I get it, it is hard to think about saving up money when you are still daydreaming about the fresh sushi you are gonna taste in Tokyo, the road trip to the beautiful beach of Shizuoka, the journey to explore the iconic, serene and gold-coloured temples of Kyoto or simply just walking down Harajuku street and let yourself drown in the centre of Japan’s most extreme teenage cultures and fashion styles.
To some people, Japan could be a very expensive place. Your 50,000¥ will probably disappear after an hour walking through the Tokyo shopping centre.
Okay, I get it too. You want to experience your study abroad year(s) to the fullest. What can you do to not be broke after the first 3 months?
Don’t worry, I got chu.
You just need to know a little bit of tricks to living cheaply and you will be fine. After all, how expensive Japan is really depends on how and what you choose to spend your money on.
Let me share with you some affordable ways to study abroad in Japan
1. Open a bank account
This was the first thing I did after arriving and my future self could not thank me enough for that.
If you plan to study in Japan for longer than 6 months, you NEED a bank account. Also, to save money, having a bank account is essential
What is it for? Well, if you plan to have a part-time job, having a Japanese bank account is always required. It is extremely convenient, and it’s not even hard anyway.
If you have a scholarship or you want to apply for one soon in the future, which you should, high chance your school will help you open one.
Either way, you should have a bank account and don’t worry, it is not hard at all.
2. Buy a bicycle
Another way to save money using the train is to buy a bicycle. I can’t stretch enough how useful and convenient it is to have a bicycle in Japan.
Because transportation in Japan is very expensive, you might want to avoid that and start moving them hips. Besides, if you live in not-a-really-big-prefecture, shops and restaurants might be pretty far away from each other. And you will save lots of time and money walking around or using the train.
Besides, bicycle road trips are extremely fun and refreshing because Japan’s scenery and nature are honestly the best. I believe bike road trip in the countryside of Japan can cure depression!!! Not even gonna exaggerate anything.
You can buy it from a shop but I recommend buying from Amazon because there are more options and you don’t have to fill in forms after forms in Japanese.
3. Hunt for cheap supermarkets and shops
Everything in Japan is about convenience, and you might see Japanese convenience stores everywhere.
BUT, this is one thing no one told you about:
If you buy stuff in a convenience store (kombini), you are paying for the products plus the convenience.
So, I always go to the nearest supermarkets to save money. You will have lots more choices and lower prices.
Here are some cheap supermarkets that I found:
- OK supermarket: they have regular 50% discounts plus the averagely cheaper products.
- Donki or Don Quixote: this is not really a supermarket but it has everything you need. It’s also cheap to do some simply grocery shopping here. Plus they always have discounts
- Costo: it is not only cheap but it also has lots of American or foreign products
- Gyomu Supaa: I discovered this one from a friend who always waits after 6pm to do grocery shopping because there are sooooo many discounts in Gyomu after rush hours.
Another tip is to go to the supermarkets closer to the closing hour. There will be lots of products with 50% off stickers.
About shops for furniture or pretty much anything else:
- 100¥ shop is the f*cking star. Period. You can find lots of things here and they only cost 100¥ each from kitchen utensils to bathroom stuff, skin care, face mask, room decorations, … you name it!
- Daiso is the same as 100¥ shop but bigger and there are bigger or better things with 200¥ or 500¥. Most of the time, they are worth your money
- Hard-off, off-house, book-off,…: These are the second-hand chain stores. Each store has its own expertise.
This brings me to the next tip:
4. Sell your gently used clothes and furniture
The Hard-off store chain that I mention above is the recycle chain where they buy old things from people to sell to other people.
So, if you have clothes, furniture or even toys and anime merchandise that you don’t need anymore, sell them to Hard-off instead of throwing them away. That will save you lots of money.
This trick helps especially when you are moving.
5. Cook at home
Ok I feel like too many people have talked about this and this is the most basic, yet important way to save money anywhere, not only Japan. So you know the deal.
Also, eating out in Japan might not be too expensive if you choose cheap restaurant chains like Sukiya or Yoshinoya. I sometimes go out to eat sushi in Kaitenzushi restaurants which are cheaper sushi restaurants and they offer 100 ¥ per sushi plate.
6. Make the most out of Japanese credit/prepaid cards
Applying for a Japanese credit card is hard, but they have a lot of discount or reward programs. The one I know that has given quite a lot of benefits is Rakuten card.
