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Cost of living in Japan

The cost of living varies greatly in Japan, from cheaper cities such as Osaka to Tokyo — ranked number three on Mercer’s 2017 Cost of Living Index.


Food and drink

Groceries can be up to 80% more expensive than towns and smaller cities in the UK, with many foods, such as tomatoes, wine and beef, more than twice the price. They can also be about 20% higher than the US.

Eating out in Tokyo can be cheap, with access to fantastic local dishes forming part of the on-the-go urban culture. A lunchtime meal will cost around $6 to $9 (¥665 to (¥1,000) at a fast food or budget restaurant, and a three-course meal for two at a good restaurant will cost about $46 (¥5,000). Avid tippers from the US will also make savings on tipping, which is seen as insulting in Japan.


There is almost no limit to the amount of sensory stimulation Tokyo can offer, from eating and drinking to cinemas, theatres and experiences that combine elements of theatre, eating, music and light shows — for the example the Tokyo Robot Restaurant Cabaret Show, which costs around $73 (¥8,000) per person.

Entertainment can be expensive: entrance and transfers to the Ghibli museum costs $78, a Geisha cabaret show costs $62 (¥6,800) and a two-hour Tokyo Bay Dinner and Cruise with Oiran Show costs $101 (¥11,000.)

Cinema tickets are around $16.50 (¥1,800) and there are often concessions for families, singles, seniors and students. Don’t expect to see foreign feature films at the same time as in other countries: they are often released in Japan several months later than in Europe or the US. In general, foreign films for adults are subtitled, while children's movies are usually dubbed.

Tokyo has a lot of clubs. Entrance/cover charge can cost between $17.50 and $47 (¥1,950 to ¥5,000), and many clubs operate ‘ladies’ night’ discounts. Cocktails cost around $9 (¥995) and a beer will be about $4 (¥440).

Japan has an amazingly rich history with dozens of historic sites throughout. Entrance to shrines, temples and other sites can cost $5 to $10 (¥550 to 1,100) . For example, the Manga Museum in Tokyo is about $8 (¥885) and the Tokyo National Museum is about $6 (¥665).


Tokyo’s metro is cheap, with one-way tickets costing around $1.50 to $3 (¥165 to ¥330), and a day pass around $6.50 (¥720). A three-kilometre taxi ride in the city might cost around $9 (¥995) to $12 (¥1330) — taxis are expensive compared with many nations.

Petrol prices in Japan will delight Europeans and horrify Americans: the Japanese pay around $1.24 (¥137) per litre (UK: $1.56, USA: $0.78).

Outside Tokyo

Outside Tokyo, in cities such as Yokohama, Osaka, Nagoya and Sapporo, the price of many things falls — but not by much.

Fast food can be a dollar or so cheaper and mid-range restaurants may be $7 (¥774) cheaper. You’ll save a dollar on a coffee and two on a beer. Rice is nearly half the price in Osaka, and fruit and veg is about a third cheaper than in Tokyo.

Basic amenities (electricity, heating, cooling, water, garbage) for an 85 square metre apartment in Osaka is $155 (¥17,000), in Tokyo it’s $186 (¥20,500).

The big difference is in rent, where a three-bedroom urban home costs $1,137 (¥126,000) per month in Osaka, and $2,384 (¥264,000) in Tokyo.

Cinema tickets and other entertainment prices are comparable with Tokyo, while high-end and unique experiences will not be available at any price.

Money-saving tips

Even those on good salaries aren’t immune to the draw of a good bargain. In Japan finding cheaper ways of doing things can make a difference to your cost of living over time.

Eating out can be very cheap in Tokyo. While the outdoor/street food culture of Thailand or Vietnam doesn’t exist in Japan, there are lots of cheap eateries that serve great food. The experience may be a little more basic than tourist-oriented places, but this can add to the charm of living like a local. Make an effort to find the cheap restaurants in your area and those around your place of work (most restaurants offer lunch deals.)

Another option for cheap eats is convenience stores. These often serve pre-prepared lunches such as bento boxes, a packed lunch often including noodles, rice, fish, etc. If you’re a real saver, you may choose to exchange expensive fruits for vegetables or other healthy options.

Do not attempt to haggle or bargain with people selling things in Japan as it’s very rare and can often be construed as rude and offensive. But you might ask for a discount. This may come in the form of a loyalty card, which offers discount for multiple purchases.


Taxes in Japan are paid on income, property and consumption on the national, prefectural and municipal levels. Below is a summary of some of the most relevant types of taxes paid by individuals:

Income tax in Japan is based on a self-assessment system, filed by tax return, in combination with a ‘withholding tax system’ where taxes are deducted from wages at source and submitted by the employer.

Due to ‘withholding’, most employees in Japan do not need to file a tax return, although expats working for countries outside Japan should check with their employer whether they ‘withhold’ taxes. You will also need to submit your own taxes if:

  • you leave Japan before the end of the tax year
  • you have more than one employer
  • your annual income is more than ¥20,000,000 ($183,461)
  • you have an additional income of more than ¥200,000 ($1,835.)

Cost of living isn’t the only deciding factor when it comes to choosing your new home in Japan. Learn about where to live in our helpful guide.

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