Tokyo Salaries: All You Need to Know

Tokyo Salaries: All You Need to Know

Japan’s not expensive—let’s just sweep that 1980’s-era myth right under the rug. Still, if you want to be a baller in one of the world most amazing cities (i.e. Tokyo), you might want to rethink your grand scheme of selling authentic Chinese Rolexes on a Shinjuku street corner.

But okay, Seeroi, just tell me, how much monthly yen do I need to live in Tokyo? I know that’s what you’re saying. That’s called clairvoyance. And fortunately for you, I’ve made every mediocre salary there is to make, so let’s do this:

230,000 yen per month

If you like cold and dark, then this is the wage for you. You’ll be able to experience authentic Japanese living, which includes a ground-floor room the size of a meat locker, a wafer-thin futon, and a view of a machine shop that starts operating at six every morning. Many Japanese people live this lifestyle, dining on such fine cuisine as rice with fried bean sprouts, fried noodles with bean sprouts, and fried rice with noodles and bean sprouts. The possibilities are positively endless. Shake on heaps of fish flakes for flavor and learn to love natto. You can probably afford to run the heater an hour a day and the lights two. Go to bed when the sun goes down and get up when it rises. Hey, back to nature—-Thoreau did it, why not you? It’s just like Walden Pond, only surrounded by miles of concrete. To reach the outside world, you can wander the streets with your foreign cellphone looking for hotspots. That’s called exercise. Think of all the money you’ll save on gym memberships. For weekend entertainment, go to the corner park and sit on the swing-set drinking 100-yen cups of shochu. Forget about dating, unless that guy sleeping in the cardboard box takes a shine to you. And he probably will.

250,000 yen per month

Now you can keep the lights on until bedtime, and perhaps buy a blanket for warmth. You’ll wear many hats. This doesn’t mean you will perform many functions at work. Literally, you’ll wear many hats just to stave off freaking hypothermia. If you haunt the supermarket after 10 p.m., you can pick up 70%-off sushi and enough potatoes and carrots to keep you alive, although scurvy remains a serious concern. Your cell phone will be a flip type from the 1990’s. Treat yourself to a can of malt liquor once a week; you’ve earned it.

270,000 yen per month

If there were a practical poverty line, at least from a Western perspective, this would be it. It also happens to coincide nicely with the average eikaiwa-teacher monthly salary. With this generous renumeration, you can move out of the meat locker and into a walk-in closet. Astound your Facebook friends with pictures of you touching both walls of your apartment at the same time. Your arms are so long! You’ll be able to sit between a pair of space heaters prior to bedtime, absorbing radiation, then dive into your futon, surrounding your body with hot water bottles and praying for dawn to arrive. You’ll spend a lot of evenings in run-down eateries, slumping over steaming bowls of noodles while taking advantage of someone else’s heat and light. If you’re lucky, you might meet a girl or guy willing to turn on the heat in their apartment, and spend some nights defrosting there. You’ll be able to pick up an off-brand smartphone with a 2-year contract. You can afford to drink malt liquor or shochu on occasion, and will probably need it.

Is it Always Winter in Japan?

No, that’s crazy talk. Winter only lasts, what, like five months of the year? Or seven in Hokkaido. But certainly there will be a month where you can open your one frosty window and smell the sweet cherry blossoms over the bite of machine oil. Summer? Well sure, lots of people die annually in their apartments as a result of heat stroke, but not you. If you save up for a fan and buckets of ice, you can remain alive. Plus, your arms will be in great shape from constantly fanning. Remember to stay hydrated. I’m serious. Please don’t die.

When autumn comes, you can enjoy the cool breeze of pollen wafting from distant cedar trees and the yellow dust blowing from China. If you have anything close to allergies you will be constantly blessed through sneezing. Remember that God loves you, even if no one else in this nation does.

300,000 yen per month

Congratulations, you’ve finally made it off Skid Row. Assuming you haven’t maxed out all your foreign credit cards getting to this point, you can begin to enjoy the fruits of your labor. Splurge and buy a mat for under your futon, then some oranges to counteract the scurvy. Run the heat and A/C on weekends. Make it rain, playa. Buy a used bicycle. Go on dates to the park, or sit together overlooking the canal. Hell, save up and go to a restaurant, Rockefeller. Shop at Uniqlo and replace your worn-out clothes. Now you’re on the catwalk.

If you search hard and have connections, you can probably find a decent apartment (it helps if you look “Asian”). You might find a place with a couple of windows and a kitchen where you can balance a dollar-store cutting board on top of a mini fridge and actually cook food featuring exotic ingredients such as meat, fish, and vegetables. You should be able to afford last-year’s iPhone. Begin making the jump from malt liquor to actual beer, or occasionally, wine.

350,000 yen per month

This is more money than many Japanese people will see in their lifetimes. Hey, Tokyo salaries aren’t great. Making this much, you may find an apartment with more than one room, or even a view featuring a tree. You’ll be able to acquire the single most coveted home furnishing in the nation, known locally as “bed.” You are a rock star. Gone are the days of slinking past neon signs and paper lanterns in shame—-now you can go in and enjoy beer and grilled chicken with salarymen on Friday nights. You can talk to actual girls and guys, take them on dates to restaurants with tablecloths, and buy tiny cakes as tokens of your undying affection. You might even partake of the one thing all Japanese people dream of—a trip out of Japan.

For long-term ex-pat life in Japan (and especially Tokyo), this is the minimum acceptable living wage. Japanese folks frequently live on less, partly because they understand how to buy discount train tickets, can spot sales in the newspaper, and have friends and family to grudgingly help with things like moving and getting set up in life. But unless you come to Japan as half of an already-established couple, you’ll have to buy your own refrigerator, washing machine, lamps, pots and pans, everything. And that takes yen. Might be a good time to get a part-time job at Family Mart.

Also, bear in mind that many Japanese adults spend years living with their parents, whom they invariably can’t stand, saving money. Then they move into cramped, alternately freezing and broiling apartments and suffer for years, saving money. Many of the the folks I know personally have stylish clothes and cool haircuts, but live in crushing poverty. In Tokyo, there’s nothing unusual about recycling your bath water for the laundry or turning off the heat at night. That’s called normal. Foreigners think it’s amusing that the toilet seats are heated, but if you had to use the bathroom at two a.m. and your apartment was below freezing, you’d have a different understanding.

400,000 per month

Ah, Lives of the Rich and Famous. Cruising on yachts while sampling wine and caviar. That’s how you’ll feel when you come home to your apartment with one and a half actual rooms and run the heat or A/C as necessary. You’ll still need to turn off lights you’re not using and take reasonably short showers, but overall, you’ll live comfortably. You can eat out at the 100-yen sushi joint five nights a week, and drink proper beer or a bottle of wine regularly. This may or may not be a good thing, but hey, you’re the one who wanted to leave Walden Pond. You can afford a small, boxy used car, cable internet, and a TV, all of which should improve your dating life. Hell, you might even save some money. Retirement? What’s that? Don’t you need a new iPad instead? Of course you do. Surely the Japanese social services will bail you out when the time comes.

Above 400,000 yen per month

Now you’re entering rarified territory. I’ve made this level of coin briefly, but frankly it wasn’t worth the effort required.  Which is to say that I’m a lazy bastard who prefers evenings slamming cans of malt liquor watching sunsets over the Arakawa river to sitting at a desk surrounded by dozing salarymen. But my work ethic sucks, to be honest.

It bears mentioning that there are small subsets of people who come to Japan under more fortunate circumstances. Like the aging engineer I met from the States whose company sent him to Tokyo on an extended business trip, set him up in a serviced apartment in Roppongi, and paid for all his meals. He spoke not a word of Japanese and raved about what a great country it was. Or the young Saudia Arabian guy I spent the evening with, also in Roppongi. He had no job, a chauffeured car on call, and his own VIP section in a dance club. He bought everybody drinks and was surrounded by women. Suffice to say these folks have a different perspective of Japan. Not that one’s more valid than another, only that it’s a long way from Compton to Beverly Hills, if you know what I’m saying. Or from Ikebukuro to Aoyama, for that matter.

Can You Afford Japan?

Of course, everyone’s got a different standard of living. If you like cooking at home, hate drinking, appreciate temperature extremes and have no social life, then you’ll live on less than a person who, say, wants to interact with other human beings. There’s a million exciting things to do in Tokyo, and they pretty much all cost money. Living on a tight budget is a lot like paying to get into Disney Land and then not being able to afford the rides or any cotton candy. Well, at least you can get a free drink at the water fountain. That’s healthier anyway.

The big mistake, if there is one, is to avoid saying, Oh, well, 250 thousand yen a month is this much in my nation’s currency, and I can easily live on that. Because somehow, it doesn’t work that way. You’re forgetting about the cost of train tickets, trips to the butcher, baker, and candlestick maker, plus getting your shoes resoled. Not to mention that one-way plane ticket you purchased to the land of your dreams, massive down payment on your apartment, and the first night you went out for karaoke with all your newfound friends and somehow blew two hundred bucks. Maybe it’s not Japan that’s expensive, but you. So how much yen do you need to live here? Ultimately, it depends on how much of a life you need. And Japan may just be the place to put that to the test.



Want more goodness?

Consider buying Ken a beer. Because friends don't let friends write thirsty.


Tags :
Previous post link
Next post link

About Ken Seeroi

165 Comments

  1. Wow, that’s pretty steep 🙂
    In all seriousness, what is the breakdown of the money a person would pay for
    – rent
    – electricity
    – food?

