Starting is easy?

Or: how much money do I need to live in Japan for a while?

Before boarding to my flight to Japan, the costs of living were puzzling me although I knew Tokyo to be one of the most expensive cities in the world.

Hence, for all of you soon-to-be-visitors or interns, here is a little guide line about Japanese price levels.

First, you do need some housing.
Japanese landlords are reluctant to rent out to foreigners. Some sources say because they worry about a littered and dirty accommodation but I feel that most foreigners would start a unpeaceful discussion about the usage of “key money” and “thank you money” which are not reimbursed and add up to six monthly rents.

However, the best known landlords (or house managers) for foreigners are

  • Fontana: flats of 10 to 20 sqm for monthly 80 to 120 thousand yen
  • Borderless House: shared and single rooms of 8 to 15 sqm for monthly 40 to 90 thousand yen
  • Sakura House: shared and single rooms of 8 to 15 sqm for monthly 40 to 90 thousand yen

What’s the difference between Sakura House and Borderless House?

Watch out for hidden costs. Borderless and Sakura impose a management fee of around 10,000 yen plus a deposit paid in advance. Borderless needs the deposit to be paid by bank transfer which will add additional costs of around 2,500 Yen at your expense. PayPal might be a cheaper option but PayPal’s payment and deposit policy has become a bit problematic. Borderless seems also to maintain a policy which bars “married” people – no, I do not mean couples, just a married man or wife coming alone – from entering a contract.

Sakura House is more convenient, book (even for a shorter stay), pay your deposit by credit card, and move in!

But please select your flight carefully if you can, both House management companies expect you to arrive latest at 8:50 p.m. which means that your flight has to arrive latest before 6 p.m. in Narita on the same day.
Otherwise you need to sleep in a hotel for a night. By the way, if you need a good and reasonable place to sleep: the Ace-Inn close to Akebonobashi offers a decent sleeping place (around 3,200 Yen per night) despite being capsule hotel (see picture of my former article: “Touch Down in Japan”).

Second important item will be transportation.

Even if you’ve heard or read it a hundred times: no, you do not want to take a taxi (for 20,000 yen or 200 EUR) from Narita to Tokyo. You need a train and better consider around 3,000 Yen to make your way into the city. Please do not try to figure out less expensive options in advance, just ask the ladies at Narita’s information desk. With their help, I got from Narita to Akebonobashi (close to Shinjuku) for around 1,200 Yen – the location of the Ace-Inn.

But now we come to the nitty-gritty of your daily life: your commuting expenses.

The answer is very short although it could take hours to arrive there:

The public transport in the Greater Tokyo area is serviced by different operators wherefore it might happen that a trip may include a ride on the JR line, the Tokyu line, and the Tokyo subway. And each operator charges its basic fee plus a fare depending on distance.

Third and finally, food and beverages are a good idea.

In the morning, you’ll probably need some coffee (290 Yen per American coffee at this famous coffee chain or 400 Yen per 400 grams of loose coffee) and maybe some slices of bread (around 200 yen per 8 slices), margarine (around 350 Yen), and jam (from 250 to 400 Yen per 330g jar) or else.

If you can live with Japanese food Bento boxes comprising a fresh, satisfying and delicious lunch are offered for 300 to 700 yen in shops and groceries. In some areas, friendly hawkers sell them for 500 Yen. Likewise for the evening.

A lunch or dinner in a restaurant can range from 1,000 to 2,500 Yen depending on the area and your taste.
The Western taste and style will be bit more expensive since luxury or whatever is assumed to be luxury flies off the shelves.

But how about preparing your own food since you can buy the ingredients and a bento container everywhere?

5 kilograms of rice are sitting for 2,000 to 2,500 Yen on the shelves, add onions (6 for 150 Yen), Oil (500 ml for 300 Yen), some cabbage (head for 150 Yen), a boiled egg (10 for 200 Yen) plus Soy or other sauce (around 250 Yen) and you can make yourself a rather good meal.

And visit your nearby supermarket like maruetso, Ozeki or Tokyu store regularly, preferably in the evening after 9 p.m. You may find special discount offers and … lovely, delicious and fresh sashimi for 200 to 400 Yen.

Man, Sashimi for 2 to 4 Euros – that’s cheaper than in Europe!

Just look out for the discount labels shown on Sakura House’s web page: http://www.sakura-house.com/tips/living/supermarket/supermarket.htm.

More price indications can be found at http://gojapan.about.com/od/dailylifeinjapan/a/costlivingtokyo.htm.

Let’s wrap up the findings roughly (prices per day and in Yen):

Affluent version Cost conscious version
Breakfast 500 80
Lunch 500 250
Dinner 1,000 250
Add ons 500 250
Transportation 400 400
Rent 3,900 1,620
Sum/Day 6,800 2,850
Sum/Month 210,800 88,350

Enjoy your stay despite that little shock.

And keep one thing in mind please: you may have different values and price expectations but if you can make in Tokyo budget-wise, you can make it everywhere.

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