Living and working in Japan

in Career

It’s famously expensive to live in Japan. Tokyo has some of the most expensive real estate in the world, and it can cost more than more people’s monthly salary to rent a room the size of a closet. Luckily for English teachers in Japan, there are a few tricks to take a decent salary and make it stretch.

Paychecks and Deductions

First of all, how much can an English teacher expect to make in Japan? It depends on a lot of factors such as location, the English teacher’s qualifications, and the type of institution. However, it’s reasonable to expect a monthly salary of around 250,000 to 300,000 Japanese Yen (JPY). This is equivalent to about 2500 USD to 3000 USD per month.

In Japan, however, there will be a large number of deductions on the gross paycheck. These deductions include taxes and insurance. Though insurance is heavily subsidized by the employer, especially health insurance, it’s still a sizable chunk. Some schools will also help the teacher find accommodations and deduct the rent from the paycheck (as a simplification). After rent and deductions, half the paycheck or more can already be spent. This can make it difficult to save, especially with the high cost of other things in Japan.  Here are a few tricks to get the most out of each paycheck.

Commute

City centers all over Japan are ridiculously expensive, and Tokyo is a whole new world of expensive. Luckily for you, the problem also affects locals.  To combat this, many schools have reimbursement programs to pay for the teachers’ commuting costs.  This means that the suburbs open up as potential places to live, especially since public transportation is very good throughout Japan. Crowded, but good.

As a benchmark, a one bedroom apartment in a city center will cost around 100,000 JPY, almost half an average teacher’s salary right there. In a suburb of that same city, a one-bedroom apartment goes for between 50,000 and 55,000 JPY.

Live with Roommates

For many English teachers in Japan, it feels like an extension of college. It’s a fun, exciting experience with minimal responsibility. It’s also perfectly acceptable to continue with the college experience by finding some roommate. Your school may connect you with other expats to live with, or if you want to learn Japanese, there’s no better way than living with a few locals.

This is also a great way to share on utilities, which are also quite expensive in Japan.

What to Eat

Unlike much of the rest of Asia, eating out is generally quite expensive in Japan. There are still budget options for anyone who enjoys the local fare, or who really doesn’t want to cook. Some of the cheapest options will be noodles (ramen, udon, and soba), doburi (rice bowls with braised meat and vegetables), and curry rice. These are easiest to find where people are looking for a meal in a hurry such as business centers and train stations. Western fast food chains are also common, and similarly priced all over the world, though they may serve some unusual concoctions suited to local tastes (“Octopus and mayonnaise pizza, anyone?”)
It’s much less expensive to cook for oneself in Japan. So long as you buy local foods at the supermarket, it will be a fraction of the cost of going to a restaurant. Seasonal vegetables are often the best deal, and it’s usually pretty easy to get fish or soy products (tofu) for a good deal. As an extra tip, a visit to the supermarket just before closing time could land huge discounts on perishable foods that can be cooked the next day.

Transportation

As a teacher, you will almost certainly be using public transportation. If tempted to buy a car, don’t do it unless you live in a rural area and there’s no other way to get around. Taxes, inspections, and insurance are very expensive, and so is parking.

Instead, it’s possible to get a monthly transportation pass. This covers unlimited trips every month, and it’s likely to get subsidized by your school to make it even cheaper.

Telecommunications

A cell phone is probably high on the priority list. Telecom prices tend to be pretty high in Japan, though: 70 JPY a minute for a prepaid plan. If you’re planning to stay at least a year, it’s a good idea to get a contract that better suits your usage. Even if you make a deposit (and lose it), you’re likely to come out on top financially.

Internet is reasonably priced, though, at around 4000 JPY for a decent, unlimited data ADSL connection. With the internet, it will be easier to stay in touch with home via internet calling services instead of relying on ludicrously expensive international rates.
The Last Tip… 100 Yen Stores!

For any and all of one’s everyday needs, there are the 100-yen stores. Everything in these is 105 JPY (taxes included).  They are great places to get basic household objects, stationary (like pens for marking), and those small, simple items that make life a little smoother. These stores won’t offer much in the way of quality, but they will definitely serve their purpose.

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Philip L Simon has 1 articles online

If you're interested in teaching in China then you should review the teaching jobs at TeacherGig. You can also go directly to their English jobs in Japan.

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Living and working in Japan

This article was published on 2013/07/09