Yes, Japan is notorious for how expensive everything is. Living in Japan distorts your perception of what is cheap and what is expensive. 300yen bento (SGD$4.80) is CHEAP! Compare to how SGD$3.50 can get you a very decent and filling meal at a hawker center.
So here are some of my tips for living cheap in Japan.
1) Daiso is your best friend.
EVERYTHING (almost) for ONLY 105YEN!!!! Bowls, baskets, snacks, makeup, accessories…and occasionally even clothes and super furry and adorable bedroom slippers at 500yen (for a work shirt) and 210yen (slippers)!!!! They’re normally over 1000yen for the former and 500yen for the latter!
2) Know your Supermarkets
Supermarkets in train stations are generally more expensive and “higher quality”. When you’re on a tight budget in Japan and when everything is really high quality anyway, go for the budget supermarkets. While they may be further away from the train station or require a little walk from where you live, the walking is healthy plus the money you save is worth it!
For example, I used to once in a while drop by the ikari supermarket that was at the JR station and the supermarket in Hankyuu department store, but NO MORE! Because the stuff there is a lot more expensive than at Manekiya which is the cheaper equivalent (but just as good). Let me count the times/ways Manekiya has given me super deals/steals:
– 79yen instant cup kitsune udon
– HALF PRICE on ALL frozen foods (more than 105yen)
– 105yen packets of frozen food (like Edamame!! Split packet in half for a healthy snack!)
– 30% to 50% off bento/perishables in the evenings (great for after a long day at school/work and too tired to cook)
– Crazy promotions: 100yen for a medium sized bottle of mayonnaise after 4pm! 198yen for a pack of 5 instant ramen! 99yen tray of 10 eggs!
3) LAWSON 100yen shops/The Equivalent are also your best friends
Giant pack of frozen Edamame, about 300g worth, at only 105yen! Manekiya sells 200g for 105yen! And it tastes pretty good! 105yen drinks! 105yen instant green curry/hayashi sauce/Japanese curry/stew/chowder, bowls, utensils, meats, fruits, snacks… like DAISO but better cause it also sells fresh produce/is a mini supermarket!!!
4) COLLECT ALL THE POINT/STAMP CARDS!!
The local 105yen shop (not Daiso) has a stamp card system. Every 3 items = 1 stamp. Complete the card and get one item free! Super convenient because I’m always buying small knick knacks or things I need (like hangers, stationary, cups, baskets, stockings etc) so you buy what you need and also get things free! Plus almost everywhere in Japan has point systems/stamp cards. Bookstores, convenience stores, accessories shops, stationary shops…
5) Sometimes, the neighbourhood mini-mart/convenience store has the best deals
Washing detergent for 100yen cheaper than the supermarket! (Provided you have no qualms about buying stuff that’s a tad dusty. Hey, just wipe off the dust and it’s good as new!) Aluminium foil at half the price of the supermarket! 1.5L/2L drinks at 50yen cheaper!!
6) Shop smart (for clothes, books etc)
Don’t just buy the first thing you see. Explore various options, online shopping is a nice, hassle free way of scoring good deals. Also, ALWAYS compare prices. Compare qoo10.jp, Rakuten (I rarely shop here, everything looks/is expensive), forever21.co.jp, amazon.co.jp with your local department store/area, or for the case of books, buying second hand can save you lots of money (and in good condition + FREE SHIPPING within Japan). F21 Japan likes to have crazy deals like extra 50% off for 3 days, or free shipping with 3000yen purchase (formerly 5000yen) or online store ONLY sales. qoo10 often has cheap discounts but they’re not exactly as cheap as they’re advertised to be (ALWAYS CHEATED BY THIS).
Sometimes department stores sell things pretty cheap! Wander around the area, check sales, sometimes they sell bags for 1000yen, shops have opening sales with everything 50% off! (Boots at 3980yen, approx SGD$60 are considered a STEAL. Especially when Japanese shoes are so crazy comfortable)
Check out the shopping areas. Like Harajuku or Shinsaibashi. Which always have shops having sales. Don’t buy immediately, compare prices (especially in Harajuku where many shops sell almost identical things. Sometimes one shop gives free necklaces with tops for the same price as other stores! ALSO: climb to the second level to check out the stores, they usually sell things cheaper! Plus timed sales.)
BUY FROM BRANDS KNOWN FOR BEING AFFORDABLE. Like Honeys! Their sizing is pretty good too, I can fit into L bottoms! And everything is super reasonable! 1980yen for bottoms, cardigans, jackets etc etc (as compared to 4000yen for bottoms in a lot of other stores)
Contrary to popular belief, I don’t like Uniqlo. I find their clothes boring and expensive. But their graphic tees are nice and exclusive, though the sizing is ridiculous. XS and S are always sold out and M, L and XL are GIGANTIC. The cutting of their shorts aren’t very nice either. (My fav pair is from Harajuku and only cost 790yen! Is super cute and half the price of the boring Uniqlo ones) Plus Uniqlo isn’t the cheapest. Their work attire is generally around the 3000yen (SGD$48) and up price range, which I refused to pay for, and got stuff for half the price on F21 Japan. (Also helped that my size doesn’t sell out as fast in Japan)
7) Learn how to cook
Much cheaper and healthier than buying bento everyday. A filling homemade lunch me back about 200 to 250yen? This was noodles or rice with veggies, egg and chicken as a side dish. And the rice was pre-cooked rice. Much healthier and more filling than a 298yen bento, plus also yummier! And when desperate, just crack open a pack of instant ramen, toss in veggies to make it healthier, and there you go, a meal for about 150yen!
(P.S. learn how to freeze your meats. Separate them into portion sizes and plonk into the freezer. Want some meat? Grab one portion from the freezer! Also works for things you can prepare before hand.)
8) Travel smart
Get a train or bus pass. Makes everything so much more affordable. As a student, my school gives me a pass/form to buy a commuting pass. So all I have to do is go to the station, fill in the form, and I can buy a pass from the station where I live to the closest station to school. Best part: unlimited train rides within the two stops, and if you travel beyond your end point, you pay the fare from that station onward. I abuse this to go to the shops in the stations otw home (like Daiso, larger electronic stores, shopping malls etc).
9) Walk (or ride a Bicycle)
I save money by walking 15 to 20 minutes to school everyday instead of spending 210yen on bus fare there. Plus! It’s also healthier! Especially in Spring/Autumn and Winter, the weather is very cooling/cold so you don’t sweat and can take leisurely 3km strolls to the city hall.
Or, get a bicycle to commute to school/work. Or to go grocery shopping. Or explore your town/area.
10) Free stuff/Campaigns
I buy drinks that give free keychains/pouches. Or only buy when it’s on offer. Take the free tissues given to you (idk why, but this is less common in Tokyo). And Japan is ALWAYS having promotions. Some very worth it.