You might get rejected for different reasons, though. That is why I recommend saving yourself a headache by using LINE Prepaid card which is in the form of a JCB card.
You can apply for one from LINE app, it literally takes 5 minutes and the card will be delivered to you within a week. 2% of what you spend will be returned and you can use that at every store within Japan.
There are also many other paying methods that give you several discounts like LINE Pay, or Rakuten Pay or Paypay which you don’t need to apply and wait for an actual card. So yes, have a look at these cards, it’s a great way to save money!!
One thing though, I really don’t like the LINE app because you have to have a phone number (you can sign up an account with your Facebook account though, but you still need a phone number to order the card). And it’s really hard to have a phone number in Japan, especially if you are under 20 years old. You will have to fill in so many forms. But if you will live in Japan for long, it is worth all the troubles to order a sim card and a credit/debit/prepaid card.
7. Seishun 18 pass
Okay now let’s talk travel.
Let me introduce you to the one ticket I use to travel throughout Japan with peace. If you have time and want to save money from spending on transportation, this ticket is for you.
Seishun 18 is a limited-time offer which allows you to ride local or rapid JR trains from the north Hokkaido to Kyushu in the south. Remember, only local or rapid trains, so this ticket is only suitable if you have some time and want to enjoy Japanese scenery on the way.
This ticket is only available in three specific periods (note that the dates vary in different year):
- Spring break: March – April
- Summer: July – September
- Winter: December – January
How it works
The price for this ticket is 12,050¥ for 5 days worth of travel. You can either use it alone or share with up to 5 friends. If 5 people use this ticket, they have to share the same itinerary and can only use it for 1 day.
Note: You can only use local or rapid JR trains, not the express or Shinkansen
8. Join Facebook groups or communities to buy cheap and learn hacks
Wherever we go, we need communities to help us adapt to the new environment, whether it’s a school club or a Facebook group of people with the same nationalities living in Japan.
People will share life hacks in that specific region that you are living whether it’s the cheap and tasty restaurant or when the supermarket has the biggest sales. I find those things extremely useful.
Besides, you can make more friends who come from the same country but have been living in Japan longer, who know a cool place to go on a weekend or know where to rent a car….
It is just really important to find your community and get help when you need. Also, people may buy and sell things and you can find some products you need with a good deal.
Who knows maybe you can find some job offers there as well!
9. Find a part-time job
Now that you have known a bit more about the area and can go to the supermarket without getting lost. It’s time to settle down and start earning some pocket money and get a deeper understanding of Japanese people and culture at the same time!
Now you have to go to your City Hall and apply for a working permit. This will only take you 20 minutes waiting.
Foreign students can legally work in Japan up to 28 hours a week and 40 hours a week during summer or winter break. There are sooooo many options for you because Japan is always hiring.
If you already know some basic Japanese, you can start with a simple job like working in a kombini. The salary will be either minimum or just above minimum wage depending on your shift but Japanese minimum wage is quite high, so don’t worry.
I did not speak any Japanese at all when I first arrived, so I started working in an ice cream factory. This job did not require much Japanese but it will force you to learn some simple and daily phrases.
My salary was 900¥ per hour with up 25% after 10pm, so yes it is a tough job but it pays well too.
After a while maybe when you are more used to the working environment in Japan, you can apply to a better paid job which requires more Japanese.
After all, having a part-time job would not only give you some stable pocket money but also teaches you a lot about the interaction among Japanese people, the working environment and most importantly your Japanese will improve dramatically. So yes, win win
10. Move-out from your dormitory
This is only a bonus if your dormitory is more expensive than average rent in your area. It is to save money from spending on accommodation.
Depending on where you live, rent fees would vary. But to me, I live in Yamanashi which is a bit countryside, so I could find a nice apartment with 18,000¥ per month while my dormitory rent was 35,000¥ with 12,000¥ utility fees.
You can always find cheap accommodation if you look hard enough. However, if your dormitory is quite cheap and nice, just stay where you are.
I found my apartment through this website https://www.athome.co.jp/. You will have to do a little digging and calling agencies, which is really a pain in the ass. But I found a perfect one at the end of the day, so you can too.
That’s it, everything I wish I knew about how to save money when I first moved into my new University in Japan. I hope you have a great time exploring Japan. Good luck with your study and abroad life. I hope this blog helps you somehow.
I’m excited to hear about your experience! Let me know in the comment.