The Cost of Living in Tokyo, Japan

Tokyo has a reputation of being one of the most expensive cities in the world. While it certainly is expensive, there are plenty of ways to live for cheap – if you’re willing to sacrifice some basic comforts.

akihabara in Japan tokyo

I lived in Tokyo for two and a half years, first in a tiny one-room apartment and later in a larger three bedroom place (after I got married). The only thing that didn’t change was my budget – I went from being a broke college student to a broke newlywed.

I’m writing this post for people who are moving to Japan and worried about the cost of living. Maybe you’re a JET teacher, or you’re going to be working at an English School (eikawa), or you’re a “freshman” employee of a regular Japanese company – either way, I hope this answers some of your questions about the cost of living.

1. Rent 49,500yen – 140,000yen

Rent has always been one of my biggest expenses. When I first moved to Tokyo as a student, I got a very cheap, very run-down apartment. The walls were paper-thin (like I could hear my neighbors watching TV), it was a really old building, the window let cold air leak through, the floors were cheap rubber, it was a 15 min walk from the closest bus station and a 40 min walk from the closest train station. The closest store where I could buy food was a convenience store located 20 min away and the closest grocery store was a 45 minute walk.

Needless to say, I spent a lot of time biking (which was a pain when it rained and snowed).

This is it~!

This is it~!

It was one small room, with a small space near the door for the bathroom/kitchenette.

That apartment cost me 49,500 per month (for rent, renters insurance, fire insurance, etc), for the thirteen months I lived there. Luckily I only had to pay one month’s worth of shikikin / reikin (typically 2-3 month’s rent upfront, as a “gift” to your landlord) so it wasn’t too expensive.

I liked that apartment because (at the time) it was exactly what I needed.

My next apartment was loads better. It was a five minute walk to the station, in a great neighborhood, with plenty of nearby grocery stores. The building was new, the walls were thick, and security was fantastic. It was a three bedroom place off of the Keio line, in Tokyo.

ONE room in this new apartment was bigger than my WHOLE first apartment...

ONE room in this new apartment was bigger than my WHOLE first apartment…

Rent was 140,000yen a month (including insurance). Luckily, because my husband was a full-time employee, his company paid for 85% of our rent (up to 150,000yen per month), which is pretty standard.

Even though our rent was pricey, we only had to pay 21,000yen every month.

In general, if you’re looking for apartments in Tokyo, pick three:

  • Location (is it close to a good train station?)
  • Price (is it cheap?)
  • Quality of the building itself (can you hear your neighbors cough/argue/watch tv/have sex?)
  • Size of apartment (is it the size of a closet?)

2. Utilities: 6,000yen – 8,000yen

When I lived alone, my utilities were about 6,000yen per month. Living with two people puts our utilities at around 10,000yen per month.

3. Phone 800yen – 5,000yen

My first phone was a “burner phone” of sorts. It didn’t have a camera, couldn’t access the internet, and didn’t have an English setting. The only thing it could do was call and text. It only cost 800yen per month. As a foreigner, I wasn’t actually allowed to rent that phone, though; my boyfriend at the time (now husband) rented it under his name and gave it to me my first week in Tokyo.

My old phone

My old phone

This year, I upgraded to a smartphone (for work) which runs at around 5,000yen per month. I see it as a necessary expense because it’s made my work life much easier.

4. Internet: 5,500yen per month

5. Food: 20,000yen – 40,000yen

I’m not 100% sure how much I was spending on food my first year in Tokyo. I was eating all sorts of cheap, crap foods like ochazuke, yakisoba, instant ramen, etc every single day, because I was so broke.

Ryosuke and I started charting our monthly food bill when we moved in together – we spend between 45,000yen and 77,000yen on food every month. I know that’s rather high but I like food. Now that I have money, I want to spend my money on materials for cooking really good food. We splurge for nice cuts of meat, fruits, and deserts and only go out to eat once or twice a month.

food japan japanese food best delicious meal soba yuba

Ryosuke swears he only spent 20,000yen every month during his four years of college on food and I’m inclined to believe him.

6. Household goods: 6,000yen

Toilet paper, new curtains when ours happened to rip last month, dish-washing soap, conditioner, wet wipes for the floor, etc.

7. Entertainment: 15,000yen

Hanging out with friends, movie rentals, shopping, day trips, etc.

kyoto couple yukata kimono gaijin travel amwf

8. Transportation: 8,000yen – 15,000yen

When I lived in Tokyo, I was spending between 8,000yen and 10,000yen a month on train tickets to meetings, hanging out with friends, dates, exploring Tokyo for the sake of my blog, etc.

Now that we live out in the countryside, it’s much more expensive (and as a result, we go to Tokyo less). On average, I go to Tokyo once a week and spend between 9,000yen and 15,000yen on train tickets.