    What eats the most of your paycheck?

    • I know where you’re going with this. Just add everything up and boom, hey you can live on that much. But there are a couple of other factors at play that complicate things. Let me be specific.

      So if we assume

      Rent 80,000
      Gas, Water, Electricity 12,000
      Cell Phone 10,000
      Internet 4,000
      Food 30,000
      Booze 10,000

      That’s only 146,000. Then if you’re making 230,000 minus 25% tax, that’s 172,500 take-home. That leaves you with an extra 26,500 per month. Sweet. And of course you think you can eat for less and give up drinking, so even better.

      But here’s the rest of the story. To get into an apartment, you might have to put down as much as 300,000. Some of that you’d get back when you move out, and some you wouldn’t. Maybe your employer will help you out with the down payment, and maybe they won’t. But if you do fork over almost 3 grand to get into a place, that’s going to cramp the lifestyle a bit.

      And if you move into a real Japanese place, it’s quite possible it will be equipped with sweet eff all. Which is to say, nothing. The first place I rented for myself, I spent two nights sleeping atop folded cardboard boxes in the dark. No lights, no stove, no fridge, no A/C, no heat, no washing machine. Furniture, pillow, curtains, toilet paper, frying pan? Forget about it. Moving to a foreign country costs a bit of money.

      Of course, this also doesn’t include things like haircuts, visits to the doctor, replacing your quickly wearing-out clothes and shoes, flying home to see your mom, or that weekend trip to Kyoto. Living, anywhere, also costs money.

      The second factor is psychological, but I don’t think you can underestimate it. So here you are, working all week, living alone in your new land. You want to explore, make friends, do something other than work. Then on Friday, some folks say Hey, we’re going out for drinks and dinner—want to come? And you’re like, Oh, no thanks, I’m just gonna go home, sit on my boxes and stare at the wall pretending it’s a TV. Screw that, of course you’re gonna go. You didn’t come to Japan to have a sucky life, plus you need some social contacts. So you go. All you can drink for an hour, 1500 yen, such a deal. Plus nutrition. Well, you’d have to eat anyway. Okay, now you’re up to 4,000. But still, forty bucks for food and a mess of booze, you’d have a hard time doing that in New York City. The tax and tip alone would be half of that. But then everybody’s like Hey, let’s go to karaoke! We’re all going, come on! And everyone’s going, including that cute guy/girl you’ve been wanting to sit next to all night. I guess you can see where this headed.

      So is Japan expensive? Nope. Not if you sit in your empty, freezing room or spend nights alone in the kiddie park gazing up at the streetlight and pretending it’s the moon. But there’s a lot of fun things to do and keeping a lid on everything, well, that’s not exactly Ken’s best thing. So for me, it costs a bit of money, but it’s my own fault, and I’m okay with that. Pretty sure that’s why I’ve got a job.

      • Unless you spend a lot on dodgy web sites you’ve got an extra zero on internet cost. 🙂

        • Ah jeez, I got cocky and thought I could actually type for a minute. Back to hunting and pecking. Think I fixed it now. Thanks.

      • I like your blog and you seem to be a pleasant guy to hang around with, but your estimates strike me as odd, let me show you how I’d calculate.

        I assume you don’t live IN Tokyo, but somewhere around, maybe i southern Saitama or western Chiba, where there’s a 30 minute commute, which I don’t find that tough. Heck, even areas of Tokyo such as Narimasu are in the league:

        Rent 50,000
        Gas, Water, Electricity 10,000
        Cell Phone 3,000
        Internet 4,000
        Food 50,000

        Makes roughly 120.000 Yen.

        Rent over 50k is for apartments over 40m2 or closer to Tokyo or closer to the station. I estimated the typical 1 room thing most people live here, around 20-30m2.
        I’m currently paying 32.000, but I’m living in Kumagaya, so that’s 1 hour for the train alone, “door to door” I’d say 90 minutes, which will piss you off every day. But let’s say you live in Kawaguchi, then this kind of rent is realistic.

        Why you pay so much for your mobile and internet is beyond me. I’m on Yahoo for both internet and mobile (200mbit line and 4G mobile).
        Gas can be more or less expensive, depending on if you’re on city gas or some small provider, electricity can be more or less depending on if your warm water runs on gas or not (in either case, you’ll land at 10.000, spending more on one or the other).

        Food I estimated higher, unless you wanna live off of cup ramen or “dine” Daiso 1-yen-stuff, but maybe I’m just a glutton. Since I don’t drink alcohol, I cut the booze, but if you do, your 10.000 would be all right I guess.

        Transportation is being paid for by the company.

        Now, with fix costs of 120k and an income of 230k, you’re pretty well set. Now you can spend more for other stuff or save up for when you wanna move somewhere else.

        Then there may or may not be other stuff to pay, like extras for a parking lot (as low as 2000 a month in some places, or 15.000 in others, depending on where you are). Want a pet, or an apartment where bath and toilet are separated, you pay more. System kitchen or the normal (abysmal) ones they have, pay extra. But I assumed you live in the typical samishii-oyaji-shithole you described above for that outrageous middle-of-Tokyo-rent, only that I moved you out of there and a bit off. Let’s talk 15-min-walk-to-the-station-off, as that’s the main determining factor for your rent.

        You can’t renovate your apartment yourself, insulation is generally horrible, the windows are one-pane and you have to stick tape around them in winter or freezing air will blow in. Or do it like the smarter Japanese people and buy heavy curtains 😉

        If anything, the worst part about living in Japan is the horrible housing. Every damn slum in the west looks like pure luxury compared to the shit holes they put us in here. Jobs outside the teaching field also pay worse and make you work more (I worked 6 days a week 10+ hours a day as massage therapist and that was physical labor, and for 200.000 a month).

        Just felt the need to put things in perspective.

        However, don’t even think about making kids.
        Don’t.
        Seriously.

      • The internet costs half the rent and more than 3 times the electricity and water bills?

        • Your total works if it is 4000 as the guy above wrote, so I would guess it was a typo. That would be some scary shit. I can live without food and women, but internet…

          • Yeah, it was a typo. Although, I do agree with you—take away everything else, but leave me my booze and internet. If necessary, I probably would pay 400 bucks a month for a fast connection. Don’t tell my provider.

      • Hmm, that’s not living the frugal life. Forget about the Big Three. Buy your own phone and get a MVNO (even if the speed is not as good – see here: http://www.mvno-navi.com/speed-measurement-of-mvno)

        Tokyo is relatively expensive. Most employers pay for transportation so why not live a bit out of the way (if you can handle the long commutes). Here is are my current fixed monthly payments in Minami-ku, Yokohama.

        Rent 40,000 (1DK 26m^2)
        Gas, Water, Electricity 5,000
        Cell Phone 2000
        Internet 6,000 <- could have been cheaper but my friend already had AU Hikari installed so I just subscribed with these guys
        Food 21,000
        Clothing & Care 5000
        Subscriptions 1300 (Amazon Student and Scribd)
        NHI 1000 <– Ah, the wonders of being a student!

        I was incredibly lucky to rent directly from an oyasan (through a friend's recommendation) and only had to put 80,000 as a refundable security payment. The apartment is old but I like it enough (well it can get too cold and too hot but I don't spend that much time in it anyway). It has a separate bath and toilet (but sadly not bathtub).

        I cycle everywhere I can to save money (unless it is raining heavily or snowing). Bicycle insurance and maintenance fees are negligible if you do it yourself. Heck, I can buy a new bicycle with the cost of a 3-month discounted commute pass to my university (plus it takes the same 50 minute to cycle as it is to walk + train + walk). Unless you work for a shitty company, most will pay for your commute costs so you don't have to worry about that.

        If you are cheap and have cheap friends, you can have a few fun nights out a month for like 10,000 or so. We alternate. One time we eat in cheap places like Sushiro or some cheap but good restaurant and the other time we grab food and drinks and head to the park. You can have quality time without breaking the bank. Then again, most of my friends are foreigners since I find it quite hard to become close friends with Japanese people for whatever reason. Maybe because the latter would always want to go out to expensive places?

  2. These amounts before or after tax? Y230 000 after tax should be a lot more comfortable than you described 😛

  3. Tokyo is about the same total cost as a big city in the US. Housing is a bit cheaper in Japan, utilities much more, transportation is less, food is more, healthcare is way less. Overall it’s a wash. The killer is when you have kids that need to go to international school. That’s about 200,000/month per kid just for school. I guess you are talking about single people with no kids living alone.

  4. Wow Ken,

    That was an eye opener piece. So poverty is relative, but still you’re saying that for a person living in Tokyo, the lowest number you started at (230,000 Yen/month or 22,683 US dollars a year) is abject poverty ( I’m assuming that this article is focused at the college graduates). I remember reading that in 2014 the average Japanese college graduate earned close to $2,000.00 US dollars a month or $24,000 per year, so that means Japan’s college graduates are living in near abject poverty (on average)? 4 years of college to live like that sounds like shit to me, I feel so sorry for their college students.

    • College isn’t helping these young people either as it’s generally not so challenging (I’ve never heard of someone failing). It might be more effective to skip college and go straight to work although there’s bad stigma with that. It all helps preserve the “wa” as middle mgmt doesn’t have to worry about some young challenger pushing them to work harder, learn new methods, etc. Just punch in, punch out like usual.

