All About Japan

Can You Survive on Only ¥150,000 a Month?

| Deeper Japan , Life in Japan

Tokyo is Japan's biggest and most exciting city, making it an alluring place to move to, both for people already living elsewhere in the nation and for foreigners relocating to Japan. But as the capital city of a notoriously pricy country, life in Tokyo must be crazy expensive, right? Not according to a post from Japanese Instagram user mimii_room.

Mimii_room, who describes herself as a 23-year-old woman living alone in an apartment in one of Tokyo’s 23 central wards, says that if you’ve got 150,000 yen (US$1,389), that’s plenty to live in Tokyo.

Mimii_room also shared her monthly budget, which she breaks down as:

Rent: 80,524 yen
Electricity: 2,500 yen
Gas: 2,000 yen
Water: 3,000 yen
Internet: 2,310 yen
Mobile phone: 2,000 yen
Food: 20,000 yen
Sundry goods: 4,000 yen
Clothing/beauty expenses: 2,000 yen
Dating/social expenses: 1,500 yen
Medical: 500 yen
Hobbies: 2,000 yen
Transportation: 1,000 yen

● Total: 123,334 yen

But can life in Tokyo really be so affordable? Let’s take a closer look at some of those numbers.

While it might be a shock for those who’ve been hearing for decades about how expensive Japanese housing is, it’s honestly not that hard to find an apartment for less than 80,000 yen a month in Tokyo. However, whether it’s going to meet your standards for acceptable size and newness is another matter. mimii_room says that her apartment is six jo, a jo being a Japanese unit of floor space measurement that’s equivalent to the size of one tatami mat. Six jo works out to just 10.9 square meters (117.8 square feet), and so even with an attached interior loft for sleeping or storage (which not all Japanese apartments boast), mimii_room’s home is anything but spacious.

That actually works in her favor for utilities, though. A small space is easy to keep at a comfortable temperature and level of light, which helps reduce electricity and gas expenses. That 2,000 yen a month for mobile phone service, however, is a lot trickier to pull off. mimii_room credits a contract with a low-cost provider, but even then, keeping your phone bill that low requires doing pretty much all your communications through online text or voice chat apps from home, where you can use your flat-fee Wi-Fi, and keeping on-the-go use of your phone to a minimum.

20,000 yen a month for food is also a very tight budget, but for this mimii_room’s trick is doing as much of her own cooking as possible, since groceries are cheaper than restaurant food. She also works in a company with a low-cost employee cafeteria where she eats lunch, and she says she hardly ever buys drinks from convenience stores, vending machines, or cafes, instead making tea at home and pouring it into a thermos she carries. As for fashion and beauty expenditures, mimii_room says she doesn’t go clothes shopping very often, only buys new cosmetics when she’s used up all of her old ones, and gets her hair cut just twice a year.

OK, so far this is a tight but not impossible budget. The numbers start to get a lot shakier from here on out, though. 1,500 yen is an extremely small amount for dating and socializing. In Tokyo, even a cheap meal like a beef bowl will run you close to 500 yen, as will a cup of coffee in a reasonably nice cafe. OK, sure, mimii_room said she doesn’t go out to eat or drink very often, but even going to see a single movie would pretty much immediately eat through most or all of her socializing budget. Basically, if you’re only spending 1,500 yen a month on socializing in Tokyo, you’re either doing a lot of zero-cost dates (like walks in the park or hanging out on the couch together watching TV), or someone else is picking up a lot of tabs for you.

2,000 yen a month for hobbies is also incredibly limiting, unless, again, you’ve got some kind of zero-variable-cost thing you like to do for fun, like watching free online videos or playing a musical instrument you’ve already paid for. Surprisingly, mimii_room says her hobby is going to concerts, but either she’s going to tremendously minor performances at ultra-cheap venues, or that 2,000 yen a month is calculated from the two or three times a year she goes to see larger-name artists play. Oh, and while Japan does have a nice national health insurance system, that doesn’t mean treatment and prescriptions are free, and that 500 yen a month isn’t going to go very far if you struck with some sort of serious illness or condition.

Last, we come to the 1,000-yen-a-month transportation expense. This, actually, is possible if you’ve got a job that pays for your commuting expenses, which is a fairly common perk with full-time jobs in Japan. Commuter passes in Japan also allow you to get on and off the line as many times as you like between your home station and the one closest to your office, even on weekends. Because of that, if you live somewhere that results in your commuting route passing through the parts of town where you want to spend your leisure time, it’s possible that you’ll rarely find yourself having to actually pay for a ticket.

While I’m not calling mimii_room disingenuous when she cheerfully shares her finances, it really is hard to imagine most people enjoying such a constricting budget, one where buying two Uniqlo T-shirts in the same month will blow past your clothing allowance. Just like one commenter said, it’s probably better to think of mimii_room’s plan as “enough” to live on, but as the absolute, bare-minimum you’ll need, while also having to constantly keep your fingers crossed that not a single problem arises.

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