Tokyo is ranked as one of the top five most expensive cities to live in, in the world! Osaka (another Japanese city) is also in the top five, so you would think that Japan is quite an expensive place to live in. Well, that’s not necessarily true. Having lived in Japan for the past nine months or so (I’ve lived next to Tokyo for the last three months), I have found plenty of things – both big and small – that can be done to make it easier to live cheaply here.
Now, it may seem like this post is only applicable to those who plan to live in Japan, and while that is the focus, people who just want to travel to Japan can use these tips as well!
If you do plan on travelling to this amazing country, be sure to check out all of our other Japan posts.
Food and Drink
This is obviously a big one. Whether you’re living or travelling in Japan, you’re inevitably going to have to eat, and that means buying food and drink.
Now, Japan – especially the big cities like Tokyo – is not short on restaurants and other places to grab a bite, but if you’re trying not to splurge all the time, there are smarter ways to go about feeding yourself…
1. Convenience Stores are Convenient, Not Affordable
Tokyo alone, has around 45,000 convenience stores! Clearly the most of anywhere in the world. The three main convenience stores that you will see are Seven Eleven, Family Mart and Lawson. Since these are so common, it’s very tempting to go in and get a quick, tasty ready meal or snack.
However, convenience stores are NOT the cheapest!
If you’re at a Seven Eleven, there is probably a supermarket close by. This is the more affordable option.
Although it may not seem like a lot to buy the occasional meal from a convenience store, the cost will add up over time, and you will find that you just keep going there to buy food because they really are that convenient.
2. Local Veggie & Meat Shops
Supermarkets will do, for the most part, however if you can find a local vegetable shop, that will be a much cheaper place to get all your greens!
The same can be said for local meat shops. The one we use is called Nikunohanamasa.
Going to these places as well as a supermarket may be a little more effort, but it will save you a few hundred yen each time!
3. Whole Sale Markets
Whole sale markets are places like Costco. Yes, Japan has these too!
It costs 4000 yen for a membership and it’s more than worth it if you a) have a Costco close to you, and b) you will shop there consistently.
As you’ll already know if you’ve been to Costco before, you can buy stuff in bulk at a discounted price. This is very useful for food products that are not going to go off in the near future.
Just make sure you have enough storage space at home!
The one other main whole sale market in Japan is called Gyomu Suupaa. The same deal applies to this one. I guess it just depends which one of these is closer to you.
If you cook for yourself while living here, you will cut a huge chunk off your living costs.
Like I mentioned before, buying from convenience stores can add up over time. So can eating out.
If you can minimize those two things and cook for yourself as much as possible, you will find it much more manageable to comfortably survive in Japan.
Another piece of cooking advice is to learn how to meal prep. This is a vital skill for those who don’t have as much spare time to cook three times a day. What this will allow you to do is prepare your meals for the week or at least for the next few days.
5. Bonus Tip
This is just a little thing and only applies to those people who cannot survive without tea!
In most shops and vending machines, you will see that you can buy bottles of tea – of a variety of different flavors.
The far cheaper alternative is to buy packs of tea bags and put them in water.
Same result. Lower price.
These tips apply to most forms of shopping, not just grocery shopping.
6. 100 Yen Stores
100 yen stores are scattered about all over the place. Be sure to find your closest one, and use it when you can.
These stores sell everything, not just food. You can get things like garden equipment, household appliances and stationary stuff, all at a decent price.
7. Point Cards
You can get loads of different point cards from various companies.
How they work, is every time you make a purchase with said company, you will get a certain number of points put on your card. Once you have enough points, you can then use these cards to buy things, or get money off in any shops that accept these cards (which is quite a few).
A few good cards to get are a T-Point card, Seims card and a Waon card, among others.
8. Second Hand Shops
These can be really handy for getting things like clothes and other cheap, second hand items.
There are plenty of second hand shops in places like Tokyo, but you could also check out GaijinPot. You can find plenty of really cheap – and sometimes free – second hand items from people who are maybe leaving Japan and need to get rid of their stuff.