  5. Interesting article as usual.

    I have always wanted to know how is the everyday life/cost/quality of life of an not-too-well-off Japanese person in Tokyo, like uh, maybe someone in their 20s who went to Tokyo from the provinces but could only get some temp-contract jobs or part time jobs?

    But I guess since it is kind of average, no one writes about it.

    • That Japanese may live in a Showa Era hellhole which to a foreigner may be quite romantic … at first. After a while it will just seem like camping.

  6. Hey Ken,
    I like the Sakura House apartment advertisement above. Yoshiko is *working* that skirt 🙂

  7. Or you can move out into the country. I live 1.5 hours by train from Tokyo and earn 270,000 per month. I drive a BMW convertible, have a giant apartment, own as much random stuff as your average Japanese household (lemme show you my power drill, it has like 50 settings) and get drunk 5 nights a week.

  8. Great piece – and very informative for me, as unfortunately I’m about to leave the beautiful south to move to Tokyo :(. I was very surprised to see that even large companies pay very little, at least at the start. This is the level of compensation an engineering graduate can get in one of the largest companies (and one of the most sought after, according to my students who go through the recruitment process every year): http://tinyurl.com/nhmrws4. We are talking about 277,000 per month for someone with a PhD – that sucks some ass and really makes you wonder why on earth you’d go through the 4/5-year ordeal if the money at the end of it is barely above a master’s. Then again, apparently they go up considerably with age, but I have no idea how much.

    How do salarymen pay for all the shochu and prostitutes with these salaries plus wife and little Tatsuo junior waiting at home?

    • That’s a seriously not-great salary for someone with a Ph.D. You could do as well teaching little Tatsuo and working for JET.

      As for the salarymen, well, certainly not everyone makes peanuts. Some make a reasonably good salary, although you have to wonder if it’s worth pulling 80-plus hour weeks. Also, not everybody’s out every night (although some are). For some guys, this may be their one night out for six months.

      • Many salarymen and government workers save very little knowing they will have a decent pension after retirement.

      • PhD is not such a good idea these days, it seems, especially if you have one in social sciences and want to work in the industry. You break your soul and get insulted left and right for little return. I once spoke with one Japanese guy who has a PhD in economics and just started working. When he got recruited, the company circled the 3 years he spent in the PhD program and told him it was a waste of time. A career in academia won’t be easy to get giving the current situation (and especially after the Abe cabinet’s crazy decree to national universities to abolish social sciences and humanities majors; at least at the undergraduate level)

        The PhD issue is not limited to Japan, though. It seems too many people are pursuing these in fields like business so it is increasingly getting crowded. Tenure might soon become a pipe dream for many. The adjunct faculty crisis is a huge issue in the U.S. Getting a job in the industry will be more challenging because employers will see you as overqualified and might be reluctant to employ you. The exception might be China where getting the highest academic degree is perceived positively by organizations.

        Unless you have many, many years of relevant job experience, chances are organizations will treat you as a fresh graduate no matter your degree. That’s what I see happening to my friends who just got their Master’s. Only the elite would get 300K, one of them told me. The rest can expect 250-270K.

        • I would agree about the social sciences, but when it comes to natural sciences or engineering, a PhD is a necessity if you work in a large company with a research division, not just for tenure (and anyway, ask any engineering PhD these days and he’ll want to work for Google, screw academia). Otherwise, you’ll always hit a glass ceiling at some point in your career, and getting a doctorate at age 35-40 is not fun.

          Given that in these fields getting a doctorate seems to be an indispensable waste of time, I’d be curious whether they would progress at the same pace with the salary or at least be able to go further with their careers

  9. Actual tears. I am crying actual tears. You’re a monster.

    Yes, cost of living is highly dependent on where you live and what you do. I make bean sprouts for Tokyo, but live very well in Hokkaido, since the cost of living is much lower here and my apartment is subsidized by my employer. This article, as always, raises a few really good points about cost of living, different lifestyles, and the actual costs that a foreigner can face.

    Well done.

    • If there’s a trick to mastering Japan, it’s to live in a city that’s not Tokyo. Everything’s way cheaper, the people are nicer, there’s something like nature, and still more restaurants than you could eat at in a lifetime.

      Unfortunately, the preponderance of jobs are in Tokyo, along with the feeling that, since every other company’s here, our company has to be too. Resist that pull and you can live in Japan reasonably well.

  10. A big part of costs is trying to live a Western lifestyle.

    Bean sprouts? Yeah as Ken said get used to them.

    So many times I’ve gone through the check out at the supermarket:
    cheap Chile red wine: 800yen
    small cut of beef: 500yen
    tiny piece of cheese: 400yen
    vegetables: 300yen
    Total 2000yen

    Person behind me:
    Two cans of chuhai, mystery sausages, bean sprouts, half a daikon.
    Total 600 yen

    • Agreed. Although I think it’s worth noting that even if you live a “Japanese” lifestyle and eat live squid with a side of whale meat, it’s still likely to cost you more as a “foreigner” for the first few years.

      For starters, a lot of folks (myself included) will want to fly back to see their friends and family once a year, so that’s a good twelve-hundred-bucks-plus right off the bat. And then, as I mentioned before, just getting set up takes mad cash, unless you fancy living without things like a fridge and stove.

      Over time, these expenses equalize (as you gradually forget about your friends and family, etc.), but initially, it simply costs more to move from overseas. Bring a lot of cash, is my strong advice.

  11. Wow, those are some heavy salaries.

  12. Scored a brand-spanking-new, sunny, spacious, comfortable rent-controlled DANCHI at 30,000 yen per month. An apartment this nice in Tokyo would have gone for many, many, many, many times for what I paid for it. Yeah, I hid income to get this low rent and that wasn’t hard to do at all.

    • For those who don’t know, “danchi” are government-subsidized housing, available to “low-income” individuals and families. Some are run-down projects, and some are as nice an apartment as you could rent for three times the price. I know a couple of folks who live in danchi, and if you can get in, it’s definitely a cost-saver. Probably helps to have a lot of cash income.

  13. Trick is not to rent an apartment alone if you aren’t making much. Live with your S.O. and split the rent and bills, or live in a share house. If you can live within cycling distance of work you can save a lot of money that way too. Trains are expensive and stressful.

    • I agree. I live with my gf now and we split everything. We live in very central Tokyo and are paying slightly less then when we both lived about 15 mins by train from Shibuya. I make a bit over 300,000 a month, and she’s a bit less than that. Now we can walk to downtown Shibuya in less than our old train ride. Rent is about 84,000 ( Ken’s right. Try living in the 23 wards of Tokyo for under 80,000 a month. It’s possible, but from my experience isn’t nice at all. ) each for a near 50 square meter 2DK. Big factor for us has been finding an old building but has been refurbished on the inside. Our mansion is 47 years old. This means that most Japanese folk won’t even consider the place when they’re looking to move. However, as I mentioned, it’s fully refurbished inside and is quite nice.

      Of course living together isn’t just about saving money, but it’s sure as hell been nice. In all my single life here I found it difficult to save anything. I’d say combining our resources and has been almost like a pay raise of 20,000 a month. Most months I’m only spending around 160,000 total. Of course, now that I’m tied down, I don’t go out every weekend which is also another massive saving. I have a gym membership and play a lot of video games these days which works out a lot cheaper than those sometimes mysteriously unspectacular nights out in Tokyo in which you still managed to blow at least 10,000 yen but it felt like you partied 2000 yen nomihodai styles.

  14. Hey youngsters. I’m anonymous here, right? Here was my expat package last year. I am not rich or a Saudi prince, just a normal corporate low-level manager. I was sent to Tokyo for 3 years by my company.
    For an actual family in Shibuya-ku. I have 2 kids.

    700k/mo. for a 4 bedroom gaijin apartment including parking space and trash sorting (not a small thing!). By the way, State Department expats get 1 million/mo rental allowance – Yes that is $10k USD/mo — your tax dollars at work!

    80k/mo = vehicle lease for a non-luxury car including everything – insurance, service, delivery etc.

    40k/mo = Utilities including my kids leaving the lights on, not recycling bath water, etc. Electricity was 8k without turning anything on, just for the “capacity to run your foreigner appliances (like a washer/dryer)”

    Then on top of those amounts, my company gave me 240k/mo to cover everything else like food and drink and kids school supplies (those randoseru backpacks are ridiculously expensive!)
    I found this to be a more than adequate amount to live comfortably and go out socially whenever I wanted. But we generally ate and drank at normal Japanese places (or at home) – the places set up for foreigners are much more expensive. And we didnt travel much, there was plenty to do in Tokyo. We did go to Karuizawa, Hakone, Kamakura, and a few other places not too far.
    I earned a little extra money on the side teaching a class in English. Not an English class. In my experience, if you have a special skill and offer to teach it, you can make some good money from Japanese who want to learn two things at once – the skill and the English.

    • That’s a nice package. However, it’s fairly normal for expats to get these generous allowance as a form of compensation for the move, and they don’t last forever, right? The point is, what would your Japanese equivalent make, in the same company or in a Japanese company?

    • That’s awesome, although it bears noting that “I was sent to Tokyo by my company” is miles different than “I moved to Tokyo and got a job.” Meaning that it’s a lot better. Nice work if you can get it.

    • Hi, I don’t want to sound spiteful, I just hope you know how good your situation is. Your rent allowance is more than double my take home salary, and I’m an experienced but local hire engineer.

