Tokyo is the big, booming Japanese capital famous around the world for its skyscrapers, neon nightlife, Shibuya Crossing, and Harajuku fashion.
When I told people that I was planning to move to Tokyo, the response was usually, “Wow!” Followed by, ” But isn’t Tokyo really expensive?” The truth about the cost of living in Tokyo is that it isn’t that expensive at all.
As with everywhere in the world, there are some pros and cons to living in Japan, and life in Tokyo isn’t for everyone.
Let’s take a look at how much the cost of living in Tokyo really is. I’ll take you through a daily budget, how much you’ll spend on bills, how much travel costs, what you can expect from Tokyo apartments, and how much you’ll spend on food, so that you can work out if living in the bustling city is for you.
Why Choose Tokyo?
That’s a good question. When presented with the choice of moving to any city in any country in the world, there are a few factors to take into consideration.
Of course, the cost of living in Tokyo will help you decide whether or not to move here — knowing if you’ll actually be able to afford to live somewhere is helpful, after all!
Before moving to Tokyo, I thought about settling down in various countries in Asia. Thailand is full of amazing people, cheap living and an easygoing lifestyle. Malaysia is an ideal off-the-beaten-track location with nature, incredible food and an interesting mix of cultures.
But it was Japan, and ultimately Tokyo, that won me over.
Tokyo is a never-ending city. A lifetime would never be enough to explore every small neighbourhood, shopping street and back alley that make up the Japanese capital. There are endless things to do in Tokyo, and each stop on the metro reveals a new place that’s jammed full of local bars, cute cafes and surprising shrines.
There’s also a multitude of professional opportunities in Tokyo. It’s hosting the Rugby World Cup in 2019 and the Olympics in 2020, meaning more job opportunities — as well as more openness to foreign visitors.
With these global sporting events coming to town, the spotlight is on the city. While this doesn’t really affect the cost of living in Tokyo, it means that Japanese people are keen to show off their home. The pressure is on for locals to learn English — even the taxi drivers are trying hard.
There are plenty of opportunities to teach English in Japan; in Tokyo you’ll find numerous language schools that are always on the look-out for teachers. There are even opportunities for private English tutors or one-to-one English conversation lessons.
If you have other skills that can help out Japanese companies, there’s a growing number of job opportunities too. Learning Japanese can expand your job prospects immensely!
And, of course, there’s always the internet and working as a digital nomad in Japan.
Japanese culture is imbued with respect, and life here is almost totally hassle-free. I feel safe walking anywhere in the city at any time of night or day. I can wear whatever I want, and nobody stares.
Tokyo is the most multicultural place in Japan. There are influences from all across Asia in the city, though it might be hard to spot them at first. From the food to the music on the radio, there’s a lot to learn and get involved with.
Regardless of the cost of living in Tokyo, moving to the city can be hard if you clash with the culture. With the quiet subway trains and the polite shop assistants can also come a feeling of isolation and frustration. Culture clashes for foreigners moving to Tokyo are not uncommon, but this can happen in any country you move to.
Ease Of Travel
Days in Tokyo are always filled with something interesting. I can jump on the metro and visit a world-famous sight in the morning, have a bowl of soba at a local restaurant for lunch, then hang out at the park in the afternoon.
Not only that, but living here means having the rest of Japan at my fingertips. The bullet train connects Tokyo to the rest of the country, and there are numerous buses, ferries and budget flights to choose from as well.
When considering the cost of living in Tokyo, you should also take into consideration the price of travel. You are going to want to see more of the country if you’re here, and it’s easy to do exactly that. Weekends can be spent hitting up the ultra cool cities, skiing in Hokkaido in the winter, lazing on the beaches of Okinawa, or seeing the cherry blossoms (one of the best things to do in Kyoto!)
Having easy access to the most stunning landscapes and towns that people dream of visiting is pretty special. Taking the cost of living in Tokyo into consideration is one thing, but for any travel lover, the wonder of exploring the country whenever you feel like it outweighs anything else.
Healthcare in Tokyo
Healthcare isn’t at the top of my list when it comes to travel plans, but this suddenly becomes very important when you think about living in a different country.
