Life in Japan blog - 2 - The cost of living in Japan - A detailed study

Let's see the US first. Is the US an expensive country? As for somebody who works as a shop assistant it is. For Warren Buffett it might not be. The situation is pretty similar in Japan, since citizens don't work for the exact same salary and there are entrepreneurs with income that changes from time to time.

I have collected some extreme examples of Japanese product prices

In the following blog post, I would like to discuss a widespread misconception about Japan. When people asking me about Japan, I am usually very surprised how false the image is people have about Japan. This might be because the country still lives its everyday life very isolated from the rest of the world and there is only a limited amount of information that can reach the so called outside world, especially in English. The question "Is Japan an expensive country?" can be discussed from many aspects, but in my opinion the question itself is ambiguous.

In general it can be said that the quality of life in Japan is higher than the world average. That might be expected from one of the world's leading economy. As such the question can be asked in two different ways: "Is Japan expensive for its citizens?" and "Is Japan expensive for tourists?".

I have collected some extreme examples of Japanese product prices and uploaded them as the main blog post image ( peach 213¥, gas 121¥ ). When we are discussing the prices of Japanese products there is a cultural factor which has to be considered. It might be clear for everybody that Japanese culture does not have common elements with any western culture. This difference appears to be very significant when you do every day shopping on the peninsula. The country due to its geological location is rich in sea products, such as fish, octopus, crab, eal, seaweed and so on. Consequently, however wheat based products such as bread, pasta, cookies can be found in supermarkets, they might be more pricey. In the same time there are numerous products that have to be imported. I expected that these will be very expensive, however this is not necessarily the case ( wine from Chile 537¥ ??? ).

Prices of the above products in July, 2016:

  • 1 bottle of Chilean wine 537¥
  • 1 liter of gasoline 121¥
  • 1 slice of salmon 105¥
  • 1 peach 213¥

Please note that the prices above are stated in Japanese yen. When considering a short period of time, the USD-Yen exchange rate does not change significantly. I have checked the rate on a 5 year period on and it turned out that the exchange rate varied between 75.75 and 125.6. Its minimum value was in October, 2011 and it reached its maximum value on June, 2015. To get the Japanese prices in USD, you need to dived the displayed prices, as such the greater the divisor the smaller amount you get. So from now if somebody comes and asks you: Is Japan an expensive country? you can answer him or her like: Yes, it was expensive in October, 2011 and it was fairly cheap in June, 2015. Well, this is what I call an ambiguous answer.

Cost of meals on Japan in July, 2016:

  • Indian mutton curry + nan 1300¥
  • Indian curry set 850¥
  • Ramen on campus 230¥
  • Cheeseburger in McDonald's 130¥
  • Udon at the local udon shop 420¥
  • A plate of rotating sushi 130¥
  • Korean unlimited BBQ 2500¥
  • Ichiran ramen in Osaka 790¥
  • Borscht Russian soup set 1575¥

Considering the prices above I would not really say that Japan is an expensive country. Clearly traditional Japanese dishes and cheeseburgers are cheap, but international cuisine can be rather expensive. This applies for the rest of the world, doesn't it?

In order to get rid of the exchange rate fluctuation problem, I will make a comparison based on average salaries. Unfortunately it won't answer the original question, since it will only compare purchasing power in the two countries.

Average salary in Japan before tax in 2015:

4.150.000¥ / year or 345.833¥ / month ( source: heikinnenshu )

Median household income in the United States:

$46,326 / year or $3860 / month ( source: mybudget360 )

Japanese product prices compared to the average monthly salary:

  • a slice of salmon 105¥ ~ 3300 slice / month
  • a pint of beer 450¥ ~ 769 pint / month
  • cinema ticket 1500¥ ~ 231 ticket / month
  • Tokyo - Osaka Shinkansen ticket 14.650¥ ~ 24 trip / month

US product prices compared to the average monthly salary:

  • a slice of salmon $1 ~ 3860 slice / month
  • a pint of beer $7 ~ 551 pint / month
  • cinema ticket $15 ~ 257 ticket / month
  • New York - Boston train ticket $76 ~ 51 trip / month

These average salaries are before tax, therefore you cannot actually travel from New York to Boston 51 times a month on your salary, because you have to deduct tax and other costs. I would say the purchasing power numbers are not significantly different for the two countries. In this sense I won't say that Japan is more expensive than any other developed country.

Recommended >> Who blew the bubble in Japan?

In the final part of my blog post, I would like to research another interesting topic, which is transportation. I meet many foreigners in Japan complaining about transportation costs on the peninsula. Seriously, when you can buy a liter of gas for less then $1, do you still think that it is expensive to travel in Japan? By car it is cheap! Now let's see the rest.

Shinkansen ticket prices in Japan ( July, 2016 )

  • Tokyo - Osaka 14.650¥ 2h26m
  • Kobe - Osaka 3090¥ 12m
  • Osaka - Kyoto 3010¥ 15m
  • Osaka - Okayama 6530¥ 45m
  • Osaka - Fukuoka 15.510¥ 2h29m
  • Tokyo - Nagoya 11.290¥ 1h41m
  • Osaka - Nagoya 6550¥ 53m

Flight ticket prices in Japan

  • Osaka - Tokyo 10.490¥ 1h15m
  • Kobe - Tokyo 6790¥ 1h15m
  • Kobe - Okinawa 7500¥ 2h05m
  • Tokyo - Okinawa 7790¥ 2h35m
  • Osaka - Okinawa 5850¥ 2h10m

Bus ticket prices in Japan

  • Osaka - Tokyo 1700¥ night bus 10h15m
  • Osaka - Nagoya 2000¥ 3h10m
  • Tokyo - Nagoya 2200¥ 5h50m

These prices are for reference only and obviously they change from time to time. The most expensive is to travel by Shinkansen, but let's be honest, it is the most convenient way, just check out the duration. In 2016 time is money, and this is especially true for Japan. It is better not to be late here, if you know what I mean. On the other hand, Shinkansen stations are in the city centers, which means, you hardly have to transfer. They set off in 5-10 minute time frames and travel on a 220 km / h average speed, while you don't have to very about your full cup of coffee, because its not gonna spill on you. I don't think it is fair to compare the prices of such a service to any other train company's prices. For those who are on budget, there is the bus, which is economically priced. If you have any question regarding life or travel in Japan, don't hesitate to write me a mail on! Don't forget to read the previous article as well!

Further reading

More Videos