      • Wait, what? What country are you in? The rent allowance I quoted, 80,000, works out to about $650 U.S. That’s half what it would cost to live in some U.S. cities.

        So if your salary is less than 40,000 yen per month, then how much does it cost to rent a single room where you live?

        • Just for information, major cities in the US might have high rent, but the median rental price for a studio or one-bedroom in the United States is $769 (94,677 Yen) per month, according to Apartment Guide as of May, 6, 2015. I know of a 3 bedroom condo here that rents out for $600 (73,867 Yen) a month and my nephew rents out a 3 bedroom home for around $800 (98,521 Yen) a month and I live in a city of ~150,000, but I did see one source online that said the average rent in the US was $1,231 (151,551 Yen) per month and it included houses and apartments in that quote. The 10 most expensive cities in the US all are over $2,000 (246,212 Yen) per month with San Francisco nearly $3,000 (369,319 Yen), so it varies so much that ball park figures are the only numbers that can make any sense. The exchange rates changed twice while I wrote this… hmmmmm!

        • Ken, I was replying to Dareka and his 700,000 yen rent allowance.

          • Oh.

            I retract my comment. Mes apologies. That’s French for sumimasen. But seriously, six thousand dollars plus for rent? No wonder people say Japan’s expensive.

        • You my friend are a legend . Hilarious info . Thanks

  15. Really good post, it’s always fun to read you.
    Japanese companies do usually include bonuses and you can also earn lots of money doing some extra hours, have you taken both into account in your post?
    For example after two years in Japan I just changed jobs and my base salary is only 290,000 yen but with bonuses and 30 extra hours a month it amounts to 6 milion yens a year, which distributed in 12 months is around 500,000 which is something totally different. Would it allow me to live in Tokyo without having to defrost my ass in the toilet when I’ve saved enough to pay the electricity bill?

    • Yeah, that’s plenty. Although when you start talking about working more to make more, well that’s not exactly leverage, you know. 30 hours is almost an extra week a month. I thought the goal was to work less yet make more. But maybe that’s just my American-ness showing.

  16. Although Japanese college graduates aren’t paid much, there are usually benefits from larger companies like subsidised accommodation and a travelling allowance. Also, most Japanese monthly salaries quoted don’t include the two annual bonuses that come to the equivalent of an extra two to six months salary annually, and are expected by most Japanese, though they don’t think of them as part of their ‘salary’. There is also an automatic annual pay rise, irrespective of promotion, that goes on for forty years.

    Of course, this situation can be exploited by some Japanese employers employing foreigners who don’t know how the system works.

  17. Wages have dropped terribly these past 5-10 years. Yes, food can be had cheap but there is a lot less work around and if there is some freelance or teaching the pay is terrible. Ah the good old days where it was Y25,000 for 90 minutes and endless freelance work.
    I would say now at above 40 years old you want to make at least 750,000 after taxes or its simply not worth living in Japan.

  18. At some point I really got sick of my American co-workers complaining about how low the salary in Japan is.
    I always thought they should come to Germany then, that would shut them up.

    And now I’m unfortunately experiencing this first-hand.
    I had a super decent life in Japan. Never had to worry about money.
    Yes, yes, I always lived in the countryside. I had a huge apartment with quite a few rooms I never ever used (unless family or friends came to visit and sleep over). I had a car, a bicycle, did splurge on my travelling and still had enough money at the end of the month to save up.

    In Germany I earn more, but AFTER TAXES it’s a lot less than I ever got in Japan where taxes were really not bad at all. I have to live in a super tiny room in a shared apartment, have to do a job in a big city as there’s nothing in the countryside for “someone like me” who speaks English, German and Japanese fluently (or did you expect there were any companies that deal with Japan in the German countryside?) – and on top of that I have barely any money left at the end of the month.

    For me personally life was a lot more affordable in Japan.
    And now there are all these people (around 5000-8000 per day on the weekends are coming – or so I heard) who all move to Germany as they think it’s some kind of fairy-tale magic wonderland. *shrugs*

    If anybody is ever asking me again if they could afford life in Japan, I can’t help but laugh.

    Oh, and you forgot about Okinawa where it’s never really cold. ;P

    • Heh, I spent a February in Okinawa, and it was freezing. All the stores still sell space heaters and hot water bottles. Hokkaido’s the only place where it’s warm in the winter. Home insulation is a wonderful thing.

    • Wow. Fluent Eng, Japn and German and hard to find a job that pays well in Deutschland?
      I’m German as well and thought they would be begging for your services.
      My mistake.
      Sorry to hear. Hopefully it gets better in Germany!

    • All three languages fluently? Did you need to learn German from scratch? Wow, that’s impressive. I’m German and know it’s not some simple language. Anyway, with such a skillset you couldn’t find a decent job? Have you tried looking into jobs in the area around Düsseldorf? That’s where japanese companies settle down. Though in Bavaria, where I’m from, anything else is easier than find a japanese-related job.

      Ken, you said you worked as an IT-Developer. Do you have any ideas, how much you could make not as an developer, but system/server administrator? That’s the field where I’m working, though I don’t plan to move to Japan for the next decade 🙂

      • I actually don’t, but I bet if you checked these sites, you’d get a pretty quick idea. I moved out of IT and into Education when I was in the U.S., and I’m happy with that for various reasons. That being said, I’m almost positive you could more than double my English teacher’s salary, not that that’s much of a challenge.

        This really underscores the difference between technical and language skills, in terms of salary. Regardless of the country, you’re not likely to get rich with language and communication ability alone. You’re probably better off coming to Japan with an in-demand technical skill and zero language ability than you’d be if you spoke both Japanese and English but had no speciality.

        • Hi Ken,

          man, I’d totally forgotten you posted this, too. I was only curious if you had known something, and I’m still in the beginning of gaining experience as system administrator. Thanks for your response. I’m rereading all blog posts, since I have forgotten about some, apparently. Keep up your writing style, like the others said: It’s amusing, refreshing, and highly inspiring. Thank you for providing us with something great we can enjoy.

        • Years ago when a returnee from Japan who had gained some fluency in the language could go to a company in his home country and make the pitch, “I speak Japanese therefore I can be of use to you.” That didn’t last long however and only those who had other skills AND spoke Japanese were getting jobs. And what Ken says about having only language skills as a gaijin in Japan is true. If you want to live and work in Japan have something else in addition to those language skills. I have a good friend who teaches hula all over Japan and is a celebrity. AND he is fluent in Japanese. Back in Hawaii he’d be struggling to make ends meet.

  19. Is it only Tokyo that’s this expensive? That’s a lot of dough to be making per month…

    Also, you might want to rethink your word choice on ‘many Japanese people spend years cohabitating with their parents’.

    • Other cities are far cheaper, although I’m surprised so many people felt these amounts were expensive. I’m guessing nobody’s writing in from New York or San Francisco.

      And pardon my ignorance, but what’s wrong with the sentence? Maybe I should change “people” to “adults”?

      • ‘cohabitating’ (at least in the contexts that I’ve seen it in) means ‘engaging in sexual intercourse’.

        • Ah jeez, look at me all trying to use big words. I wish somebody’d invent a way to look up meanings, like some kind of book or something. Guess I better edit that. Thanks for the English lesson, seriously.

  20. Funny reading, as usual, but I also was a bit surprised about your estimations. I think even in Tokyo it is possible to find a place which is cheaper than 100,000 per month. But then it is a matter of priorities. Either you stay in a rather nice place and don’t go out much, or you live in a less convenient place and use the saved money for social activities (or traveling or whatever).
    I agree that the inital cost for furniture etc or even moving in will be very expensive. But this is the same everywhere, not just Japan. Well, except the crazy fees for moving in – but in other countries you might have to buy a car, that’s also a few grand you have to be able to spend right away.

    • You know, I just ballparked it at 80,000. You can probably find a place for less, but it helps to be Japanese or to have a company subsidizing you. Don’t believe what you see in any advertisement.

      You can also live for a lot, lot more, or out in the sticks and spend your days standing on trains, which is way less fun than it sounds. But I believe eighty is about right for a typical, not-too-great apartment.

      And you’re right about the car. That’s a massive investment that you can avoid in many parts of Japan.

  21. there are 2 main typea of contracts in Japan, full time and part time ( fake full time, you spend 40 hours at job but you are counted as part time).
    Usually a full time contract means bonus twice a year( 2 or 3 months salary X 2) , nice transportation allowance and very important pension and health insurance. ( about 20000 or more , please correct me if I am wrong)
    you also have to pay city taxes ( i pay 100000 yen a year) even if you only own your clothes and a TVl.
    For the average worker , the salary is based more on the amount of time in the company and less on your experience.
    Why ? i would like to to know

  22. Another great article.

    For my short 18 months in Japan I was making 360,000 a month which was tax free due to a nice loop hole I fell in.

    I was also living in Aomori so a two bedroom place only cost me 25,000 a month.

    Ahhh good days… now I’m back in Europe and have to pay tax 🙁 … and I can’t get hold of umeshu without spending a fortune.

  23. I never really associated japan with poverty. How can a country so beautiful and full of rich history have poor living conditions. If the majority of the citizens are living in lower class shacks then how can the country constantly produce cool things like futuristic toilets and endless amounts of anime? Are their workers just criminally underpaid? Or do the few innovative folk live the good life while everyone else is left to suffer.

