Saving Money in Japan

July 3rd, 2012By Category: Uncategorized

Saving money in Japan

An annual cost of living survey released by the firm Mercer ( revealed their list of the Top Ten most expensive cities in the world for expats- Tokyo, Osaka, and Nagoya (my city) were on that list at positions #1, #3 and #10 respectively. Whether you’re a newcomer to Japan, or an old pro, you could still stand to gain from these 5 helpful tips for saving money in one of the world’s most costly countries.

Avoid Convenience Stores

“But they’re so convenient!” Not when they make you spend too much. Items in convenience stores have significantly marked up prices- a cup of yogurt costs ¥128 whereas in the supermarket it’s just under ¥100. A loaf of bread can be bought for only ¥88, while the konbini is charging ¥148. Not to mention there are lots of unnecessary snacks and drinks staring at you from every shelf, and at ¥100 or more per item, they do start to add up. As much as possible, walk right past these inviting and ever-present outposts of spending.

Eat Cheaper

There are several ways to do this:

  1. Cook at home: no need to spend on what you can make yourself. Plan ahead and get all your groceries in one go. Many stores start offering discounts up to 20% after 6pm, so timing your trip accordingly will help spare your budget. You can even buy ready-made meals if you’re not so adept in the kitchen.
  2. Reduce reliance on familiar food items from home: international products don’t come cheap here. This may mean cutting back on a few of your favorites, (oh how I’ll miss you, real cheese) but there are better ways to spend your time than waiting in line at Starbucks anyway.
  3. Choose budget dining options: eating out is going to cost you more regardless, but it doesn’t have to be an arm and a leg. If you’re looking for a big night out, then it’s good to take advantage of tabehodai (all-you-can-eat) at an izakaya. There are also plenty of cheap chain restaurants- Yakinoya and Sushiro, to name a couple- that will save you from over-spending. And failing all else, there’s always the ¥100 menu at McDonald’s.

Drink Cheaper

Drinking in Japan is expensive. Unless you’re careful, a night out is going to cost you plenty. Pubs tend to be pricey, even if you make it there for happy hour- some offer discounts for foreigners or women, but it isn’t going to save you that much. Finding alternative scenes for drinking then becomes a priority. Nomihodai (all-you-can-drink) at an izakaya is a decent option, if you can put ‘em away quickly- but if you’re a lighter or slower drinker this deal is generally not worth it.

Supermarkets once again trump convenience stores in cheap choices for bevies- a 6-pack of Kirin may be on sale for as low as ¥638, but at the konbini you’ll be required to fork over ¥846. Regardless of where you purchase, it’s better to find a free venue such as an apartment or a park in which to enjoy your brews. And since there are no prohibitions against open beverages in public, the street is always available!

One great option you shouldn’t pass up is karaoke. One hour sessions may be as low as ¥500, including nomihodai. If it’s already late you may be able to book a longer length of time for a reduced rate- especially helpful if you need a place to crash until the first trains of the morning start running again.

Buy Cheaper

It’s always good to limit shopping in general, especially if you’re only considering staying in Japan a year or two (you won’t be able to take it all with you when you go). Shopping as a hobby will quickly make you broke anywhere, but especially here. However, there are times when you need or just want something, so steering yourself towards cheaper buys is a good idea in general.

There are so many good second-hand shops in Japan, it would be a shame not to take advantage. These shops are selling everything from clothes to jewelry, musical instruments to smaller electronics. I’ve found most of the items to be in decent condition- I recently treated myself to a rather good guitar!

There is also the fun and fascinating world of the ¥100 Store. These are good to pay a visit to if you need something, but the allure of everything being so cheap can quickly become a burden when you arrive at the checkout counter and the total of your inexpensive items put together ends up being much more than you expected. Give yourself a budget ahead of time and stick to it.

Capitalize On Your “Free” Time

Gyms are incredibly expensive here, most charging at least ¥7,000 a month, and that’s just to use the facilities at inconvenient “non-peak” times. Save yourself a bundle and try an activity that doesn’t involve a hefty transaction. Get your running shoes out or get on a bike- even walking will help you explore your neighborhood and sometimes save on transportation. Do some yoga, weight-training, or even try something like belly-dancing, right in the comfort of home. This is even more doable with the availability of free online videos on, well, everything (youtube). Develop your old hobbies or some new ones (cooking would clearly be valuable, see above). Catch up on some reading at your local library. Write a blog. Check out some parks. Visit attractions with cheap admission, such as museums, gardens, and temples. Study a language- you may be able to find cheap or reduced Japanese lessons from your local International Center. There is an abundance of ways to amuse yourself without breaking the bank.

While it is still wise to set a reasonable budget for yourself, these tips should help you have overall savings success. Good luck!

Author of this article

Nicole Sauer

Nicole is a traveler, teaching to pay the bills and because she enjoys it! She loves discovering and taking photos of hilarious English fails on public signage ("Please use a toilet finely!") She currently lives in Nagoya. Check out her other site at

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  • Hm, some of these things you can only perform if you actually have enough time, e.g. cooking or avoiding the conbini.
    Doing some kind of sport outside instead of inside (e.g. in a gym) is something I personally can’t do during the long, humid summer months.
    And Youtube might be soon history in Japan anyways …

    Apart from that some nice tips! 🙂
    Thanks for sharing!

  • We lived in the countryside and took advantage of two great community centers. One of them had the most amazing playground I’ve ever seen (also we rode our bikes there) and it cost only a few hundred yen to use the weight room or rent a ping pong table. Our other community center had basketball courts, an indoor track, weight room, and dance studios. I went to aerobics every week and paid just 200 yen or so.
    I’m also a champion trash picker. I don’t know if “big trash night” still takes place, but imagine my surprise when on the way home one night I found an empty lot stacked over 6 feet high with old furniture, bikes, futon, etc. I got some really cool wood-frame chairs that I repainted and bought new cushions for. There was also a restaurant that went out of business in my neighborhood–industrial grade tables, dishes, and lost umbrellas were just placed out back for the taking! My other great find was a sewing machine in perfect condition that someone had put in the recycle bin. Cost = zero! When I left Japan I sold most of these things to newcomers, so I even turned a profit.

  • leslie nguyen

    Thank you for the tips on how to save. I am planning to go there soon!

  • There are also community gyms… One day entry is about ¥200


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