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How much is the average cost of living in Tokyo Japan

How much is the cost of living in Tokyo Japan

Before moving to a country, the cost of living is our primary concern. How much income do you need to live comfortably in Tokyo, Japan? I am writing this now because a lot of people have been inquiring about what it's like to live here.  We are a family of 3 so this article is useful for a family with kids.

DID YOU KNOW? There are websites that offer cost of living comparisons between cities. Some calculate how much salary you will need to maintain your current standard of living.

One website showed that the cost of living in Tokyo is 96% more expensive compared to Manila, 27% cheaper than in New York, and about the same as in Sydney.

How much is the average cost of living in Tokyo

In this article:

1. Education/Childcare - International School ~¥2M or Public school ~50,000
2. Shelter ~ ¥150,000 (It depends but this was our initial budget for 2LDK unit)
3. Food/Personal care - ~¥40,000 + occasional splurge
4. Transportation - daily commute covered by the company
5. Utilities - ~ ¥12,000 (family of 3) + ¥6,000 Phone and internet
6. Healthcare - depends on the salary range (I won't mention cost here)
7. Clothing/Leisure - depends on the lifestyle

How much is the average cost of living in Tokyo for a family with kids? 
(Note: Averaging out exchange rates too since it fluctuates. For PH peso conversion, simply divide by half).

1. Education/Childcare

My son is studying in an international school under the International Baccalaureate (IB) system. We chose this due to their inquiry-based learning. Also, if we move to a different country, choosing a school under the IB system will allow a smooth transition. More information in Leave a comment if you want my feedback on this.

ABOUT INTERNATIONAL SCHOOLS: "International school" has a different meaning here in Japan.

  • There are major league IS such as British IS, and American IS. They follow the curriculum of the country in their name. 
  • Schools under the Advance Placement system (AP) and the International Baccalaureate system (IB).  
  • Schools with international enrollment but with facilities only in Japan. 
  • Schools which promise education provided in the English language.

International schools' tuition fee ranges from  ¥1.6M per year (~$16,000) up to more than 2 million yen for kindergarten, depending on which school. Fees are published on the school's websites.

That excludes:
  • registration fee and building development fee - around ¥600,000 or $6,000
  • building maintenance fee - around ¥150,000 or $1,500
  • school bus fee which depends on how far you are away from the school -around ¥300,000 or $3,000
  • and some other fees

Another option is, of course, is to enroll them in a public school. I do not know exactly how much it will cost but I read that it is free. You only need to pay for lunch and some other necessary fees (around ¥50,000 per year depending on the location). Check out this article from  

If both parents are working, you will need to enroll your child in daycare. The Japanese for daycare is "houkien" and one of the best in the world. It is also free. There are also private daycare options but will of course be expensive.

2. Shelter  

We all know that Tokyo Japan is an expensive city.  In 2019, it ranked at number 10 as the world's highest average monthly rent by city. This is based on Deutsche Bank's 2019 annual Mapping the World's prices report.

One thing to know here in Japan is that there is a shared real estate database for all agents. That same database is also available on the internet. It is a good source if you just want to get an idea of how much it will cost in the area and your specifications. It's not in real-time so don't rely on it.

Also, it will be good if you can watch Apartment Tour videos. It will give you an idea of what you want in your new place as the set-up in Japan is different.

We looked for a 2LDK (2 Bedroom, Living, Dining, Kitchen) apartment. This was our wish list:
  • Less than 1 hour of a commute from our house to the office
  • Walking time of 10 minutes from house to the station
  • Near the school or near the school bus stop
  • not less than 50sqm
  • maximum monthly rent of ¥150,000 or ~$1,500 (this was initially ¥90,000 but the agent said it's too low for a 2LDK unit)
We looked for apartments in Nerima and Ota wards. These are the areas with the least expensive rents within Tokyo.

A Filipina we talked to said she rented a 1-bedroom apartment for ¥90,000. It expensive because it is close to the train station. The closer you are to the station, the higher the rent.

The 2-bedroom apartments that we saw ranges from ¥130,000 - ¥160,000 ($1,300 - $1,600) monthly rent. We saw a 3-bedroom, 2-kitchen house with a big storage room for ¥160,000 in Meguro. However, it's an old traditional Japanese house with a lot of big traditional sliding doors.

How much do you need to rent an apartment here? BRACE YOURSELVES!
  • Advance payment - 1 month
  • Deposit - 1 to 2 months
  • Key money - 1 - 2 months (this is to say thank you to the owner for allowing you to rent their place)
  • Guarantor fee - 1-month rent (You don't have to pay this if you know someone who can speak Japanese. The guarantor must also meet salary range criteria).
  • Agent's commission - 1 month
This means if your monthly rent is ¥100,000, you need about ¥500,000 or $5,000 of that in order to rent an apartment. You will also need to pay for fire insurance and a fee to change the front door lock.

Finding an apartment in Japan is difficult for foreigners. It is due to language and cultural difference but I will talk about that in the next article.