    • I wouldn’t say the majority of people are in lower class shacks. The average residence for everyone here is smaller compared to, say, the U.S., but there are plenty of people living in the Japanese equivalent of suburban homes. (Which, to make up for lack of spaciousness, are essentially always two or three stories.) Still, the wealth gap is quite large here, and I’ve seen jobs advertising wages lower than the current U.S. minimum wage (891 JPY as of right now). And despite the economic stagnation, population decline, and relative lack of usable land, I still see construction going on all the time and new housing being built. Not all of us have futuristic toilets though, and the anime is absurdly overpriced here. It’s significantly cheaper to buy the U.S. release and have it imported, which is insane.

    • Shacks, well no. But a great number of families live crowded into small apartments, sleep in bunk beds, and would think twice before using warm water. From here looking at the life Americans live—big homes, college students with their own cars, people out mountain-biking and playing Frisbee— it’s like a dream world.

      It’s arguable what constitutes “middle-class,” but suffice to say that a great number of people here are living in situations that would cause rioting in the U.S. Criminally underpaid is an understatement.

      If you pay attention to the living situations in this video, you can get some idea (although it’s a shame they focused on the young people, rather than their parents):

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pn36uJvwIvA#t=11m15s

      • That could also read, “would think twice before turning on the lights.” How many times did I walk into a room of Japanese and the only light source was the gloom of a cloudy winter day?

    • The strange thing is that you need very very little money to survive in Japan, but that will translate into a hellish existence. I remember watching a great documentary about that a couple of years back that really shows what kind of lifestyle having to rely on one or two part-time jobs could afford you: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QH-kNnq7mFM

  24. Fully agreed, Ken.
    It’s always funny to argue with people who are like: “Japan?! No… It’s a country of robots, cool toilets and fast technologies!” And then they keep on arguing with you until coming here by themselves and see the real Japan)

  25. Y250,000, that’s something like £1250… a month!?! Here, 20 minutes by bus fromthe centre of the 4th largest city in the UK I pay £360 (Y72,000) a month for a 720sqft 4-room flat, including bills and tax.

    • Yeah, don’t compare apples with oranges and try that in London…

    • I believe you could find something comparable in Japan. Live outside of a non-major city—I’m thinking like Nagoya—and you could find a pretty large place for that amount. As long as you’re okay with living out in the rice fields, it’s pretty cheap.

      • Ken’s been living in Tokyo too long! Nagoya is not exactly tiny, with a population of two and a quarter million people, and part of a greater urban area of around nine million.

        • Absolutely, point taken. But more importantly, what’s the rent like there? If you lived 20 minutes outside of Nagoya, how much would a 2LDK cost?

          • I think it’s also a matter of lifestyle choice and what you get for your money. According to my trusty Wikipedia, Tokyo has a population density of 37,000 people per square mile. Nagoya is about half that density, so a bit more space to breathe.

            But there are also a dozen or so prefectural capitals with populations of 500,000 to a million people and densities one tenth or less that of Tokyo (under 4,000 people or so per square mile), and another dozen capitals in the 250,000 to 500,000 people range with similar density. If that’s too small town for you, by all means head for a small apartment in Tokyo and the bright lights. But there are alternatives to Tokyo.

  26. Kagoshima, 600,000 people, 4LDK for 47000 per month 😉

  27. I always love your writing! Boy those first couple sections sounded like the intro to Oregon Trail: Japan edition.

  28. Wow that’s actually kind of horrifying. I have a horrible sense of my own currency just to make it worse Thanks for the tips though now I know that if I do get a chance to move to Japan for a while (which I would love to do) I should go to Tokyo.

  29. At the very lowest end of the Tokyo rent scale there are old, very small 10 square meter apartments with no kitchen, bath, shower, or even toilet. The toilet will be at the end of the hall somewhere and shared among all the residents. For 30,000 yen a month, you may be even able to find one with a sink in your room. It’ll be completely non-furnished: no fridge, heat, or even lights.

    • Ah, now there you go…living the dream.

      Other good options include shacking up in an internet cafe or that shantytown on the side of Yoyogi Park. Then all you need is a large blue tarp and some cardboard boxes.

      • I know people who lived in that kind of housing for a few years, while they were university students. If there’s a sink and hot water, it’s possible to jury-rig a shower if there isn’t a public bath nearby or if spending 450 yen a day on a bath would break the bank.

        It’s definitely cheaper than a Internet cafe for someone staying a month or more, but then again so is camping alongside the Tama River.

    • I have actually seen advertisements showing apartments in Tokyo, that are only 8 square meters, unfurnished no toilet or bath, and costing around 60 000 per month. I think it was in Takadanobaba. I wonder who would pay to live in that.

  30. Erm, I live on <100k a month in Nagoya just fine, and these days I eat out pretty much every meal. Back in my not-too-lazy-to-make-breakfast days I've had months where I spent below 50k because I wanted to save up. I know Tokyo is supposed to be more expensive, but I know a lot of people there who live comfortably on the same programme as me, so it's not impossible to get by on 150k or less.

    You can get your furniture for free (or almost free) if you use the right facebook groups. I paid about 15k total for everything in my apt. I was cheap about it and just kind of pushed it around town on a cart, I guess it would go to 20-30k if you had to pay for shipping as well.

    • Wow, I’m struggling to understand how you’re able to exist . Somehow you spent under 50,000 a month? Hello, what?

      Let’s say you eat everyday for a total of 1500 yen (300 for breakfast, 600 a apiece for lunch, and dinner), with no snacks and drinking only tap water. That’s screamingly cheap and yet still adds up to 45,000. On top of that you’ve got rent, gas and electricity, cell phone, internet, train rides, health insurance, city tax, haircuts, new shoes…

      I’m not saying it’s impossible, but I know cheap. In California, I lived with a balding midget for a housemate in an apartment full of rats. During the nights, it was so terrifying that I set up a tent inside my room and slept in that. Maybe that lifestyle plus a steady diet of ramen noodles and mac & cheese would bring my monthly expenses below 100,000 yen, but I doubt it.

      I’d love to hear a breakdown of your expenses. But props to you, because it sounds pretty hardcore.

      • Free or employer subsidized housing, perhaps? I’ve known people where their school lunch or company cafeteria teishoku were their main meal of the day.

      • Forgot to check the comments :P. Back when I did my 5k in one month thing I was living in a dorm, so rent was ~11k. Very special situation, but alas, I had to move out after a year =(. We still have some apts for students that go that low, under special circumstances, but the paperwork is hell. I was also cooking every meal, didn’t go to cafes because the idea of spending that much on a coffee was atrocious, and wasn’t smoking at the time… (keep in mind, i come from a country where I was living on 1 man per month, so the effect from seeing the prices definitely played an important role… I’ve gotten used to Japan prices and am more irresponsible these days). When I was cooking every day I’d spend about 1.5-2 man per month on food (and actually most of that were the few times I ate out for social purposes).

        Right now it’s:
        One room apt (nice area, really close to my Uni) 3.2k including water and 交通費.
        Gas never goes above 3k. Electricity will probably go to 1man in winter, otherwise never over 3k. Softbank 6.5k per month. Internet 3.7k. Insurance 1.5k. So ~5k or less per month on everything. I rarely use the train.
        These days it’s considerably more since I’ve stopped cooking. I’ve also stopped keeping track of my spendings, so I can’t give a proper breakdown anymore, but I just set aside the amount I want to save up per month as soon as I get my scholarship and am a bit more careful once I see the money running out – I never really go past 100k. I do mostly conbini and cafeteria food, but I end up in mom&pop restaurants every other day, snack way too often, and I have the expensive habits of breakfast at a cafe (400 yen) and smoking (350 yen) quite regularly. Maybe 3-5 times per month I end up at a bar and welp, I’m definitely cafeteria-only for a while to balance it out. I don’t try very hard.
        Cut my own hair, buy really sturdy shoes once a year (current pair is an amazing pair of salomons I got for 4k), and I do mostly drink tap water, coffee, and my own tea =).

        I really wouldn’t classify myself as hardcore; I am, however, incredibly boring. I did notice this really quickly in Japan: small things add up really quickly, and one night out can easily end up costing more than a week’s worth of groceries. I can easily see myself using up my entire scholarship with little effort, but my lifestyle is quite comfortable.

  31. Shanty-town in Yoyogi Park has some cool after parties.

  32. I don’t agree with this financial assessment at all.. I live in the heart of Tokyo, have all my bills paid and am plenty warm through the winter, am able to buy nicer clothes than just what UNIQLO offers, and have money to spend on fun, eating out at the occasional cafe (actually I probably eat out more than at home..), and travel.. and only work part-time, usually making less than any of the wage limits listed in this article. =P I think it’s all about how you budget, what’s important to you, and how you spend your time. Also, I always pay the rent & utilities, etc., the day after my payday, so I don’t even have to think about how much I can safely spend.

    • I’m sure you’re right, but I’d be interested in seeing the math.

      Lately, I’ve been keeping track of all my expenses, and I spend a shocking amount more than I think I do. For example, I drink about two coffees a day. That doesn’t seem excessive at all. Sometimes it’s a cup from 7-11, other times a can from the vending machine. Maybe once a week a straight, black coffee from Starbucks, plus the 100 yen refill. And occasionally I’ll buy someone else a coffee. I’m nice like that. But when I do the math, I’m spending almost 10,000 yen a month—just on coffee. People who regularly drink bottled water or soda might expect the same thing. God help you if you drank all three; you’d have to be like a millionaire. And don’t get me started on beer.

