The Cost of Living in Japan as a Student

I’m studying in Japan under a scholarship which covers both my university tuition fees as well as provides me a monthly allowance of 120,000yen. Back when I first moved to Japan in 2012, this was almost SGD$2000 but now it amounts to about SGD$1350 a month. It was enough for me to survive and I’m not exactly the most frugal or the best at saving money. In this post, I will break down my expenses and hopefully it’ll be a good guide of what to expect to pay when living in Japan as a student.

Monthly expenses (rounded up):
60,000yen on rent and utilities (internet included)
30,000yen on food
10,000yen on mobile phone bill
10,000yen on transport
2,000yen on health insurance
???yen on entertainment

1. Rent and Utilities

I lived in a one room apartment (room tour here) in Nishinomiya City, Hyogo prefecture for two years, after living in the school’s dormitory for a year (<50,000yen a month, everything in). It was a private apartment building, and my room was leased through my school. Other foreign students, Japanese students but also ordinary Japanese live there as well. Because I leased it through the school I didn’t have to pay any key money or gift deposit. It is possible to find something cheaper but I like my apartment’s location and it’s so much more convenient to liaise with the school than going through a realtor. Just the rent itself, including an apartment maintenance fee, amounts to 53,000yen (including internet).

My utilities fee includes electricity, water and gas and it varies each month but on average usually costs 2,500yen to 4,000yen. I’ve had to pay 15,000yen before (one winter month, that freaked me out so bad) and I didn’t even have the heater on every day! Now in autumn or winter I layer on the jackets when I’m in my room to save costs.

If you want something cheaper, look for old apartments or sharehouses and dormitories. I know a friend who found a place for under 20,000yen a month because it was really old, only had communal toilets, shower and laundry rooms. I don’t think it had internet either, but for that price you won’t be complaining. Dormitories for students can range from really cheap (25,000yen a month) to somewhat expensive (70,000yen a month) depending on the amenities, location and if they provide food or not. The ones that do provide dinners are more expensive but I personally would rather cater for my own meals.

2. Food

This varies but 30,000yen is how much I spend if I do a mixture of cooking and eating out (or buying from conbini). Obviously if you eat out, one meal alone can cost 1,000yen or more. Cooking can make a meal cost 200yen or less, depending on where you shop and what you’re eating. Different supermarkets sell things at different prices so always look out for the cheapest one, or your nearest wholesale supermarket (The one I go to is “Gyomu Supermarket” 業務スーパー).

My go-to frugal meal was udon/noodle soup with beansprouts, tofu and whatever I had on hand, which cost something like this:
Udon (per serving) – 19yen
Beansprouts (per pack) – 25yen
Tofu (per pack) – 30yen
Stock cubes/Miso – 300yen to 500yen a pack, lasts for ages

Eating in the school canteens are also another cheap option, with decent filling meals costing an average of 400 to 500yen. For comparison, one izakaya visit costs about 2,500yen and a bowl of ramen at Ippudo or Ichiran costs about 1,000yen. Conbini dinners are 500yen on average, with supermarket bento (at full price) falling into that price range as well.

3. Mobile Phone Bill

My phone bill is EXPENSIVE AF. I was signed to au by KDDI for a 2 year contract, and when I first signed on, they had a special promotion where they would give me a free smartphone. So for those first two years, I only paid about 6,000yen a month for unlimited mobile data. When it came time to re-contract, I was stupid and decided to stay on au, also got myself an iPhone 5S (64GB) and that was when they switched to 4G LTE or something so their mobile data plans had become more expensive. PLEASE SWITCH CARRIERS WHEN RE-CONTRACTING because they give you really good discounts.

I was paying 8,000yen a month for ‘unlimited’ mobile data (capped at 7GB then becomes PAINFULLY SLOW) which also included my monthly payments for the new phone. Then without any notice, my phone bill became 9,000yen a month because the au student discount of 980yen/month ended after three years. It’s meant for high schoolers, I was told, but seriously, that is quite ridiculous.

You can DEFINITELY get something cheaper than this absurd amount I paid each month and please do note that they SIM lock their smartphones which is a PAIN IN THE BUTT.

4. Transport 

Can be pretty pricey but supposedly it’s not as expensive as some other countries are but I’m still complaining, as all Singaporeans like to do. It costs about 150yen to take the train for 1 stop but there are price ranges. Eg. If you take the train for up to 3 stops from X Station, it will cost you 150yen. If you take the train for 4 to 6 stops from X Station it costs you 210yen. To get to Umeda Station in Osaka or Sannomiya Station in Kobe from my stop costs 270yen one way and takes about 15 minutes on the express train.

For students, you can buy a Commuter Pass or 定期券 (teikiken) for discounted transport fees (you will need the discount ticket/card from your school!). So I’d pay less than 6000yen for a 3 month Commuter Pass that I can use from the station that I live to the station where my school is, with unlimited uses within that range of stations.

I put transport as 10,000yen because, hey, what if you’re someone who wants to TRAVEL ALL OF JAPAN? Ok, ok, realistically, this means like daytrips during weekends say to Kyoto or Nara. A one way trip to Kyoto via Hankyu Train Lines costs me 470yen. Do this every Saturday and that’s already 4,000yen.

5. Health Insurance

You have to pay health insurance each month, based on your income (the amount varies in each city), which for me is 2,000yen. You’ll get your health insurance card which you need to use in order to get 70% subsidised off your medical bill. I have never actually gone to a doctor or hospital in Japan (yea, really) so I’ve never used it.

There’s also another thing you have to pay, which is the monthly National Pension once you turn 20 and become an adult in Japan. For me this was supposed to be 16,800yen a month. Which I think is a litt- no A LOT ridiculous because while you can get it back when you’re older, it’s only if you have been paying it for like 20 or so years (!?!?!). I CANNOT afford this as a student on my basic allowance. By right you’re supposed to pay. By left, I’m graduating, have no idea if I’ll actually be staying in Japan for 20 or more years so….what pension?

6. Entertainment

Technically my school’s breakdown put 20,000yen into entertainment but it didn’t include transport and mobile phone bills, insurance etc. So it’s just about whatever you have left to spend on karaoke, concerts (1,500yen to 8,000yen a ticket), travelling and whatever you want to do. I don’t enjoy clubbing but for women it’s usually free entry anyway (guys too, at certain times/days) so if you’re into that it won’t bust your wallet. If you like to drink, opt for nomihodai (飲み放題) or free flow drinks and likewise for food.

To save money I just stay home all the time (what!?), cook all my meals and then splurge a little when I hang out with friends or go travelling. Set aside money for the things you NEED to spend on (eg. Rent) so you won’t be wondering where the money disappeared to then realise you spent too much on UFO Catchers. I tend to spend more than I should when I have a lot of money in my wallet. If I only keep 3,000yen on hand I stop myself from spending since I only have so little.

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I hope this break down helps if you were wondering how much it would cost to live as a student in Japan! Of course everyone’s living conditions are different so 120,000yen for someone else could go much farther or barely cover anything for someone else. But it’s definitely a good amount to gauge for each month when planning your budget for study abroad exchange or even long term schooling in Japan.

If you have any questions, feel free to leave a comment, email me at bernadette.lyf@gmail.com or drop me a tweet @bloopbloooop!

4 comments

    • Bernie Low says:

      Hi Mark!
      My only advice is to really budget and plan out your expenses, and keep your receipts so you take note of how much you’ve spent so you won’t go over budget! Cut costs by shopping cheaper etc and you should be fine 🙂

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