Thankfully, healthcare in Tokyo is top-notch. It isn’t completely free, however, and you need to consider that when you calculate the cost of living in Tokyo. But living as a resident here does give you access to government-subsidized healthcare.
You won’t need to worry too much about language barriers either. There are top university hospitals with staff who have studied abroad and numerous clinics across the capital. A little language definitely does come in handy when you need to go to the pharmacy though; just learning the words for headache or stomach cramp will go a long way.
This wouldn’t be an article about living in Tokyo if I didn’t mention the food; seriously, the selection of food on offer in the city is immense. I’m constantly amazed at how many tiny places there are to eat at and how they all manage to stay in business.
In your home country, Japanese food might be expensive; however, that’s not the case in Japan. In fact, you might think that food in general would hike up the cost of living in Tokyo, but it really doesn’t. Of course, if you only eat at high-end places it gets costly, otherwise eating out is totally affordable.
It does depend on where you get your food from though. Chain noodle shops are the cheapest, but even local joints serve up a mean bowl of tendon (tempura and rice) for a small price. Check out reviews online for prices and menus; this is a serious pastime for Tokyoites, who love to review every meal in detail.
And food shopping isn’t expensive either. Tokyo has many small, locally run grocery stalls. The fruit and vegetables might be a little pricey, but the produce is often massive and will last you for days. I challenge you to eat a Japanese apple in one sitting — seriously, they’re enormous!
Detailed Cost of Living in Tokyo
Living in any place in the world is about your budget. A lifestyle beyond your means is going to leave you in hot water and won’t set you up with a good life. On the other hand, you don’t want to haul your life all the way to Tokyo only to find out your budget only stretches so far, and you’ll be unable to make the most of living there.
I’ve broken down the cost of living in Tokyo so you can work out if relocating to the city is right for you.
Cost of Accommodation in Tokyo
Accommodation is going to take up the main chunk of your budget. When looking at the cost of living in Tokyo, you need to know what type of accommodation there is, and if you can afford it. Here is a list of the average rent in Tokyo.
Rent per month: $390–$650
Shared houses are easy to come by in the city and are pretty low-cost. You can get yourself a double room for a couple for less than $650 a month — that’s including bills and internet. You can move in straight away without any other hassle, no contracts, and no deposit.
The downside of a shared house is the fact that you won’t know who you’ll be living with.
When I was looking for places to live in Tokyo, I read some pretty bad reviews of shared housing. Regardless of that, shared accommodation isn’t all bad. You get to save money by not having to hand over a deposit, you get all the amenities at your disposal straight away, and some of the houses are pretty cool.
My verdict is: do your research into the shared housing company before you move in. If you’re a single person who wants to meet other people, then living in shared housing is great. Not only does shared housing keep the cost of living in Tokyo low, but you also potentially get to make a bunch of friends as well.
Tokyo Apartments (Private)
Rent per month: $650+
Most people in Tokyo live in their own apartments. Finding yourself an apartment isn’t only stressful, but you also need to have a deposit, which is usually around two months’ rent — plus a guarantor fee and an estate agency fee. There’s not a lot of getting around this and it’s just part of the cost of living in Japan.
The thing is, once you’ve moved in, the rent is surprisingly low. To live in the central area of Tokyo is much cheaper than living anywhere near the center of London. Rent varies based on how close you are to a train line and the size — spoiler alert, Tokyo apartments aren’t spacious.
Be prepared to give up some comforts. You might not be able to afford a huge place, but most people in Tokyo live in small studio apartments, so just join them (like I did) and live the authentic Tokyo life.
Cost Of Furniture in Tokyo
For the basics – $320
Another thing that people don’t often factor into the cost of living in Tokyo is furniture. If you move into your own place, it’s likely to be unfurnished. You should put aside around $650 to buy things like a bed, bedding, curtains, and lights (yes, you won’t even get lights).
But furnishing your house in the capital is cheap and another way of proving that the cost of living in Tokyo needn’t be expensive. There are numerous flea markets, recycle furniture shops and Facebook groups which make decking out your Tokyo pad affordable and fun.
And, the amazing variety of products on sale at the ¥100 ($0.90) stores will help keep costs low, too.
