From Sushi to College – 7 MORE Things that are Cheaper in Japan

People tend to think of Japan as insanely expensive. That’s true…sometimes. Rent is  very high especially in Tokyo and other urban centers. Cars are expensive with highway tolls over $15/ride and hefty yearly taxes. Food is costly too, with luxury grapes and extravagant melons selling for more than $10,000.

However, with new economic policies in Japan and rising costs of living in many parts the United States, Japan is looking less and less expensive these days. Indeed, according to Expatisan, the cost of living in Boston (my hometown) is only 6% cheaper than Tokyo. Nearly comparable.

So while prices in Japan might have you looking twice, there are actually a surprising number of things that are cheaper in Japan. Here are 7 MORE things that are absolutely worth buying in Japan!

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1. Haircuts

Japan has an unbelievable density of hair salons, creating brisk competition that helps drive prices down. When I first lived in Japan, I would pass 10 salons just walking the mile from my house to the nearest train station. You can get a quickie barber cut for under $10, or even a luxurious 2-hour salon experience complete with scalp and neck massage for $40. (In contrast, I was used to paying close to $100 for a shampoo + haircut in Boston on the trendy Newbury shopping street.) Another big plus, there is no tipping in Japan! So the listed price is the final price.

Even if you are just visiting Japan, I would definitely recommend enjoying a Japanese haircut. (Here’s what to expect if you go to a Japanese salon.) Experiencing the atmosphere and impeccable service will be an unforgettable cultural adventure!

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Kyoto University.

2. College

A number of factors contribute to making college much less expensive in Japan. First, tuition fees (on average) are lower in Japan compared to the U.S. – around $11,000 in Japan compared to $13,000 at U.S. public institutes. Plus in Japan, most college students live at home and commute to school meaning that room and board costs are significantly reduced too. Kosuke and I might be the perfect example of the potentially extreme differences in college fees between the U.S. and Japan. I went to a private college with the price tag for tuition plus room and board topping $60k per year. In contrast, Kosuke went to the National Defense Academy of Japan where he was PAID a salary to go to college.

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You can buy a lot of sushi for $10!

3. Sushi

Being an island nation, Japan has abundant seafood. With fresh fish available nearly everywhere you look in Japan, sushi is cheap and excellent. Just walk into any grocery store and you can buy high quality sushi for a fraction of the cost in the United States. Even roadside highway service areas and convenience stores offer surprisingly good sushi.

Trolley track sushi shops in Japan offer a chance to experience “fast food” sushi. Plates of sushi circulate on tracks through the restaurant. Simply take whatever you like and the shop tallies the cost from the number of empty plates at the end. With each plate costing just a few dollars, you can eat your fill and pay only a modest bill at the end.

Want to see even more cheap things? Check out my earlier post – 9 Things that are Cheaper in Japan.

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Abandoned umbrellas.

4. Umbrellas

Umbrellas are a critical part of life in Japan. If it is raining, you carry a rain umbrella. If it is sunny, women (and some men) carry sun parasols. In other words, no matter the weather you will probably need some kind of umbrella. Coming from the U.S., where most people do not carry umbrellas, I was surprised to see how important umbrellas are in Japan. Pretty much any store in Japan will offer an umbrella stand by the door. On rainy days, stores will provide long plastic sleeves to wrap wet umbrellas. Hotels will also provide free umbrellas to guests. In the town where I first lived in Japan, the trash system designated a special day each month as “umbrella disposal day.”

In Japan, umbrellas are cheap and abundant. In fact, umbrellas are nearly disposable with costs ranging from free to very very cheap. On days in Japan when I forget my umbrella and get caught in the rain, I buy a $1 umbrella from the 100 yen store. Or if I feel like getting a slightly better quality umbrella, then I might grab a $3 umbrella from a pharmacy. In some cases, people have just given me umbrellas for free. One day, a stranger stopped me on the street and gave me his extra umbrella. I must have looked sad getting all wet in the rain. At the end of my first year living in Japan, I had a collection of over 8 umbrellas.

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5. (Short Distance) Train Tickets

Train tickets are charged by the distance you travel. So you tap your transit card when you board and again when you exit. In Boston, I was used to paying a flat rate regardless of where I was going. Even if I only took the subway two stops, I had to pay the full rate. In Japan, you pay for what you use (which seems fair to me).

Of course this also means that long-distance train tickets can become pretty pricey. But if you are only going a short distance, the ticket is usually quite reasonable.

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6. Green Tea

Green tea is the beverage of choice in Japan. The tea has no sugar and no calories, just the delicious slightly bitter taste of green tea. When I first visited Japan, my host mother offered me water or green tea with dinner. Imagining that she would give me tap water, I said water was fine. For the next month I lived with my host family, I noticed that my host mother always bought a large bottle of water so that I could have water with my meals. Meanwhile the rest of the family drank green tea. Since it was my first trip to Japan, I did not know that green tea is probably the most common drink (maybe more than water). In fact, green tea usually costs about the same as water. In Japan, a large 2 liter bottle of green tea sells for $2-3. Most Japanese homes I have visited keep a bottle in the fridge at all times. Kosuke’s family buys this tea by the case every week. In contrast, American Amazon has the same product listed for $160.

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7. Stuff from Korea

It might sound weird to recommend Japan as a good place to buy cheap Korean stuff. But if you are a fan of Korean food, fashion, and skincare, then you might enjoy Tokyo’s Korea Town in the Shin-Okubo area. The neighborhood boasts cheap, plentiful Korean street food, Korean markets with cooking ingredients, and shops selling popular Korean cosmetic brands. The prices can be slightly better, as Japan is geographically closer to Korea (than to the U.S.) And if you are already in Tokyo, visiting Shin-Okubo is definitely cheaper than going all the way to Korea!

Thanks for stopping by! Liked this post? Want read more? Check out – 5 “Japanese” Things that Are Not Japanese.

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