      So yeah, I’d love to see a breakdown of your expenses.

  33. if 270000 yen is poverty line in Japan, guys, don’t ever think to come in Italy (unless you have a WELL paid job after taxes; taxes in Italy are stupidly high, like 50% of your income.).

    If you’re lucky, you’re going to work 8 hours for 600€, or 1000€ depening on your sector. And you have to pay for the rent. And for the other taxes (sutpidly high as always). And don’t even think to buy a car or anything you can’t buy in unless you want the income-o-meter (I don’t know a better word for redditometro) getting more high and pay more taxes.

    Do I tell you that we pay really high taxes?

    • New graduate salaries for Japanese average a little under 200,000 yen a month. Summer and winter bonuses together might add four more months of salary, so averaged over the year 230,000 yen a month or so.

    • I have been living in Italy for a year but luckily on a good wage.

      When I was looking into the tax rules, I seem to remember that there is no tax free allowance for low income workers. is that right?

      In the UK the first ~12K of you salary is tax free but in Italy i’m sure you pay at least 20 %.

      Someone on 60K pays the same percentage as someone on 500K

      Not a good country to be on minimum wage.

      • Do you mean, do low-income workers pay no taxes in Japan? I don’t actually know, but I think they do pay taxes. Could be one reason there’s a lot of poor folks…

  34. Having lived for about 2 years in Tokyo, I can agree that anything less than 350 000 yen, or at the very least 300 000, is not worth the effort it takes to study the language, or work the long hours.

  35. I’ll be honest, I felt that Tokyo was pretty cheap compared to living and going to school in Honolulu. Food prices were all about 50% off or more as far as I was concerned.

  36. I highly highly disagree with the minimal salary. I did an internship in Tokyo twice, 6 months each. Manage to enjoy life with 150000yen per month. Commuting paid by the company, cheap lunch at company as well. Lived in Tama Plaza in a sharehouse for 50k, then in Jiyugaoka in a sharehouse for 60k. Went partying every weekend, even twice sometimes. Always shopping from “Niku no hanamasa”, I could eat whatever I felt like eating for dinner. Dating rate was the craziest I have ever experienced, and I lived in four countries already. Room was always warm, Japanese weather is really good in Spring and Summer and autumn, and the city is just great!

    • Hi Mehdi,
      When I first came to Japan, I also could easily survive with similar amounts, but after 6 months you will definetely need more money. If you want your own apartment for example, well moving in can cost up to 200 000 in fees. After that you would need furniture, all sorts of household items, and including paying bills. With only 150 000 its literally impossible to live in something other than a sharehouse, which is god awfull longer than 5 months. All I am saying is that, if you plan on living long term in Japan, you are gonna need the yen.

      • Now okay, I know what you mean. In the U.S., I lived on under a thousand dollars a month. I like to refer to that as Being in College. And you can do it anywhere in the world, including Japan. But that’s not what I’m talking about.

        Somehow it changes when you live—now what’s that called?—oh yeah, real life. I don’t know why. As Joe mentioned, you’ve suddenly got to pay for all the stuff you magically did without as a student. Like, uh, clothing.

        Seriously, right now, go to your closet, your dresser, the corner behind your bed, and look at all your clothes. How much does a shirt cost? I don’t know. But I’ve got a damn lot. And pants, underwear, shoes, socks, coats, hats, you get the idea. Somebody bought all that stuff, at least some of it me. I’ve easily got a thousand dollars worth of shoes. That’s gotta be factored into the cost of life, regardless of country.

        Then at some point, for some reason, you want your own apartment, a chair you didn’t pull out of the trash, and not to wash all your clothes in the bathtub. It’s kind of unfortunate, but it happens. And for that, you’re gonna need a salary more in line with what I mentioned.

        • Hey, Imelda Marcos?

          I’ve got about a hundred dollars worth of shoes (two pairs), one with the interior foam showing (not the pair I wear to take-off-shoes events).

        • I’ve always done with two pairs of shoes: one pair that I can walk on and one pair for when I need to go to something official. They’re almost the same but one pair looks newer.
          But I realise that Japan is a lot stricter about what you can wear to what occasion.

  37. Wel, as a fifteen year old currently living just above the poverty line, going to sleep every night waiting to turn 16 in order to get a job, freezing to death sleeping on the floor during a Chicago winter and gasping for air during the summer, I think I can safely say, with a little bit of savings and a lot of sticking to my no alchohol policy (might loosen that up a little eventually,) I’ll probably be fine.

    • Heh, Chicago’s where I first learned to enjoy sushi. If it hadn’t been for Chicago, I honestly might never have ended up in Japan. Anyway, yeah, save up and stick to that policy. Alcohol’s a really fast way to ensure you never have any savings.

  38. I tried scrolling for keywords to see if someone said this, but I will say as a country mouse (I even begrudged “pricey” Niigata-shi in the far north of our prefecture), Japan was not an expensive place to live. I ended up for a while with a woman who did live near Tokyo, but I assure you I went there to visit her, not the city. Occasionally I would go mad and want something best bought in Tokyo but nowadays I would internet it like any sane person in the countryside. If you ever saw Non Non Biyori, I am surprised there isn’t an anime representation of me and my friends and colleagues in that show, since it’s clearly about our town;) I was never an otaku nor was my Japanese good enough to become a die-hard Toyko pop fan or something. The things I found bad about Japan were like the things I found bad about the States, by and large. What you said about one of the world’s great cities is exactly right good for you. I once said in lovely Normandy that I hated Paris and a guy from Paris who was a wonderful person said big cities have their own logic dont be so judgmental. I have lived in big cities both pricey and cheap (sometimes like Vienna and Budapest, not far from each other) but again, if you want to live a while don’t live in a big city. PS our prefecture was much worse than Hokkaido because in Hokkaido the houses were propery winterized and heating was safe, clean and eficient. Back home I lived under my kotatsu to avoid having my space heater turned on, exhausting pure poison right into my house.

  39. What did you do when you hit the 400,000 mark?

    • If you mean what job was I doing, I was managing English teachers. Now there’s a job nobody wants. But if you mean what’d I do to celebrate, well my lifestyle already included plenty of champagne and pretty girls, or at least chu-hi and women who used to be pretty girls, so nothing much changed.

  40. I’m not sure why most foreigners come to Japan and excited to work for Japanese companies. Some typical patterns are you guys can speak english well, and hopefully some conversational Japanese, which makes the Japanese companies hot for you guys, but so are those foreign companies who operates in Japan. These foreign companies does not follow the Japanese salary standard (like most American, or any foreign companies for that matter, they pay based on educational/background/experience), hence they usually pay waaaay more than any Japanese companies.
    Me and basically most of my friends here easily got into 450K+ range/mo. (and most of us are in our mid 20s, I myself is only 24 y/o).

  41. I would assume those 3 jobs are all part time?
    Not sure what yours are, but from what I know even some part time job if you do multiple ones (such that you would have a fulltime-like work hours) would still be ranging somewhere in a good 200k+ range.
    My point is why people would move long term to Japan if they wouldn’t be able to have better finances from wherever they move from (note that I’m not talking about gross income, but more on how much one can actually save). I have some friends from South East Asian countries that moved here and work with pretty low salary for Japan standard, but at least they are saving a lot more compared back to where they came from. Now, most of the people in this site seem to be from western countries and speak English well, so I would assume these countries are better-off from any developing countries back in SEA, why would you move here to Japan if you can barely make ends meet?
    Of course my argument would be invalid for those who moved here due to reasons such as refugees, students, or getting married to Japanese and some sort.
    Put simply, you have to have leverage over local Japanese fellow. Often times communication skills is key to these jobs. You guys already are speaking English, so with conversational level of Japanese you are gold. Sure, getting into 6-7 million ranges for fresh graduates are pretty rare, you need more leverage than just being able to speak English. For example you might need to speak more languages or a degree from one of the top 10 world ranked university.

    • That, and actually have a marketable skill.

      What field do you work in?

      • I work in engineering/project management. My company is european and I also speak 4 languages near native level (I grew up in a pretty unique combination of cultures), hence my language skill is a major appeal to my current employer.
        It really boils down not just to what skill you have, but rather combination of skill sets.
        Foreign companies in Japan have a distinguished situation that they urgently need people whose mind is globally minded while easily blends in with the Japanese counterparts. This is pretty rare even nowadays. Hence as our beloved host Ken mentioned, these are easily marketable to any gaishikei here in Japan. #banzai

      • Oh also I forgot to mention, that along with a rocket science bachelor degree.

    • Um newsflash, its because not everyone on this earth is motivated by money you know. People work in different countries because they might be seeking a different quality of life or new experiences. Sure, if they have a family to support or debts to pay off, it might not be the most prudent decision, but in the end, you do you. Doesn’t take someone with a rocket science degree to figure that one out.

      Also, if everyone subscribed to your way of thinking, Ken would still be in the states, and this blog wouldn’t exist…which would be a loss for everyone.

      • I totally agree, I also mentioned that in my previous comments on how my argument is invalid for those who comes for something like family or pure interest to this country or the like.

        • Gotcha.

          Its just that your original post did not specify anything along the lines of interest or curiosity. You mentioned “refugees, students, or getting married to Japanese” which led me to believe you were suggesting one had to have practical or desperate reasons for moving there.

          How’s your overtime situation?

