Tokyo has long been considered one of the most expensive cities to live in, but today, Japan suffers from stagnant wages and an issue with abandoned housing. While these problems definitely impact Japanese society, the upside is that the cost of living in Tokyo is not exorbitant.
You may find that you need to revise your priorities or make compromises on things that you’re used to in order to live within your means. Finding an affordable apartment in Tokyo that’s comparable in size to an apartment in the US or Australia may be impossible.
With reasonable expectations, however, you will probably find that the cost of living in Tokyo is significantly cheaper than you thought.
The prices used below are in Japanese Yen (¥) or United States Dollar (USD)
Average rent in Tokyo
It’s difficult to make a blanket statement on rent in Tokyo. The city is absolutely massive and other factors, such as environmental hazards like tsunami and mudslides, can affect prices too.
Rent would take up a large chunk of the cost of living in Tokyo per month. As a general rule of thumb, you can expect to spend over ¥100,000 ($898) a month if you want to live in Central Tokyo. Prices drop down to something more like ¥75,000 ($673) a month or so in the suburbs.
I managed to find my own apartment for ¥57,000 ($510) a month in the Nakano Ward of Tokyo, but it was only 11 square metres!
Cost of utilities in Tokyo
Your monthly utility costs will vary depending on usage, but some people are surprised that the time of year can affect prices as well.
Electricity is usually much more expensive in the winter and summer months. Propane gas prices often go up in the winter as well.
Prices can vary based on location as well. Tokyo is a large city, so you’re going to be billed by your ward. Gas was very cheap when I lived in Nakano Ward, but it was much more expensive per unit when I lived in Kawagoe City, Saitama.
All that said, a typical set of bills will be around ¥10,000 ($90) per month.
This breaks down to about ¥4000 ($36) for electricity, ¥3000 ($27) for water/sewer, and ¥3000 ($27) for gas. During peak usage months, costs may be closer to ¥15,000 ($135) per month (the breakdown being ¥8000 ($72) for electricity, ¥3000 ($27) for water/sewer, and ¥4000 ($36) for gas).
Cost of internet in Tokyo
Internet bills will vary widely depending on your setup and your ISP. If you live in a LeoPalace or if your building offers a joint internet package, you may qualify for discounted internet as low as ¥1500 ($13.50) per month.
If your internet isn’t bundled with your apartment contract, you can expect costs to be around ¥5000 ($45) a month. It’s also important to note that it’s not uncommon for your ISP and the company that owns the cables to issue you separate bills.
When I was living in Tokyo’s Nakano Ward, I received a ¥5000 ($45) invoice each month from NTT (my fibre provider) and a separate bill from Yahoo BB (my ISP) for ¥3500 ($31) each month. That wasn’t cheap!
Cost of cell phone plan or data plan in Tokyo
There are a few options in Tokyo for mobile phones. If you’re cheap and don’t care about a data plan, you get a prepaid phone with voice and text. Your bill will be as little as ¥1500 ($13.50) per month.
New legislation rolling out this year means that smartphone monthly fees are going to drop! This is in response to very confusing and borderline abusive phone contracts that had very high cancellation fees. Currently, smartphones with data plans usually start around ¥3500 ($31) a month.
Cost of trains and taxis in Tokyo
Commuting costs will depend on your job and where you live. Many companies in Japan fully reimburse you for your commute, some reimburse you up to a limit, and others just don’t.
If you live far from work, your commuting costs are going to be higher. A typical half hour commute will set you back by roughly ¥10,000 ($90) each month, but this will vary depending on the train line and number of transfers.
Taking a taxi in Tokyo is largely unnecessary and expensive. For a daytime ride, I’d estimate about ¥1500 ($13.50) per 5 minutes. However, rates go up by about 20% at night and you’ll see additional fees if the taxi has to take an expressway to your destination.
Cost of food and household necessities in Tokyo
Everyone has different priorities for food. Do you like to cook often or do you prefer to just grab a bite to eat somewhere? I also toss things like toiletries into this category, since I consider them a requirement for daily life.
