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Opinions – Some numbers behind life in Japan


One of the subjects I’ve wanted to tackle for a while now is some of the numbers involved with having a life here in Tokyo. Prior to my initial decision to come here I was a little hard pressed to get some solid information as to what to expect to pay for rent, food, utilities and all those little things when it comes to living here. Along the way I’ve also had a number of friends ask me some questions as to what my expenses and earnings here are in Japan and how it is compared to life back in Canada. While I won’t put in exact numbers I’d definitely like to talk a little bit about what my monthly budget consists of on a regular basis in the hopes that this can help guide some people should they choose to come to try and do a working holiday or attain a working visa here. Math is not my strong point so bear with me. I will try and break this down in terms of percentages of my monthly earnings and where they go.

To begin, my earnings here are not particularly special and I don’t really have a basis to confirm them as discussions on wages between friends is usually a subject avoided and not one I’ve really had much interest in delving into.  In general that sort of situation happens a lot less frequently here than it would back home. That being said I’ll give you a little background information. Currently I work for a 英会話 (eikaiwa) which for those not familiar with the term is a private language institute. In that regard I get to set my own schedule and so it is my choice if I want to put in some serious hours or take some time off. This is a nice freedom to have but the challenge at times is that schedules are set a month in advance so some planning  and foresight is needed.  As it stands I currently work more than I have to mainly because it’s winter and I hope to save some extra money for travel and general spending once spring and summer roll around. I definitely put in more hours than I do in Canada but at the same time this is by choice and quite simply, I genuinely enjoy my work.

In terms of my living arrangements when I originally came here back in January of 2013 I was in a bit of a hurry to find a place to live and happened upon a great deal through Oakhouse which is a company that provides living solutions for not only foreigners in Japan but regular Japanese people too. I currently live in a sharehouse with accommodations quite similar to that of a shared house or apartment in Canada. Particularly for my situation it is a 5 floor apartment building. Each floor contains two separate areas and each area consists of a shared living space. The living space consists of 4 individual rooms and a shared kitchen, living room, washroom and shower. Everyone has their own personal room with a mini fridge, bed and desk. This is all provided through Oakhouse. Beyond that there is a shared space at the ground floor which has a mini theater room, study space and a general recreations room that you can access at any time of day. Each area also has a shared washing machine.

In terms of comfort it’s a place I don’t mind at all. Room mates have been mostly quiet and tidy and I generally leave my place in the morning and come back pretty late in the evening so I rarely see them as is. About once a week a cleaning lady also come sin to do some basic cleaning around the shared living space. You pay a single monthly fee that includes rent, utilities, cable and internet. This makes up about 18% of my monthly income.

Beyond that while a lot of companies in Japan provide you with a 定期券(Teikiken), other wise known as a commuter pass, between your home station and work unfortunately at mine we are responsible for our our travel expenses. I purchase a monthly pass which covers unlimited travel between home and work. Luckily I am 2 stations down the line so this is a rather small fee and only takes up just under 2% of my income. Beyond that I also add about a small amount of travel money onto my commuter pass per month to the tune of about 4% of my income, just for personal travel.

While working in Japan you are also responsible for enrolling in the National Health Insurance program which covers the majority of your health care costs should you need to use it and it comes to another 2% of my monthly take on a monthly basis.

Following that I also have a stock cell phone for the time being that is pay as you go, one that I simply use for work. I rarely use my phone for talking so it’s a very basic model and doesn’t currently include a wireless connection on the go. When I first got here I wanted to get a wireless plan but became rather comfortable without one. I may get one in the future but I am currently enjoying the quiet life away from facebook and other time wasters. In any case my cellphone comes to be  1% of my monthly income.

Beyond that there is food. Theres a few notes to be made here. One, I love Japanese food and two, I like to go out and explore a lot of ramen restaurants (How I’m not yet a gigantic blimp is beyond me). I a lot myself a decent amount for food each week but I never actually spend it all. As it stands I mark out 25% of my monthly income to spend on food and alcohol, including nights out at izakayas but I never actually hit that number so a chunk of it goes back into the pot each month. There’s a few reasons for this and I’d likely spend more than that back in Canada. In general food, especially good food, is pretty cheap here in general. Furthermore there is no tipping culture. As such it’s perfectly normal to go to a sit down restaurant and have a comfortable meal and spend under or around ¥1000 or around $10 CAD. Another interesting part of Japan is 飲み放題(nomihoudai) or, all you can drink. Pretty much every izakaya has an all you can drink option. This runs anywhere between ¥800 and up although most places charge around the ¥1000 mark or again $10 equivalent. This means you can go in and drink all the beer you want (as well as a number of other items such as wine or shochu for a span of 1.5 to 2 hours. Now there are some catches to this, usually you can to order one or two appetizer dishes along with this option and a base dish is also provided. This inflates the cost a little but I can’t think of any time in Canada I’ve gone to a place like this and not ordered an appetizer or two.

Ultimately this is a very popular option and by the end of the night you’ll walk away after a few hours(or more often than not stumble away) having drank a substantial amount of alcohol and eaten your fair share of dishes and having only payed around ¥2500-3500/$25-35. Mind you, it’s quite normal back in Canada, especially Alberta, to pay nearly that much for 2 or 3 beers let alone whats provided here. As such my expenditures when going out in Japan have been a great deal lower. There are a lot of filling, although perhaps not necessarily healthy, options for meals when on the go here in Japan. If you need a quick meal that will hit the spot you can drop by any number of 牛丼(gyuudon) places and order a bowl of beef on rice for under ¥300/$3. Like I said, not the healthiest of choices but it’s there.

One other point to mention is that in general when you come to Japan you will naturally find yourself not only eating less but also eating smaller and healthier portions.  So to sum up, I never actually hit my limit on my food expenses.

In summary:
18% – Rent and utilities
6% – Travel expenses ( Commuter pass + personal local travel costs)
2% – Health Insurance
1% – Cellphone
25% – Food / Entertainment

Total Monthly Expenses = Under 52% of my monthly income.

I hope this can provide people with a bit of an outlook on the living situation in Japan for me and for those looking to come here. In the future I will look into getting my own apartment but to be honest for now I am more than comfortable where I am an it causes me no discomfort when it comes to living conditions. It’s also fairly quiet and convenient. Beyond that I do have some financial obligations which fall outside of the scope of monthly expenses. I spend a little on dry cleaning but that itself comes to under 1% per month and there are also a few small purchases like pens or other small negligible expenses.  Furthermore, the monthly income I based this on is an average. As I get to set my schedule it can fluctuate a little bit and it’s also dependant on how busy the month is in general. However, for the most part it’s been fairly consistent.

Feel free to let me know if you have any questions or would like me to expand on anything else in the near future.

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