How I Became Broke in Japan – The High Cost of Living in Tokyo

Well, this story is a no brainer really. Essentially I was spending more money than I was earning. Tokyo has the third highest cost of living in Asia. When I first came to Tokyo, I was on a student exchange and had planned to use half of my savings over six months. I didn’t really think about living here any longer, at least not straight away. At one point I was even considering spending $US300 on some high quality sushi! In other words, during my exchange I had a lot of fun and spent a lot of money.

After the student phase of my life had finished and I had resolved to live here, I found the cheapest apartment I could afford. That is, without giving up all space to move. It cost me 70,000 yen a month ($US700) plus bills and health insurance which came to an extra 25,000 yen ($US250). My room was a total of 132 meters. Including bathroom, kitchen, and balcony. When I was working I had to lie on my bed as there was no room to sit anywhere.

On a student visa I could work a maximum of 28 hours every week. In Japan, if you earn 1,000 yen an hour that was considered a good part time job. I got 1,150 yen an hour at the Robot Restaurant, but that was still only ever around 128,000 yen ($US1,128) a month. I was eating simple chicken and rice for three meals a day, everyday. Vegetable and fruit were too expensive. Even rice was about $US20 for 5kg, which is more than it is back home. RICE, people. Japan lives on it and it’s still more expensive!! Chicken was cheap though, about $US4 per kilogram.

This made me realise why Japanese people don’t move out of home. The pay here is terrible. Or maybe the pay in Australia is ridiculous (it’s really good, I know). But rather, the apartments in Tokyo – where all the jobs are found – are just too expensive. They’re really small, and overpriced.

I was still losing money, fast. But I knew that if I returned home now I’d be a quitter. Like my father and his father before him! Not really, that was just a Seinfeld joke. It wasn’t until after I was able to get my graduation certificate, change my visa, and get a full time job that I could move to a cheaper area near Yokohama. I’ll talk about Tokyo vs Yokohama in another post.

This just goes to show that Japan isn’t a cheap place to live if you’re not working full time. Don’t try and live directly in Tokyo unless you have a really lucky setup. Suburbs are the way to go. Cheaper, quieter, cleaner.

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