Cost of Living in Japan

Reviewing a year's cost of living in Yokohama

 By Rey Waters   Jun 5, 2015

When we moved to Yokohama from the Atlanta area of Georgia in 2013 my wife asked me to keep a monthly budget spreadsheet.  Our purpose was to compare our living costs with that of the States. I recently completed the 2014 cost of living expense and was mildly surprised. Included in our budget were trips to the U.S., South America, Sapporo, Nikko, Hakone, Kyoto and Osaka, as well as many local trips throughout the Kanazawa prefecture.

We did not have any real estate or rental costs so I added the average cost to rent a 2 bedroom condo similar to the one we live in. When you consider the cost of maintaining and insuring a vehicle in the U.S. compared to the easy train transportation system and the excellent inexpensive health care system in Japan there really is not much difference to life here versus the U.S.  

Some things about our lifestyle should be explained prior to presenting the numbers. We shop every day at the local markets and eat out approximately twice per week. My wife is from Yokohama and she knows where to effectively shop. Within a few feet of our home there is a good sushi restaurant and their lunch menu for a 10 piece set is only 900 yen each. At the mall we eat our favorite Pho for 850 yen. When we need household items it is off to the 100 yen shop and for discounts we carry over 30 point cards between us!  

Because we have a very healthy lifestyle our medical cost are very low. I walk five to six times a week and try to get in at least 6 km per trip.  Our daily lunch is a salad and we eat plenty of fresh fish. My wife works at a gym and I teach private English lessons, as well as dabble in travel writing. For our airfare to South America we used frequent flyer points. Throughout the year we constantly search the internet for bargain trips here and abroad.   We are not penny pinchers but are careful in how we spend our money. 

Now for the 2014 results:

  • Food, grocery and bakery were 79,553 yen per month
  • Eating out 13,033 per month
  • Health insurance, supplemental health insurance, annual physical and a few doctor visits averaged 14,584 per month.
  • Utilities including water, electric, gas, cell phone, NHK, and internet was 19,231 a month.
  • Recharge our Suica card for two 5,932 per month
  • Household, gifts, haircut and post office 28,208 a month
  • Trips, hotels, entrance fees and miscellaneous cost 51652 per month.

If you include 100,000 yen for rent in our neighborhood the total monthly cost for 2014 for Yokohama was 312,193 yen.  I used an average one year exchange rate of 106.5 and the monthly rate in dollars was $2,931 or less than $36,000 per year.  

I wanted to share this because so many people talk about how it is too expensive to live in Japan. Our cost to live in a bedroom community outside Atlanta, Georgia was very similar to our cost here. Yes, food and housing were less, but insurance and transportation were much more expensive, so it averages out.  

A friend of ours also visited in March. We preplanned her trip for 10 days including hotels, food, transportation, entrance fees etc and the cost came out to a little over $200 per day. Living in Japan is not impossible if you avoid the expensive tourist traps, look for sales, and learn where to shop.  

Written by Rey Waters
JapanTravel Member

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Andrew Choi a month ago
Rey Waters Author a month ago
Hi Andrew C, This article was from 2014 expenses. For 2015 and 2016 there was a sight increase of about 3k total. This was due to the Sales Tax going from 5% to 8%. In 2016 we traveled internationally twice and if you deduct those expenses we actually spent less than in 2014. There are many positives to living here, especially the outdoor activities, excellent food, safety, and very polite people.
Guillaume Dore 5 months ago
I think that it's interesting. I do not think that Japan is fundamentally more expensive than other country. It's also a question of lifestyle. Some people will report that it's more expensive in Japan as people eat out with friends instead of inviting them at home.
From my personal experience, there is so many things that are different than my home country. For food, fruits are more expensive in Japan, meat less , restaurant less . Public transportation usually more for a single trip, and less for a monthly pass. Books LOT less (especially considering the fact that second hand books are like new), DVD more. Phone/internet less, but electrycity more.
I believe that it's possible to have similar prices in Japan than in US/Canada/Europe, it's always a question of location and lifestyle.
Rey Waters Author 4 months ago
This comparison was from 2014. I made a trip back to the U.S. this year and found that prices have increased significantly. My overall expenses year over year went up 7%. Health care including surgery was one third of the U.S. and very high quality. You are right a lot of the cost depends on lifestyle.
Mark Asao 7 months ago
Good information! Thanks for sharing. We used similar planning when there on vacation. For example, while we did eat at some expensive nice restaurants we found buying meals at the food level of shopping malls to be a much cheaper alternative, but still very delicious.
Carol Akiyama a year ago
I absolutely agree that living in Japan is not as costly as people imagine. The tax is still fairly low -- ask a Scandanavian about costs of eating out and buying clothes!
Rey Waters Author a year ago
Yes, Everything in the U.S. keeps going up while wages are going down. My actual cost for 2015 was only 3 k more than 2014 equal to living in Dallas, Texas. The quality of life here is far better than other countries with lower costs.