Photo:steven leckart on Flickr

Cheaper By the Dozen: How Expensive is Japan Compared to Other Countries?

Everyone loves a bargain, as the old saying goes.

It’s true to say that in many publications, Japan often has, and mistakenly in my opinion, been assigned the tag of an “expensive country”.

Across the world, Japan is deemed to be one of the world’s most expensive places both to live and to visit.

It all really depends on one’s perspective though, and the kinds of things that you want to buy.

If you want to stay in an exclusive city centre condo and eat fresh blowfish every night, then of course Japan is extremely expensive. But then again a similar diet of smoked salmon and fine malt whiskies in your European Penthouse would be similarly financially debilitating there.

The truth is, both countries have good and bad points to their pricing systems, and as such, if you know what to buy and more importantly where to buy it, it really isn’t that difficult to find items in Japan that are significantly cheaper in Japan than they are in Europe. Other things can be drastically more expensive. Let’s look at some examples.

1. Cigarettes and Alcohol

drufisher on Flickr

Ok, this is probably an obvious one given the ridiculously high levels of taxation on both of these vices in Europe. Whilst in Japan these perceived “luxury goods” are subject to a consumption tax of 8%, in the UK and Germany, the equivalent VAT (Value-added Tax) currently sits at 22%. In the case of alcohol, this is further complicated in Scotland by the fact that various drinks promotions, such as 2 for 1 sales and bulk buying offers were rendered illegal by legislation designed to curb alcohol related deaths a few years ago.

Japan has a fairer, more progressive tax system, and they also trust their citizens to make responsible choices when it comes to alcohol. So prices remain consistently and alcohol related illness, per head of population, remain drastically lower here than they are back in Scotland.

It just goes to show, the key to combating alcohol and cigarette related issues is education, not price-gouging. Anyway, I digress.

2. TV and Internet

Alan Light on Flickr

Television in Japan is a lot cheaper than it is in Europe.

The most popular cable and satellite TV provider in the UK, Sky TV, charges around 40 pounds per month for their basic movies and sports package. I currently have a similar package with AU Hikari here in Osaka, that only costs me around 6,000 yen per month, including Internet, which at current exchange rates is about 40% less than the cost of Sky TV in the UK. My package with AU also includes high speed broadband internet, with no data limit to speak of.

3. Smartphones

Kārlis Dambrāns on Flickr

Now, this is one area where, unfortunately, Japan currently does lose out. A typical high end smart phone, with a monthly data and call package will set you back about 10,000 yen (70 UK pounds) per month. In France and Italy, costs for data plans can run as low as €20 per month and a similar deal in Scotland would only cost around £30- 40 per month depending on the phone in question and the data allowances.  Either way, it’s clear to see that despite recent government intervention, Japanese people are still paying too much for their mobile phones.

4. Taxes and Pensions

Danny Choo on Flickr

This one really is difficult to quantify exactly. On one hand, consumption tax is much lower in Japan at only 8% than it is compared to the total average for the EU (21%) and in the UK (22%). However, from the Scottish context it should be noted that healthcare is 100% free, as is elementary and university education. Both of these come at a high price in Japan.

Additionally council tax in Scotland, is significantly lower than the municipal tax that one is expected to pay in Japan after having lived in a city for a set period of time.

Overall, on a monthly basis, my deductions here in Japan are around ¥55,000 per month, In Scotland I paid about £400 per month in tax, on a similar salary. So overall, Japan offers slightly better value from a tax point of view, though that is dependent on me not getting sick and having to pay an additional 30% of medical costs. Social insurance in Japan only covers 70% of healthcare costs.

5. Fruits and Vegetables

alice tiara on Flickr

This is a strange one, but it is more an unfortunate result of geography than anything else. Japan imports large amounts of its fruit and vegetables, and the costs of farming such items domestically is also rising year on year. These combined with the fact that Japan is geographically and logistically a lot further away from most of the major fruit and vegetable production hubs of the world, means that, in general fruits and vegetables do tend to be a bit more expensive here.

However, prices vary drastically by season, and provided that you buy them at the right time, summer favourites like strawberries and peaches can actually be significantly cheaper in Japan. Overall, I would also have to remark that the general quality of fruit and vegetables in Japan is far higher than what I found in Scotland when I lived there. But perhaps that’s just because here in Japan, such things aren’t usually deep fried!

Overall, prices do fluctuate a lot from time to time, but I really do feel that Japan gives better value for money overall if you are living here. Yes, there is the odd instance here and there of something that is totally overpriced, but everytime I go back to Scotland, I get the feeling that “everything got so much more expensive since last time. Despite coming and going from Japan a few times down the years, I have never really had that same feeling when I come back here.

Japan is better value for money and provides a better quality of life than Scotland. That is just one of the reasons why I remain proud as ever, to call this great country my home!

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