A budget of ¥15,000 ($135) a month isn’t impossible, even in Tokyo, but you’d definitely need to cook almost every meal yourself. Most people I know get by fine on around ¥30,000 ($269) each month.
If you’re lazy like me, you may want to up it to ¥40,000 ($359) to account for all those convenience store meals.
(For an in-depth coverage of this topic, read this: What is the Cost of Food in Japan?)
Cost of personal upkeep in Tokyo
Do you consider yourself “high maintenance”? Do you have to have a gym membership or see a hair dresser every two weeks? All of these will factor into your personal upkeep. A frugal individual will have no problem maintaining a budget of ¥5000 ($45) a month, but it largely depends on you.
Between tiered visiting hours and various charges, a private gym membership in Tokyo can set you back as much as ¥12,000 ($108) a month. This is quite pricey, even in Japan, so free fitness communities are becoming a lot easier to find.
Women’s haircuts inside Tokyo proper average around ¥6000 ($54) while men’s cuts can be as cheap as ¥1000 ($9). The level of service goes down with the price. I’ve found good mid-range places in the suburbs for as little as ¥3500 ($31) for a wash, cut, and blow dry.
Clothes are available at just about any price point. High fashion will cost an arm and a leg anywhere, but Japan has a pretty great secondhand market for designer items. I recommend looking into it!
Cost of entertainment in Tokyo
Entertainment costs are by far the most expensive aspect of the cost of living in Tokyo. Eating out can be reasonable, but some hobby costs can quickly get into hundreds of thousands of yen.
A mid-range restaurant costs about ¥2500 ($22) for a meal. In trendier or touristy areas, it’s not uncommon to see ¥5000 ($45). High end restaurants will cost anywhere from ¥10,000 ($90) to ¥50,000+ ($449+) a person.
For streaming services, a Netflix subscription will cost you about ¥650 ($5.84) a month. Hulu is a bit more expensive with a fee of ¥933 ($8.38) a month. Both offer great selections, so I consider them a deal.
Personally, I only plan for about ¥15,000 ($137) in these costs a month and whatever I don’t use gets put into savings. However, I think ¥30,000 ($269) is more common among the people I know.
If you enjoy any hobbies that require specialized equipment, like cycling or camping, your budget might be well over ¥100,000 ($898) a month.
Cost of incidentals in Tokyo
Something that a lot of people overlook is that incidental expenses in Tokyo tend to be a bit higher than in other countries. Part of the reason for this is that Japan loves obligatory gifts.
Weddings are expensive to attend. You’ll be expected to give at least ¥10,000 ($90) to the bride and groom as a gift. Superstition dictates that the first digit of the amount always be odd. If you’re close enough to consider them a friend, ¥30,000 ($269) is more customary. Family or in-laws should receive ¥50,000+ ($449+).
Holidays like Christmas, Valentine’s Day, and White Day will also require gifts. These can be smaller items, like snacks or chocolate, that you give to your bosses and friends.
Medical costs tend to be higher than one might expect if you’re from a country with socialized health care. However, they’re significantly cheaper for Americans. Expect to spend about ¥5000 ($45) on a typical appointment when you have National Health Insurance.
Average salary in Tokyo
As I mentioned, salaries in Japan have been largely stagnant since the 1990s. According to the Japanese job site DODA, the average salary in 2018 for people in their 20s is just ¥3,460,000 ($31,060) a year.
An important thing to note is that different industries pay differently. If you’re a foreigner teaching English in Japan, your salary is going to be much less than the average listed above. Companies that pay as little as ¥180,000 ($1616) a month exist, but a more typical salary is around ¥250,000 ($2244) per month.
Even if your salary is lower than the average, you can still make ends meet! I lived in Tokyo for about ¥110,000 ($987) a month during my study abroad. I don’t recommend a budget that tight, but it is possible to survive.
Taxes, insurance, and pension in Japan
This is an article all on its own, but you can take a look at the Japanese tax brackets to get a good idea of what will be deducted from your salary.
Do you find the cost of living in Tokyo expensive when compared to your home country? Or do you think Tokyo is great for living frugally? Let us know in the comments below!