Last train in Japan foreigner crowded

9. Parking: 10,000yen – 30,000yen

Parking is expensive in Tokyo… Rates depend on the building, though. In this case, because the car we had came from Ryosuke’s company (for work), the company also paid our parking bill.

IMG_3754 car parking lot

10. Health insurance and pension insurance: 750yen – 25,000yen

National Health Insurance covers 70% of doctor’s visits. I’ve used it at hospitals, doctor’s offices, dentists, and when I had to get surgery. The cost itself varies depending on several factors.

As a student, I was paying 750yen per month. Once we got married, I fell under my husband’s insurance (so we didn’t have to pay anything) and when he quit, we had to pay for it our on own. Right now we’re paying 25,000yen per month (each) for health insurance and pension insurance.

11. Taxes: 15% – 20%

About 15% of my income goes to taxes – some of which I get back at the end of the year (because I’m a self-employed freelancer). Unfortunately I have to pay both Japanese and American taxes, which adds up.

12: “Other:” 50,000yen

Every month we seem to have unexpected expenses. Two months ago we went to America. Last month we went to Nittori and got winter supplies (thick blankets, etc) and a table for our work room since sharing a desk got to be difficult, which was about 35,000yen. This month we bought a desktop for 100,000yen. Next month I’m getting my tonsils removed (long story) for about 65,000yen.

There’s always something.

The “real” cost of living in Tokyo per month: 160,000yen – 300,000yen

Final thoughts:

When we were just living on one paycheck, we cut back on a lot of things and ended up more on the “low” end of expenditures. It isn’t fun, but it’s definitely doable.

The best way to save money while you’re living in Tokyo is to not buy a car (just rent one on days you need it), cook at home rather than eat out, and limit yourself to only 1-2 “nomikai” (drinking parties with friends or colleagues) per month. If you still want to hang out with friends, invite them to your place, cook a meal, and get everyone to bring a 6-pack of beer or bottle of wine – that’s more fun anyway!

About Grace Buchele Mineta

I got into the writing business by accident. Now I live in the countryside near Tokyo with my husband, Ryosuke, where I draw comics, blog, and make videos about our daily life. Contact: Website | More Posts

43 Comments on The Cost of Living in Tokyo, Japan

  1. Ju Shin // 1 April, 2016 at 9:26 pm //

    Thank you so much for the blog! I m relocating from NYC to tokyo this coming August with my husband.
    I know this is a side note, you should not be paying both US and Japan’s income tax! You should be exempted up to $100,800 of your foreign earned income!
    Anyways!! My husband and I dont really have friends other than relatives over in Japan. I am excited to make new friends over there!!! Contact me if you want to learn more about exemption!!! I was so surprised that many people were not aware of the exemption!

    Thanks!!

    Ju

  2. Hi Grace!

    I’m most likely moving to Tokyo for a software engineering job in a few months, so I’ve been compulsively consuming content from j-vloggers (Youtube, blogs) to get a feel for life in Japan, and your/Ryousuke’s content is something I keep coming back to because they’re generally relatable and informative. Thanks for sharing your life with us!

  3. This is a very helpful post! My boyfriend got a great job offer in Tokyo and we are planning to move there and experience living in this wonderful, but bizarre culture of Japan. I have never been in Asia and for me this will be a great adventure and definitely a culture shock. I will have to search a job when I get there and I hope that I will succeed with this. Thanks for the through post!

    • Eric Janson // 9 March, 2016 at 5:51 pm //

      Connie, best luck to you- actually luck finds those who are open to it and it sounds like you and your husband are in that group ;-) You’ll find many people who have been through it all and happy to help. ENJOY and pass the joy down the line…

  4. Frederick // 5 March, 2016 at 10:58 am //

    San Francisco Bay Area rent is Horrible with a capital letter H. SF Residential parking could top at $450 or more. I used to live in a small apt, about 580 sq feet with 2 bedrooms. I was lucky because the landlord loved me and my wife. We paid on time, quite, kept the place very clean and we would volunteer anything the old landlady needs help. When we moved out, I did a research on the market rate, it would have cost over $2700 a month! We only paid a little over a third of that? Thank god!

  5. I’m curious as to how your blog grew you mind sharing?

  6. Wow 15%-20% income tax!! Thats better than the 30%+ that i pay in australia! Keep uo the great work on both this blog and the gaijin wife gaijin life blog! Im learning japanese so i enjoy reading Ryosuke’s blog too!

  7. I don’t think Ryousuke’s former company was ‘normal’! Unless this is normal in Tokyo and not other places… My fiance works full-time for a normal Japanese company but they don’t pay any of his rent or health insurance. Perhaps this will change when we get married, but I doubt it. He said he’ll be a bit of a raise after getting married, but not much.