          • I do not get overtime pay. I can come whenever I want as long as I do at least 8 hr/day, and do overtime accordingly to make sure I finish my job. So far I spend like 8.5 hr average on normal days. I remember I spend almost 10hrs a day for a week straight once, but that was because we have some prototyping event (maybe only like 3-4x a year) so yeah.

    • i do work full time hours, but still dont make 200000 a month, usually… minimum wage is all there is, maybe even less than that…

  42. Oh also I might not have told you guys the whole story, I too, moved here initially because I was sick of the states and would love to experience new life here that I took a 90k/mo job, albeit they grant my visa here.. I was so happy and all untill like, 4 months into that BS and realize i need more money 🙂 I’m doing 550k+ currently, and trust me, life has been so different.

    • well, i just like it here, never needed ne air, no new experience, never ran away from anything, its just where i want to be and where i got everything i want to have, except for a job of course… the payment here is little better than what i earned from where i am from (germany), but it isnt enough… well its barely enough here.. i dont even want to get rich, but living comfortable would be okay…

      i am working in fashion, as a pattern maker, tailor and designer and whatever else comes to mind… i also speak japanese, not perfect, but good enough and better than most foreigners i met here (thats just to compare and not to brag, or look down on someone)…
      and yes, all those jobs are part time at the moment… one of them should lead to self employment, the rest is just to get by… i used to work full time, but that contract was cancelled, once my duties changed and i couldnt met them (i had to do sales, that is near impossible for me)…

      so in my time here (6 years) i had to take any job i could get… as i already wrote here a while ago, i contacted more than 3000 companies so far (mainly fashion, but not all of them), but barely got any reply, so i had to take anything i could get… i also dont have any connections and all my contacts to other foreigners (which are way more helpful than japanese contacts) are online… that means i also dont have any connections… i got no idea how important they are, some say they are important, some say it doesnt matter… on the other hand, most people say that the only good jobs people can get are teaching, or IT related and i somehow agree with that…

      honestly, to me it seems like self employment is the only way to get more than minimum wage and that is why i am trying that… the only other way around would be marriage (i am only allowed to work in fashion) and that is not the way i want to go and that is also impossible, since i didnt even have a single date here and that is most likely not going to change… okay to me, just to point out that this route is probably not going to work…

      but thank you for the replies so far, good to hear that everybody lives quite fine here…

  43. I agree with 626 kiddo here, I started off with a super Japanese companies and got paid like crap considering the job i was doing. Left for a French corporate and holysmokes they were willing to compensate me almost double what my japanese manager make that time. I too came here because I was young, I have time and was all like, wanting to have new experience and all the like, but let’s get real here, this gets old pretty fast if not backed up with pretty solid finances. Its just a matter whether you’re okay enjoying the sunsets from some tore down apartment building in Compton, or from your mansion in Palos Verdes Estates, caviar and mezcal on the side, Maserati down the valet. 🙂

    • as i said, i never came for any new experiences, or anything like that… never for another person, never for any of the motives people like to have…
      it also never got old to me here… i also dont mind a torn down apartment, but what i do like is food from somewhere but tha 100 en store for the last ten days of the month…

  44. 10 times, though i dont think that it matters too much, unless you just came for a week and liked akiba too much…

  45. Is there anyone who is careworker experience in Japan? I have an offer 950 yen per hour + 40000 allowance for housing. Not sure if to accept or decline the offer.

    • Being a careworker is an important job, and one increasingly in demand in Japan.

      Regarding the salary, you’d need to live very frugally if you lived in Tokyo. And if you’re moving from another country, don’t forget about set-up costs (down-payment on an apartment, buying a fridge, futon, curtains, etc.). So you’ll need some savings.

      I suspect part of your decision will involve weighing your other options. If not a careworker, what else could you do? If not Japan, where else could you work?

      Some background information about you would also be helpful.

    • I have no careworker experience but once I had a discussion with a Japanese friend about that particular issue. So, what I will say now reflects his point of view and may not be entirely accurate. Basically, the situation of caregivers in Japan is quite complicated – there is an increasingly high demand as Ken said, but on the other hand, the Japanese government also has increasingly less funds to subsidise caring facilities (let aside funds per capita), which prevents salaries from increasing.

      Japan is somehow following Taiwan and Singapore’s steps on getting cheap nurses/caregivers from South and Southeast Asia’s developing countries, but at a much lower rate and imposing high barriers on having these foreigners settling down in Japan for good. This is not necessarily bad for you – in fact, it may actually be a good thing as there is potentially less competition, unless you come from one of these countries.

      But the problem is that, in long-term, nobody has any idea of how Japan can overcome the nursing deficit with decreasing financial resources without massively resorting to cheap foreigner labor. Ok, some Japanese people believe it can be solved with robots.

    • I have a Japanese friend who used to be a careworker but, he said that careworkers are treated pretty badly in Japan. Very low salaries, crazy work hours etc. He worked for about 7 months, could not stand it and changed his line of work.

  46. Hi
    Funny but interesting writing.
    I like to know about construction industry in Japan.
    For example, DRY LINING, that being foe example plasterboard interior finishing
    for offices, hotels, apartments and houses. What’s the monthly income for such trade?
    Thanks,

  47. “If you like cooking at home, hate drinking, appreciate temperature extremes and have no social life, then you’ll live on less than a person who, say, wants to interact with other human beings”, this last phrase just described me prefectly, i guess i will have a fine time once i ge to Japan for my Masters ^^

  48. Just get a job with google in the San Francisco Bay Area, and your starting salary would be about ¥10,000,000/year.

    • Yeah. Yeah, that’s probably true.

      Of course, good luck finding an apartment for 800 bucks a month.

      • True as most apartments in SF go for at least ¥300,000/month. Food is also 2-3x the cost of what I’ve encountered in Tokyo, with the exception of fruits (and some veggies). On a side note, based on the relatively unhealthy diet that most salary types are living on theses days (white processsd rice or processed flours for noodles, coffee instead of ocha, and the lack of fruit and vegggies – those slivers of green onion in every served dish are not a single serving), I’d have to say that it’s got to be genetics that explain longevity. Although the current dietary shift here, along with the huge amount of smokers, may change this in the near future (forget to mention the unhealthy love of “beefu” over the more traditional and healthy fish).

        Back
        To living – child care in SF is about ¥4,000,000/year (which is the same amount that my friend is spending in order to send his daughter to a great academic private high school).

        Hmm, best to stay single and work for google OR apple!!!

  49. Hey Ken, I might be moving to Japan soon. I have a job offer in Kyoto, around 5,500,000-6,000,000 en a year including bonuses before taxes. Does that sound like a good deal? Obviously, I love Japan, my Japanese is not great (N3 at best), etc, but I would be interested to hear your opinion. Thanks in advance!

    • Love it. That salary is plenty to live on. You won’t have the lifestyle of a king, but you can go out a couple times a week and take a trip now and then. If you’re a bit careful, you should be able to save some money.

      Kyoto is a wonderful city. A bit touristy, sure, and with a bit of that attitude that comes from dealing with tourists all the time, but still a great place.

      If the organization in question sounds like a place you’d like to work, I’d hop on that job offer.

      My only real “advice” is to proceed cautiously. Don’t move to Japan and start blowing stacks of cash on toys, lovers, and nights out. That’s super easy to do, not that I’d know anything about it. Remember you’re all by yourself in a foreign country, and dependent upon a job that might not turn out as well as it seems. Don’t get upside-down with your money, and you’ll be fine.

      Let me know how everything turns out.

  50. Would it be to possible to live on a salary less than 230K yen a month in Tokyo. The salary is before tax and I have to fork out everything. Besides the company that I’m going to work is on Yamanote Line.

    • I think it partly depends upon what country you’re coming from, and what your standard of living is.

      Let’s get some more details: where are you coming from, what kind of job is it, and how long are you planning to be in Japan? Is the company providing any housing or commuting allowance? Do you already have some savings?

      Maybe you can see where I’m going with this. If you’re a poor person from a poor country, and this is the best shot you’ve got in life, then perhaps it’s worth pursuing. Although it sounds like you’re setting yourself up for some serious indentured servitude.

      On the other hand, if you’re a recent college grad who just wants to fun around in Tokyo for a year, and you can supplement that income with a bit of your own cash, then sure, whatever, no big deal.

      Either way, it’s certainly not a great salary for a full-time job. Proceed with great caution would be my advice.

      • I’m a Thai, Bangkok a recent graduate and will be going to work as an engineer. Sadly, the company doesn’t provide any housing nor commuting fee. I’ll be working there for more than 2 years or so.

        • Thanks for the additional info. The picture’s a bit clearer.

          Okay, let’s do some rough math.

          From what you’ve said, we might figure your salary at 220,000 – 25% income tax = 165,000. You’ll probably also have to pay residence (city) tax after the first year. I’m not sure how much that’ll be, but let’s assume a conservative 7,000/month. So your take-home income might be something like 158,000 a month.

          Let’s figure that you live in a “share house” (something like a dorm; I lived in one in the past). It cost me 65,000 yen per month, utilities included. And we’ll round up a bit because that was a few years ago, plus a pretty good deal even then. So then,

          70,000 housing
          800 round-trip commuting per day * 20 days = 16,000
          Food, toiletries, etc. 10,000/week * 4 = 40,000

          Already we’re down to 71,600/month, or about 18,000/week left over. That’s without riding trains on days off, haircuts, clothes, shoes, visits to the doctor and dentist, trips anywhere, going to restaurants, coffee, booze, bottled water, or dating. And assuming you spent zero dollars getting here in the first place.