Another cool thing about the second hand shops is you can donate or sell stuff to them if you have some things that you want to get rid of. Just bear in mind that you won’t get much money for these!
9. Shop Online
This is especially useful if you don’t live that near some shops.
Shopping online has become really convenient and you can usually find a pretty good deal for whatever you’re looking for.
Kakaku is a really useful website to remember. You can use it to compare different online prices for the same product, allowing you to find the best deal possible!
Another website that I’ve used myself is Rakuten. You can kind of think of this as a similar website to Amazon. A really cool feature of Rakuten, along with lots of other Japanese delivery websites, is you can choose to pay cash on delivery, making it virtually impossible to get scammed!
Transport in cities like Tokyo is super convenient. We talk about it more in this post. However, the price can add up unless you’re careful and smart about the way you go about it.
10. Get a Suica Card
If you’re going to be using the trains frequently, get a Suica card (also called an IC card). These cards allow you to put money on them, and then they eliminate the need for you to buy individual train tickets. All you have to do is scan the card at the ticket gate and through you go.
If you’re staying in Japan for a few months or longer, consider getting a bike.
These will help you a ton, especially if you don’t live close to any shops or a train station.
Cycling places will also allow you to save a lot on transport costs, especially buses and taxis.
If you go to any Japanese city, you’ll be surprised at the number of cyclists that there are!
12. Buses/Night Buses
Buses become useful when you are travelling long distances (like between cities).
Getting a direct bus will – more often than not – be cheaper than taking the train and you’ll also have a guaranteed seat for the entire journey!
Also night buses are often even cheaper. You may not get the most comfortable night’s sleep, but this is a great way for travelers to see more of the country, if they only have a limited time. Speaking from experience, a good idea for this one is to bring headphones with you. That way, if there are any loud snorers on board, you can block them out!
Lastly, we’ll look at general living costs. Another inevitability if you’re planning on staying here for any length of time.
13. Capsule Hotels/Hostels
We’ve talked about these before (here).
If you don’t have a permanent place to stay, or are just travelling, then these are an ideal, affordable and comfortable option.
This is an example of a hostel, located in Asakusabashi, Tokyo.
14. Share House
Probably the best option for foreigners wanting to live in Japan.
How it works is you rent a room, and then share all the basic amenities will all the other housemates.
We currently live in one of these share houses and we would definitely recommend it. The shared amenities in the one we stay in include a kitchen, dining and living area, a gym, onsen, movie theater, laundry and a music studio.
All this comes at a very affordable price.
15. Apartments with no Baths
This one may seem a little strange.
Japanese people tend to be very adamant about having a bath tub in their apartment so if you can find one with just a shower and no tub, you’re likely to get it at a cheaper price!
16. Surviving the Winter
Most parts of Japan get really cold during the winter and it can become quite expensive to heat your room/apartment. If you don’t want to pay for a heater, there are a couple of things that could help.
The first thing is to get a wearable blanket. These things are incredibly warm and comfy. They also don’t let that much heat out, allowing you to remain cozy during the cold nights.
The other tip is to get a pair of floor shoes or slippers. These will keep your feet warm and will stop them from touching the freezing cold floor.
In terms of surviving the hot summers, there’s not much you can do, unless you buy a fan instead of constantly using air conditioning.
So there you have it guys. The ultimate guide to affordable living in Japan! You’ll find that if you follow most of these tips, it will actually be a lot less expensive than you were expecting to live here. And this isn’t exactly living with just the bare essentials. You can easily live comfort with these tips. What these will also do is free up extra money for you to spend on things that you enjoy like going out, or travelling to new places. All of this is doable!
So I hope this was helpful for you guys. If you want to keep up to date with what’s happening, go ahead and sign up for our newsletter and every time we put up a new post on the website, we’ll drop it straight into your inbox.
Other than that, hope you have an awesome day guys. See you next time.
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