    • Really? Because like all of my friends who work at white collar jobs in Tokyo have their apartments subsidized by their company (or live in company dorms). Even most of the friends I have in the countryside are subsidized (although they have less options since the two companies in question both chose the apartments for them).
      And I thought by law if you work over 30 hours your company has to pay for and enroll you in Japanese national health insurance?

      • Yep, my rent in Okinawa is subsidised by my company (a University), which seems to be the norm here. They also pay my health insurance. The subsidised rent thing is AWESOME because I would never get that in Australia
        http://www.seachangeokinawa.blogspot.com

        • Yeah! Our old apartment was subsidized by my husband’s old company (who also paid for parking, health insurance, etc). We were given 4 districts where we could pick any apartment under 145,000yen – and they would pay 85%. It was an awesome deal. I loved it.

          Of course my husband didn’t like his company and he quit after a year (which I totally support) and we moved somewhere cheaper. But we both remember that apartment very fondly~!

  8. Love your YouTube channel and blog! I’m a huge fan.

  9. Its expensive, Id say the same as living in London. Capital cities will always be the most expensive places. I live in liverpool UK. I rent a 3 bedroom house for £450 per month ($650). Overall me and my bf together need £800-£1000 per month. A single person in Liverpool can live off £500 ($700) if they wanted to. In London the prices go up and people are not paid too much more either.

  10. OH wow! That’s a lot more than I expected on food. I thought spending 10,000-15,000 yen on food for trying to cook at home more often was expensive (albeit I am a tiny eater living alone, sometimes cooking for (my) Ryosuke). よかった!!! Even though Gunma is much cheaper cost of living than Tokyo, food is still pretty darn expensive for the good stuff…and even more when I have to go the import store an hour and something’s drive away to the nearest mall.
    I am SO excited for (hopefully) moving this year to a bigger apartment and not paying exorbiant amounts of money for a 2LDK because apartments are SO much cheaper here!! Though this Leo Palace I have now is not forgiving on my paycheck. :(
    I sometimes imagine wanting to live in Tokyo for the ease of finding restaurants that remind me of home, but then I think of rent prices and train fees…love that I am able to drive here in Gunma–countryside has its perks and its faults. ^_~

    • We spend SO MUCH on food. It’s ridiculous. We’re trying to fix that this year – because I literally had NO IDEA how much we were spending until I actually started keeping track…
      We only have one grocery store close to us, which means we’re paying a bit more for stuff than we were in Tokyo (and had options!). The import store is so far away… grrrr…

      You live in Leo Palace? I was thinking about living in one of them when I first moved to Tokyo but it was outside of my budget. I hope you find a new place that you love!

  11. Seems like costs are similar to Finland though the taxation is much lower in Japan!
    Thankfully we live I. Germany no with living costs roughly only being half as much :)

  12. I live in a small town in Okinawa for work and we have a 3 bedroom two story house on the beach, with an additional self contained studio apartment downstairs and we pay 180000 yen per month! It’s amazing because it’s bigger than anything we would be able to afford for the same price in an Australian city (where I’m from). It’s funny how much different the cost of living in different areas of Japan is.
    I used to live in a 2 bedroom apartment in Tochigi and I think I paid around 60000 yen per month foand that about 10 years ago.

    Hope you are feeling better!

    http://Www.seachangeokinawa.blogspot.com

    • Aaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhh that sounds so lovely! I’d love to live off the beach in Okinawa :D

      • Yeah, not going to lie, our house is THE BEST, however location wise there is nothing going on here…. Especially in winter when it’s all windy, rainy and cold. Can’t wait for the summer again for more snorkelling (I became obsessed when I moved here!). If you’re ever in Okinawa, happy to show you around!

  13. Very helpful! I’m planning to move to Japan (not sure where yet and… how) in the next 5-6 years so I’m totally going back on this article when I start to prepare for it.

    Pam x
    http://craftedbypam.com

  14. You reminded me that I bought a notebook to monitor my expenses at 100 yens shop and forgot to use it this january ! I would love to have a car but it is true that it is ridiculously heavy on a budget…

    • Good luck! Keeping a budget is so mendokusai but it’s been real eye-opening. Ryosuke and I have an app on our smartphones where we can take a picture of the receipt and it records all the information (date, cost, location, category) for us.

  15. Anonymous // 11 January, 2016 at 1:55 pm //

    When I lived in Kitchener Ontario with my sister and brother in law. We had a 2 bedroom 2 story town house. Rent was 1100 a month Canadian. In Japan that would have come out to just over 92,266 yen a month.

  16. Grace, it pains me to see you are still a victim of double taxation by Japan and USA. If you are an official resident of Japan, with the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion (FEIE), you should be exempt from having to pay US taxes on earned income, up to a certain income level.