          From this, I think we can project that it’ll be tight but do-able.

          Edit: I forgot to mention this budget also doesn’t include a cellphone.

          What concerns me the most is that the company is paying under 230,000/mo. for an engineer. Will you be happy with that, and what other options do you have?

          • nks for sharing the info with me.Haha. I wonder what is the basic pay for a fresh graduate in Japan? By the way, what are you working as ? I gave a deep thought about it before taking up this job. My main objective is to experience Japanese way of life.

            • I don’t know what the salary is for someone who just graduated, and I’m sure it varies with industry, but I don’t think it’s very high. It’s possible that the salary you’ve been offered is similar to what Japanese folks are getting. If so, that’s not good. You might want to google for “black kigyou.” I’ve said it before, but Japan’s not a great country to work in.

              I don’t talk too much about what I do these days. It’s been my experience whenever I talk something good, someone else comes along and tries to take it away.

              As for the “Japanese way of life”… Driving a Mercedes through Roppongi Hills and dining in a nice restaurant with pretty girls is a lot different from life as an immigrant on a packed train riding home every midnight to a styrofoam bowl of cup noodles in a freezing apartment. Careful what you wish for, my friend.

              • I have always heard that the fashion district is in Shibuya. Do you if there is night walking street where they sell somewhat cheap clothes similar to those in Chatuchak in Bangkok? Normally, where do men shop for clothes?

                • Tokyo is one massive fashion district, and I don’t believe you’ll find a night walking street à la Thailand in Japan.

                  People dress well. Often, very well. Although there are stores that sell cheap and second-hand clothes, most men shop in department stores and boutiques, and generally seem to spend a fair bit. (n.b., “a fair bit” is my way of saying “a lot.”)

                  Personally, I tend to buy most of my clothes from UNIQLO, since they fit both my body and budget well.

                  • Haha, same for me, I’m a big fan of Uniqlo myself.

                  • I have another question which regards to food. Since I’m a vegetarian(can eat dairy products), are vegetables and fruits expensive? Is it difficult to find vegetarian dish at the stall or restaurant?

                    • If you shop at farmer’s markets, vegetables and fruits are pretty cheap. In supermarkets, they’re somewhat expensive.

                      Most restaurants have vegetarian dishes, but it’s also not uncommon to order grilled asparagus and find it topped with pieces of ham. That’s like a bonus surprise for you.

                      You also might want to check this out, if you haven’t already: http://japaneseruleof7.com/vegetarian-japan/

  51. Thanks for sharing the info with me.Haha. I wonder what is the basic pay for a fresh graduate in Japan? By the way, what are you working as ? I gave a deep thought about it before taking up this job. My main objective is to experience Japanese way of life.

  52. I’ve found an unfurnished apartment for (60K-65K yen).
    I would like to know if 300K yen will be more than enough to furnish my room. The things I need
    are:

    Washing machine
    refrigerator
    rice cooker
    pan
    a table and chair
    futon

    However, some of the things I plan to use secondhand.

    • That’s probably about right, if you buy a second-hand washer and a small fridge. Chair and table—what are those? Because they sound like they take up a lot of space. Sit on your futon and double the size of your room, is the Japanese way.

  53. This is interesting but why can’t I find any info on someplace OUTSIDE of Tokyo. Like the countryside?? How much is a couple acres of land out there? How much would an actual American-like house in the country cost? My wife and I make roughly $95,000 USD after tax so could We afford something like that?

    • What a strange and intriguing thought.

      There’s certainly property for sale in the Japanese countryside. I’ve no doubt you could purchase some at an affordable price. I’m assuming you’ve, uh, been to Japan. That’s a question.

      And the more I think about it, the more questions I come up with. So you make 95 grand a year—what are your expenses? If they’re 94 grand a year, we’ve got a problem. Do you have debt? How much cash can you actually sink into this hypothetical piece of Shangri-la? Do you have kids?

      Finding something “American-like” would be a challenge. You might find a rickety old Japanese farmhouse at a reasonable price. But let’s say you do—then what? If you quit your jobs and move here, then there goes that 95 grand per year income. So would you fly over once a year? For two people, a week trip with round-trip airfare would be at least $3000. Why not just stay in a nice hotel instead of buying a house? The odds of two Americans buying a cheap house in BF Japan and then somehow renting it out don’t look good.

      Then there are utilities, furniture, and quite possibly the need for a car as well. As it stands, could you afford to purchase, furnish, and maintain a cheap house in the U.S. countryside? And if so, why not do that? Japanese TV’s not all that great.

      Finally, there’s the issue of obtaining visas. You can’t just relocate to Japan because you feel like it, any more than people can move to America. You’re building a wall to keep out immigrants; we’ve got an ocean.

      I’d be interested in learning a bit more from you.

      • Well, I’m from the Midwest in America. My expenses are close to $18,000 a year (food, gas, car insurance, utilities,fun, Internet, TV, phones) we have 6 acres now, 1390 square foot home all paid for, cars paid for. I work for Toyota motor manufacturing, and I’m working on learning more Japanese, been studying for awhile but I need a sensei. Anyways yeah. I’ve never been to Japan but I was just wondering how country living is in Japan compared to hear in the states.

        • Okay, now that’s sounding more doable, as you’ve got a good bit of disposable income. Your living expenses are quite low, which is good.

          Roughly speaking, I’d say country living in Japan and the States is fairly similar. Lotta staring at trees, is what I mean. You can find cheap homes outside of the major cities. As you know, Japan is experiencing a population decline, so some (perhaps many) of the rural areas don’t have enough individuals to maintain their infrastructures. Schools, stores, and public buildings are closing. It’s really a demographic shift, where everybody who can moves to the city as soon as possible. The countryside is left with a scattering of elderly folks raising radishes.

          Personally, I’d pick a European country for my second home, or maybe just a nice house somewhere like Oregon. But if you want to continue this project, you should really plan a few trips to explore Japan. Ride the train out of Tokyo or Osaka to a smaller city, and from there rent a car and start driving around. Then you can decide whether a life of sitting in a freezing Japanese farmhouse watching the rice grow is really for you.

          • You keep saying freezing, do they not have furnaces in homes over there? I’m guessing no central heating, you mentioned insulation isn’t always best but can I at least buy some to bring a farm house up to code? Lol, just curious what is your profession and which one of these lifestyles are you currently living? And are you Japanese or from somewhere else and moved there?

            • The basic problem is that the walls are almost universally thin, and insulation virtually unheard of, so even if you run a heater constantly, you still have the kind of warmth one gets sitting around a campfire. Other than replacing the walls, I’m not sure how you’d remedy the situation.

              I don’t talk about my personal circumstances much any more, based upon the fact that whenever I’ve had something good in my life, someone else has always come along and tried to take it away. My profession is best described as “complicated,” but suffice to say that I work in a Japanese company and live a very comfortable life. I have a great apartment and go out to eat, well, a lot. I enjoy the countryside, especially hiking and camping, but I wouldn’t want to live there. A few days of trees, monkeys, wild boars, and snakes is enough for me.

              I moved here from America about a decade ago, and retain that nationality, at least nominally.

  54. Hi Ken,
    (whenever I type this, it feel like I’m a Barbie girl song is about to start. Hiya Barbie. Hi Ken. Do you wanna go for a ride?)

    Anyways, coming to the point, I have lived in Japan for about a year and five months in total, in two separate prefectures. So, thought I’d drop in my penny.
    First I was in total inaka-area somewhere in Tochigi, where the town was established for slaves of Honda’s research center. Nearest supermarket was 2 kilometers away, train station was about 12 kilometers away from my apartment. Rent was OK in the range of 40k for 2 bedroom, kitchen sort of unit in a fairly new-looking building. I shared it with a colleague, so had to pay only 20k. My wages were around 200k+ range. Not too good, but, doable in an area where there was nothing to splurge on. On weekends, I used to go to nearest city, Utsunomiya, for volunteer Japanese classes, and restaurant food. Once a month or so, did drop into Saitama or Tokyo to my friends place to really splurge on things, and also took a short trips around Kansai, Hiroshima, and Ehime during the vacations (not hotels, Airbnb and stuff). That was the leg of my Japan stay. Lived this way for 11 months, and then went back to my country.
    The second one, my current stay in Japan, is around Osaka, pretty big step-up in terms of convenience, compared to the pear-farm Tochigi. I have more than 5 supermarkets within 5 minutes walking distance of my apartment, station is a mere 4 minutes’ walk. My salary hasn’t risen up, almost same as before. I go out for dinner, pretty much twice or thrice a week now, because I have the option to, unlike Tochigi. Meet colleagues, built up a small social circle, I can call upon if I want to hang out. Rent’s about 40k, but I live alone now, so have to pay up all on my own. Mansion provided internet, so inexpensive.
    I don’t drink at all, but during nomihodai’s, I do have to pay the price, that’s once or twice a month.
    I am an engineer and I know I am being hugely under-paid, but my Japanese is not too polished enough to stand up for myself (someday >:| ). Even though my wages are low in Japanese standard, it’s still very high compared to what I made in my country.
    So, 200k is good enough to have the life that I mentioned above with decent savings as well. My point is you have to go by home-cooked meals when you don’t go to restaurants, skip on conbini bento’s, or things like that. And yea, I don’t have to splurge on beers every day, as you do, so I have that going for me.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


*

Scroll To Top