Cost of Living in Japan
For living costs, earning opportunities and potential to save money, Japan is still one of the best countries in the world to teach English. More importantly, the food and culture are absolutely amazing. You’ll need to factor in all those variables when you choose the country you want to teach English in. Most people still have the impression that Japan is insanely expensive from all the stories that were spread in the eighties. While you can still buy hundred-dollar melons at high-end department stores and eat $200 meals at premium restaurants, Japan is much more affordable than you might imagine.
Japanese English Teaching Salaries
In the past, there was a government set minimum salary for teachers in Japan of 250,000 yen per month(US$2315). This rule is no longer strictly followed and many schools try to pay less for novice teachers. However, with the shortage of reliable English teachers in Japan, most schools still pay in the 250,000 yen to 280,000 yen range for 25 to 30 teaching hours per week, about 10 paid national holidays and two weeks of vacations.
Beware of misleading salary information with some schools. One of the big chains advertises up to 3000 yen per hour (US$27) for 40-minute classes. What this means is that you will be paid up to 2000 yen per class because you are not being paid for preparation time between classes. This is not a very good salary considering you would have to teach 7 classes per day to earn what a typical English teacher in Japan does. Many of the schools paying per class, only have a few classes per day to offer as well so it is harder to make ends meet and you won’t have any paid holidays. With that said, it is possible to get some higher-paid part-time business classes that can be quite lucrative. It is not unrealistic to make 6,000 yen or more per class with the right students. You can earn even more if they are your own private students.
Salaries are fairly consistent where ever you live in Japan but costs can vary a lot. Living expenses will definitely increase the closer you get to the center of large cities like Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka, Kobe, or even Nagoya, but it is still possible to save a decent portion of your salary. Most employers will pay travel expenses to work in addition to your regular salary so commuting will be covered by your employer. Many companies also arrange accommodations for teachers with some basic furniture.
Check out this page for more detailed information and real examples of English teaching Salaries in Japan.
One interesting fact about Japan is that it is still largely a cash-based society, so it is still quite common to receive salaries in cash every month from the smaller schools. The larger chain English schools in Japan will require you to set up a bank account to receive your salary, but you will likely be paid in cash from smaller English schools.
Living Costs in Japan
Most people have the image of Japan as being an incredibly expensive country. This may have been accurate in the past, but with the decline in the value of the Japanese yen and years of low or even negative inflation, costs of living in Japan are comparable to most western countries.
Expect to pay about 60,000 yen to 80,000 yen (US$540 to $720) for a shared apartment in a larger city and much less in more rural areas. Many teachers in smaller towns homestay with a Japanese family for very little money or sometimes free in exchange for English lessons. There are also inexpensive monthly apartments from companies like LeoPalace that can be found for under 50,000 yen for a small studio style apartment with a loft sleeping area. As Japan ages, rural areas are becoming very affordable. It is easier than ever to rent a cheap house, provided you are willing to live further from a train station in a more remote location.
Getting your own apartment in Japan can be difficult. You will often need a guarantor to sponsor you and some landlords also charge four to six months rent in gift money (called key money in Japan) to the landlord. The advantage of doing this is that you will get a completely refurbished apartment at a lower rent than your company-sponsored accommodation. If you are only going to be in Japan for a short time, stay in foreigner focused or company-sponsored apartments. They are not as clean, but this will save you a lot of time and upfront money. You will be responsible for your own utilities regardless of where you live.
Here is a rough breakdown of living costs in Japan:
- Rent 80,000 to 140,000 yen (US$720 to $1300) per apartment.
- Utilities 12,000 yen (US$120) Internet and telephone 8,000 yen (US$720)
- Income tax at about 7% 13,000 yen (US$130) per month.
- City taxes 15,000 yen (US$150) per month. (Many teachers get away with not paying this, especially if you move a lot or are only coming for a year.)
- Food 20,000 to 40,000 yen ($180 to $370) per month. (Western food is more expensive.)
- One night out drinking with food, 4,000 to 10,000 yen ($37 to $93). You know which end of the scale you will be. 🙂
Food Costs in Japan
While western food items are available in Japan, you’ll still have to pay a premium to have your favorite items from home. If you can eat like the Japanese, which is very healthy and delicious, your budget will go a lot further.
Cost of Fruits and Vegetables in Japan
As mentioned earlier, it is possible to pay exorbitant amounts of money for fruits in department stores and supermarkets. Many people take those stories as indicative of all fresh fruit and vegetable prices in Japan. That is simply not true. The $100 melon stories you have heard are for super high-end fruits delivered in beautiful packaging and meant to be given as gifts. They are not what Japanese eat every day.
With that said, Japanese fruits like strawberries, apples, persimmon, melons, etc. are much higher quality than the imported variety you’ll find back home. They will be more expensive, but not prohibitively so. Japanese strawberries in particular, are by far the best in the world. You can expect to pay 400 to 1000 yen for a medium-sized package. However, they are so juicy and amazing. Nothing like the imported Mexican variety I have to eat in Canada.
General Advice to Lower Your Living Costs in Japan
- For great quality and inexpensive clothes look shop at Uniqlo. They are everywhere and their designer T-shirts are awesome.
- Men can get a 1000 yen (US$9) haircut at Qcuts, a chain of ten-minute barbers.
- Great quick meals can be had at chains like Yoshinoya, Matsuya and CoCo Ichi for 500 or 600 yen ($5 or $6).
- Places like Starbucks, McDondald’s and Kentucky fried chicken are now similarly priced to your home country.
It is quite possible to live comfortably on about 150,000 yen (US$1388) per month, meaning that it is possible to save about 100,000 yen (US$925) per month. It is also quite easy to spend all your money on great electronics, nice restaurants, and vacations to places like Thailand, Bali, and the Philippines. Japan provides a great opportunity to live any lifestyle you want.
Compare the Cost of Living in Korea.
Compare the Cost of Living in China.
Videos on the Cost of Living in Japan
Teach English in Japan
A general overview of what to expect teaching English in Japan. Learn why Japan is still my favorite country for teaching English and watch videos of other English teachers in Japan.
Teach English in Japan Salaries
How much salary can you expect to earn teaching English in Japan? Salaries in Japan can vary a lot depending on the type of English teaching you do. Check out this page for a list of current English teaching salaries and what you can realistically expect as a new teacher to Japan.
Teach English in Japan (Visa Requirements)
Information on visa requirements to teach English in Japan
Interviews with English Teachers in Japan
Interview with The Japan Guy, Donald Ash, teaching English in Japan
Interview with Neil Mullens, teaching English in Japan
Interview with John Bardos, Teach English in Japan