OUR APARTMENT: After 15 apartment tours and 3 agents we luckily settled in the Meguro area. It's about the same size as our condo in the Philippines so it's more than enough for us. I also love that it was way below our budget. It is very close to two major grocery stores, about 4 min away from the school bus stop, and close to parks.

It's in a very quiet neighborhood but I am hesitant to say if it's a good thing for someone with a loud kid. I always joke whenever we are walking that it's so quiet the neighbors will hear you fart!

3. Food/Personal care

Before moving to our permanent apartment in Meguro, we lived in Minato ward.  Since the area is on the posh side, the cost of groceries is higher in Minato.

We found that groceries 1 kilometer away from each other have different pricing, and carry different brands.

We walk at night and every night we will check out two of the local stores near us for items on sale (usual are seafood).  I saw fellow Filipinos bought a bunch of meat one night because they were on sale. They said they live around 20 minutes (by walking) away from the store.

For the right strategy ¥40,000 or $400 monthly is possible. That includes cheese, wine, grapes, oranges, lots of milk, and snacks. Sometimes we would splurge or be too lazy to go to the cheapest shop for meat so we would go beyond our budget.

I personally think that snacks for kids are more expensive here. The government makes up for it with the ¥10,000 - ¥15,000 ($150) monthly child allowance until Junior High School.

If you live by yourself, I think it would cost you more, applying the same concept as in any other place. When you are alone you tend to buy cooked meals or dine out with friends. This is more expensive than home-cooked meals.  Bento boxes cost around ¥800 or $8 but will always be on sale at night.  They markdown up to 70%.

There are of course a lot of options and cheaper prepared meals in the convenience stores.

ARE THE RUMORS TRUE?  So, is it true that food is more expensive here in Japan?  Travelers would comment that dining out here in Tokyo is about the same as in Manila.  You can dine out at the many local restaurants for about ¥600 - ¥1,200 or as low as $6 per person per meal.

However, you cannot find cheap street foods for as low as ¥100 like you can in the Philippines.  Surprisingly, McDonald's is actually cheaper here than in Manila.

4. Transportation

Most of the companies in Tokyo cover the transportation cost due to the expensive rent in Tokyo.  This is to encourage people who live around Tokyo to work here.

Some people actually live outside of Tokyo- in the Kawasaki, Yokohama, Chiba, or Edogawa area.

5. Utilities

We pay around ¥12,000 per month for water, sewerage, electricity, and gas. This, of course, goes up during the cold months when we have to use more gas to heat up the water and warm up the house.

The internet is expensive at ¥5,400 per month but is reliable and fast. The installation was super expensive at ¥18,000. This is because we chose to contract with an English speaking third party. They will also serve us our support in case something goes wrong.

6. Healthcare

Life insurance and health insurance are deducted from a monthly paycheck. Employees share half of the cost and it will depend on the salary range.
The law requires all persons living in Japan to have a National Health Insurance (NHI).  Having the NHI, we only have to pay 70% of the total medical bills (including medicine). For children, the insurance covers 100% until Junior high school


7. Clothing/Leisure

Shopping in Japan can be a treat too especially when there is an end of season sale.
For winter clothes, I go to second-hand shops to buy high-end winter coats.

Entertainment such as watching movies is expensive at ¥1,900 or $19 but cheaper on certain days just like in North America. In Manila, some theatres charge about the same, right?

Moving around Tokyo is a bit expensive as the fixed fare for metro buses is ¥220.  The cost of riding a train will depend on how many transfers and which line you are taking.  We pay ¥135 from our home to Shibuya station. To go to... I don't know - Disneyland, it will cost us ¥616 per person.

The flag down rate of the taxi is ¥400 for the first 2km, and increases by ¥80 every 300 meters.

Bullet trains are way more expensive. Tourists can get unlimited passes but these train passes are not available for residents and Japanese nationals. So when we went to Hokkaido, it was actually cheaper to ride an airplane than to get on a bullet train.

Another option to go farther is by car, less expensive if you are in a group. Even if you don't own a car, there are car rentals available. But only if you are already comfortable driving on the left side of the rode.

THE BURNING QUESTION: How much salary do you need to live comfortably in Tokyo? It will depend on your lifestyle. I've given you an idea of how expensive it is for your basic needs. The good thing here in Japan is that the job posting shows the expected salary and benefits. I saw a job posting by Rakuten for entry-level IT specialists offering 9million yen per year, amazing additional benefits, and generous vacation days already mentioned. They even accept non-Japanese speakers. If you are single, you can rent a tiny apartment unit or try co-living spaces to save rent expense.

To wrap up, I think that living here in Tokyo is not as expensive as we feared it was. The salary here is higher of course so it will all depend on your strategy and lifestyle.  If you want to experience the finest things in life and dine in an ¥8,000 sushi restaurant then it's up to you.

As for our family, we've maintained our lifestyle and occasionally splurge without damaging our savings plan.  We don't spend much - not at all. But we do splurge when we travel. Oh, how I miss it now...

What do you think? I hope this answers your questions. If you have clarifications, leave a comment below or message me in my social media accounts.


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