Many are surprised to learn that my husband is a Canadian citizen. Before his parents took the plunge and moved to the United States, they started the first chapter of their North American life in the frozen North of Canada. My husband waxed poetic about Canada like it was a lost paradise. Mary, he often told me, I will take you to Canada–the country of my childhood–and I will show you why I love it so.
Well, husband came through. I’ve not only visited Toronto, Ontario and Vancouver–but to my surprise, my husband proposed to me on the top of Mount Whistler in Whistler, Canada. Like husband predicted, I fell in love with Canada. From my point of view, Canada is basically a friendlier, cleaner, and more egalitarian version of the United States.read more
I know, you think I must be crazy for suggesting you could save over $10,000 a year by living in Tokyo, a city famous for its supposed ‘high cost of living.’
But if there’s one big smack in the face I’ve received from reverse culture shock in the United States, it’s this:
It’s goddamn expensive to live in America!
I want to compare cost of living in America with what most people consider an expensive country: Japan.
More specifically, Tokyo.
This scenario is based on a single individual working in Tokyo with an English teacher’s salary, which is about 30,000 USD per year and averages out to 2,500 dollars per month.
For simplicity’s sake I’m going to compare Tokyo with Los Angeles at the above salary, but account an extra 5,000 dollars of income for our worker in L.A. since surviving on 30,000 USD in Los Angeles is unthinkable. Most full time jobs in L.A. will pay at least 35,000 USD, so this will be the salary benchmark for our young hopeful in southern California.
Also, I will calculate everything in rough dollar amounts to make things easy. My exchange rate used below is a simple 100 JPY = 1 USD, although the current rate is about 120 JPY = 1 USD.
Anyway, onto the numbers!
Housing & Rent
While housing in Tokyo tends to be more on the cramped side, apartments are still clean, well-equipped, new, and most of all safe. Usually these units include a tiny kitchen, a bathroom with tub and shower and a room that acts as your living room and bedroom (so basically, it’s a studio).
In the downtown area of Tokyo (such as in the Ueno train station area), a studio/apartment of this caliber will cost about 800 USD/month.
In Los Angeles, finding an clean studio in a safe neighborhood that is just as centrally located as Ueno will set you back at least 1500 USD/month.
Monthly Tokyo Housing Costs: 800 USD Monthly LA Housing Costs: 1500 USD
Tokyo is blessed with the world’s best railway and subway network. You can literally go anywhere in Tokyo with the train and subway alone. Plus, the trains come frequently—and when I mean frequently, I mean every two minutes. Trains are clean, orderly, and most of all punctual.
Based on the assumption that you live in Ueno and commute to Shinagawa (a major business area near Tokyo station) your round trip ticket commute would amount to 8 USD/day (and about 30 minutes one way).
In Los Angeles, you could live without a car—but your life would be absolutely miserable. So for simplicity’s sake, let’s assume you cave in and get a car to move around because, really, living in Los Angeles without a car is near impossible.
Let’s assume you lease a car (which I did) and your monthly payment is 200 USD/month (no down payment) with car insurance at 100 USD/month (which is a deal for Los Angeles). Throw in gas and that’s another 100 USD/month.
Total? You’re paying 400 USD/month for a car. I know this seems like an optional expense—but trust me, living in Los Angeles without a car is a major handicap (plus, the average commute time in Los Angeles by car is 40 minutes—one way!)
Public transportation in LA is also not cheap. I actually take the train to work and it costs me 350 USD/month. No, you did not read that wrong. The train ticket is more expensive than my total car payment.
Monthly Tokyo Transport Cost: 160 USD/month in train tickets Monthly Los Angeles Transport Cost: 400 USD/month in car payment/insurance/gas OR 350 USD/month for train/public transit
Food & Restaurants
Meat and fruit in Japan tend to be slightly more expensive than the United States (it’s an island nation, it’s hard to mass produce livestock and agriculture due to the terrain). In exchange, fish and seafood are much cheaper than the prices at your typical grocery store in LA. Vegetable prices in both countries are comparable. Depending on the types of meals you cook food expenses can vary, but for the most part Tokyo and Los Angeles are equal in food prices.
In the worst-case scenario where you don’t cook at all, 7-11 in Japan sells bento boxes for about 500 yen (5 dollars) per meal. Even if you ate at 7-11 for every meal seven times a week, your food expense would still come out to about 105 USD/week.
Restaurants prices in Japan are comparable to the USA, with an outing at a slightly nice establishment costing about 15 USD per person. However, there is one huge difference between Tokyo and LA: no tipping for Tokyo. Although tipping may seem like a small after thought, it’s actually an extra 20% in cost for Americans that dine out. Plus, service in America just plain sucks compared to Japan.
In Tokyo, I think one would be quite cozy spending 500 USD/month on food & restaurants.read more