Cost Of Utility Bills in Tokyo
Per month average – $217
Paying bills is just part of life and, sadly, you’re going to have to factor them into the cost of living in Tokyo, too. The cost will vary each month; in winter, you’ll need heating, and summer, air-con, but here’s an average:
- Electricity – ¥8,000 ($72)
- Gas – ¥4,000 ($36)
- Water – ¥4,000 ($36)
- Phone – ¥3,000 ($27)
- Internet – ¥5,000 ($45)
Cost Of Healthcare in Tokyo
Minimum per month – $18
Healthcare in Japan is great, but you will also have to budget it into your cost of living. In Tokyo, healthcare is easy to come by and cheap. After three months of living in the city, you have to sign up for the state healthcare scheme. The amount will vary depending on your visa and is reflective of how much you earn and how much your employee pitches in.
Cost Of Public Transport in Tokyo
Minimum per week – $32
The trains and public transport in Tokyo are relatively cheap when compared to somewhere like London. Sometimes it can feel like it hardly costs anything to travel around the city. But the yen does add up and I can suddenly find myself blowing $9 on trains without thinking about it.
Transport should factor into your daily cost of living in Tokyo if you have to travel to work on the train. If not, you can cut costs by buying yourself a bicycle because the city is fantastically safe for cyclists. Or you can attempt to walk to places like I often do. Walking keeps costs low and I always get to discover new and interesting parts of the city.
Everyday Costs Of Living in Tokyo
It is possible to spend less than ¥10,000 ($90) a week for food; this includes the price of eating out a few times a week. Food shopping and stocking your cupboards can be done for ¥5,000 ($45) a week. Part of the cost of living in Tokyo is eating out. If you don’t drink alcohol, things will get a lot cheaper for you!
Depending on where you buy coffee, or how often you get your hair cut, you’ll spend more or less money. Things can be quite cheap in Tokyo — it might surprise you.
The main rule of thumb if you want to save money during your stay in Tokyo, is living as the locals do. Eat local food and drink local drinks.
For example, cheese is incredibly expensive in Japan, so if you’re a fan of cheese like me, you’d better brace yourself!
Here are the costs of some everyday things to help you work out the cost of living in Tokyo:
- Coffee – ¥200–¥500 ($1.80 – $4.50)
- Haircut – ¥4,000 ($36)
- Deodorant – ¥600 ($5.50)
- Beer – ¥200- ¥650 ($1.80 – $5.90)
- Wine – ¥600 ($5.50)
- Bread Loaf – ¥130 ($1.20)
- Bakery Bread – ¥300 ($2.75)
- Liter of Milk – ¥200 ($1.80)
- Eggs per/10 – ¥220 ($2.00)
- One apple (huge!) – ¥120 ($1.10)
- Cheese – ¥500/100g ($4.50)
- Meal at local restaurant – ¥3,000 ($27)
- Meal at chain restaurant – ¥1,500 ($13)
- Bowl of raman noodle soup – ¥1,000 ($9)
- Sushi – $0.50 – $1 / piece (at the conveyor belt sushi places)
Summing Up The Cost Of Living in Tokyo
There you have it. My detailed costs of living in Tokyo. But living in the city is going to be different for everybody who moves here.
Your housing will depend on whether you want to be in the middle of the action, or if you live with your other half. Your food costs will fluctuate as well. If you take away drinking alcohol (especially in restaurants), your wallet will thank you.
Tokyo isn’t the cheapest place to live in the world — or even Asia — but it really isn’t that expensive either. Living here is all about the culture, the vibe, the food, the travel opportunities, and the events on offer. You can enjoy all of this without having to spend all your money each month.
Make sure you have enough money to go out, eat, and do fun social things, like go to a concert. And, of course, don’t forget to add to your budget the costs of travelling to other places. You’ll be able to see so much of this beautiful country if you decide to make the move to Tokyo.
Living in Tokyo isn’t always straightforward, but if you have savings and a job (whether online, or in-country), it’s totally affordable. Make sure you learn some survival Japanese though. You might be able to afford the cost of living in Tokyo, but without some Japanese language skills, it becomes a lot less easy to live here.
Get ready to enjoy the late night, early rising, full throttle city of Tokyo!
Lead image courtesy of Shutterstock.
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