    If you qualify, the FEIE allows you to exclude up to US$100,800 (US$201,600 for a married couple with both spouses residing overseas) of foreign-earned income from U.S. tax.

    You still have to prepare and file your taxes every year, but that does not mean you must pay tax. One of the many benefits for an American living or retiring abroad is that, once you’re a foreign resident, you’re eligible to take advantage of the FEIE.

    I strongly encourage you to research this issue, since it can save you thousands of dollars every year, and all of us who follow you online know you live on a tight budget.

    Best of luck.

    • Thank you! I will check that out!
      I know from what I read on the IRS website that for people who are self-employed, it doesn’t matter where you live. You’re still taxed the same US self-employment rate regardless of whether you live in America or not (which is so freaking frustrating!!). Since writing this post, Ryosuke and I have been searching for a tax accountant we can hire to help us. I will bring up the FEIE to whoever we find and see if I can get out of this double taxation thing!

  17. 140,000 yen a month for a 3 bedroom apartment? That comes out to ~$1200, which is around the same price for an older 3 bedroom apartment in Milwaukee, a city with 600,000 people in the city proper. And Milwaukee is considered average for cost of living in America.

    • Yeah, I was gonna say, I live in the San Francisco bay area, and all of that is much cheaper than it is here. A 1bdr in my town is about $1960, 2bdr starts around $2300. I just got back 2 days ago from a trip to Tokyo, and while I enjoy visiting, it’s just too crowded for me to want to live there. While walking a lot was great, I think 90% of it was actually dodging people, lol. Though, of course, if I won the Powerball, I’d totally buy an apartment in a luxury Roppongi high rise or something, hahah

    • It’s weird because I thought $1200 was really, REALLY expensive… until I started looking at real estate elsewhere around the world. Ahhh!

  18. Living in Tokyo is definitely something I couldn’t afford, even on the cheap end of the scale. Not unless I had a fantastic job that would actually pay me far more than I’m used to being paid, at any rate. (That’s what I figure a lot of affordability comes down to; am I making enough money each month to spend on what I need? If not, then even living cheaply in an expensive place might still be too much.)

    Luckily, if I ever go do to Japan for any length of time, I’m the kind of person who doesn’t mind longish commutes, and also the sort of person who would rather arrive somewhere an hour early to avoid crowds and rush hour than arrive right on time and be in an uncomfortable situation. So I suspect I’d try to get a place further away from the action and save myself some money that way.

    Very informative article, Grace! As always!

    • I think Ryosuke and I are the same way – we’d rather live pretty far out (in a cheap and non-crowded area) than in a really populated, convenient location.
      As soon as I actually started measuring our expenditures I got pretty freaked out by how much money we were really spending every month. I’d like to spend less, but it’s hard. Ugh.

  19. Eric Janson // 11 January, 2016 at 12:21 pm //

    I’ve found that paying a lot more for a restaurant meal in Tokyo does not get you a proportionally higher quality of meal – even the very basic places can be quite good quality. (the bad ones fail, and fast in Tokyo.) What extra money gets you, as a general rule, is more space! So if you are willing to cram into a small ten- or twelve- person eatery (or stand, even) you can get some very good meals at very reasonable – even cheap- prices in the center of Tokyo.

  20. Is it possible to rent a house in the countryside of Japan, or are there vary many to rent? If so what are the living costs? I haven’t found vary many informative videos about the countryside specifically.

    Hope you’re feeling better!

    • I know it is technically possible, but a lot of places won’t rent to foreigners. As far as I know there aren’t any discriminatory laws preventing landlords from saying “no foreigners” to the housing office.

      When Ryosuke and I were hunting for a place to live after we left Tokyo we went to the real estate office with about 16 properties we were interested in renting, but only two of them were okay with foreigners and okay with Ryosuke not having an official job (because self-employed apparently doesn’t count). It’s complicated…

      • Gotcha, it does sound kind of complicated. Me and my boyfriend have been playing with the idea about moving out of the U.S. We watch your videos all the time and Japan seems so awesome :]

        Also, I know a lot of people in Japan use bikes but what about skateboards? lol

  21. Arabic guy // 11 January, 2016 at 11:47 am //

    Tokyo seems very expensive but you are very smart couple and mangened to solve those chalenges.

    Grace I hope you get better

  22. Wait, what? Your three-bedroom Tokyo apartment cost 140,000 yen / month? So that comes out to around $1200 / month? 0_0

    That’s where New York City apartments start: https://newyork.craigslist.org/search/aap?search_distance_type=mi&is_paid=all&bedrooms=3

    And that doesn’t include the cell phone bill or the broker’s fee.

    San Francisco is even worse… :’-(

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