen (depending on the route)
Monthly pass – 7000-10,000 yen
Tokyo to Osaka – ~15,000 yen

Calculator

Other bits and pieces

Once you’ve got the basics, there are also a few other bits and pieces that it’s worth being aware of so that you can get a full idea of the cost of living in Japan.

Phones can be expensive, they don’t have pay as you go sims like they do elsewhere and health insurance is required for any resident of the country. Short-term and long-term stays can also make a massive difference to living costs but setting up a new home can be pretty cheap once you’ve got the bigger costs set up.

Average costs: 

Gym – 7000-10,000 yen per month
Cinema Ticket – 1800 yen
Sim 3GB data – 1400-3000 yen per month
We’ve included some average prices throughout to give you a guide on living costs but to see how your home city compares to Tokyo why not check out this handy website.

All in all the living costs in Japan can be expensive, but if you know how to do things right then it can be pretty cheap. Just remember that Tokyo isn’t the only option, think smart and do your research.