I’d like to start off this article by stating the obvious: Japan is not cheap. It doesn’t matter where you live, in a big or small city, in a village or on a mountain. Everything from pillows to electricity can cost a bundle. As one fellow expat said, “You go to Japan for the experience…” the language, culture…It’s not a place you move to save money or have a relaxed lifestyle.
Still, there are ways to live well even in the big cities. Food, for example, is relatively cheap in Osaka, Japan’s second largest city. You can get a plate of curry and rice for $6 USD or a steaming bowl of ramen from $6 — $10 USD. I frequent a food court at a shopping center near my home where I buy a plate of fried rice and a bowl of miso soup for less than $4.50 USD. Grocery store prices aren’t bad either, as long as you stick to local foods and avoid more expensive imported items.
As for rent, it varies according to where you live and how close you are to a downtown area or city center. You can score a small studio away from the city center for less than $400 USD a month or pay close to $1,000 USD to be closer to the action. An average one bedroom apartment would be around $600-$700 and are usually partly furnished with basic appliances.
As for setting up your apartment, household items are more expensive here than other places in the West as there aren’t many discount stores. Most people shop for their home at a department store, which can get kind of pricey. There are all kinds of specialty home stores, but they’re expensive as well.
Transportation via train and bus are comparable to larger cities in the US. Most city buses cost around $2.20 for a one-way trip and $1.30 — $5 one way for the train. Traveling longer distances is a bit more expensive.
When planning this move, I had a vague idea of the costs of such a trip. I did online research, talked with people who had lived here, and interviewed with the former American English teacher at my school. I knew utilities would be pretty expensive, comparable to the US and that transportation was not exactly cheap. Beyond that, I had no idea what to expect.
Living in Osaka was not the “vacation” my aunt figured I would be living. As any expat will tell you, living abroad is just like living at home. You have a work schedule, you have to pay bills, go grocery shopping, wash your clothes and see the doctor and dentist from time to time.
Still, there were some unexpectedly cheap prices I’ve found here. Overall, it has been okay for me. There were a few hard-pressed stretches where I’ve had less food, but I have never starved. Living outside of a big city like Osaka has saved me some money in rent, though it does cost me more for transportation into Osaka, where the nightlife and my friends are.
Let’s Talk Numbers: The Actual Cost of Living in Osaka, Japan
Curious about what it’s really like to live in Osaka? Luckily, I’ve crunched my own numbers on a per month basis so you don’t have to do the math.
Rent in Osaka: $450
Electric: $40 monthly average (up to $90 in winter)
Internet and Water: $68
Food: $120 (groceries), $50 (going out)
Japanese Health Insurance: $60
Cooking Gas: $50
Personal Habits: $40
Grand Total: $858/month
Now, my expenses work for me as a single person living in Osaka. I don’t live a lavish lifestyle eating sushi every day and visiting onsens. I’m more of a ramen and $6 curry and rice girl. Because I’m picky, it saves me money, as there are some seafood items I won’t eat. And in Japan, they eat just about everything with fins, gills or tentacles. I also don’t do weekly massages or go clubbing. I prefer eating out and karaoke with friends.
It is possible to live a good life in Osaka, Japan, with a bit of budgeting and some cheap beer.
Author’s Favorite Travel Gear
Ultralight Mini Travel Umbrella with Case: Carrying an umbrella in Japan is pretty standard. Not just for the rain, but in the summer months too, the sun can be pretty relentless. This mini umbrella is perfect for travel, comes in a compact case that you can easily toss in your purse or carry-on and even offers UV protection.
RFID Blocking Coin Purse & Card Wallet: Contrary to the plastic economy of the Western world, Japan is very much a cash culture. This mini zippered coin purse keeps my cash and coins safe, as well as adds extra security for my cards with RFID blocking technology.
Mophie iPhone Battery Pack: Is there anything worse than your phone dying when you’re traveling? Specifically, when you’re in a foreign country where you don’t know your way around and you’re relying on your translator app to ensure your essentials — food and shelter — are covered. This backup battery pack fits right on your phone as a protective case and provides an extra 100% charge when you switch it on.