Tokyo on $85 a day?
October 10, 2006 8:47 PM   Subscribe

I've been offered a one month gig in Tokyo, Osaka, and Nagoya, with a US$85 per diem. Travel and accomodation are covered - I'm only responsible for food and fun. I know that Japan is expensive, but just HOW expensive is it? How far will this get me?
posted by fingers_of_fire to Travel & Transportation around Tokyo, Japan (31 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Will you have a place to cook? If so that's not so bad.
posted by gottabefunky at 8:57 PM on October 10, 2006

$85/day of disposable income will make Japan awesome for you. If you want even MORE, grab some cheap jeans at the local used-clothing shop (Salvation Army or Goodwill or whatever) in smallish sizes and find used-clothing stores in Japan, and then sell them for substantial markup.
posted by DoctorFedora at 9:01 PM on October 10, 2006 [1 favorite]

Well, when I was there in 96, the place we liked to go for dinner was $25 a head, but sushi and noodles are cheaper and there's always the fast food options (all the US chains are there unfortunately)

Is it $85 a day? You'll probably be fine...but heck, even if you have to live a little tight for a bit, you'll be doing it in JAPAN!! :)

posted by legotech at 9:03 PM on October 10, 2006

Response by poster: I won't have cooking facilities. I reckon I'll be forking over plastic for a couple of nice meals, otherwise I'll need to be as budget concious as possible. At least, that's my plan...
posted by fingers_of_fire at 9:05 PM on October 10, 2006

You can always suppliment your diet with the purchase of a cheap rice cooker and a sack of rice, then you can just throw in some quick prepared food to make complete meals on the cheap.
posted by Pollomacho at 9:10 PM on October 10, 2006

That should be more than enough.
posted by matkline at 9:16 PM on October 10, 2006

$85 should definitely be enough -- you can spend a lot of money on food/drinks depending on where you go (and where the people you are with take you), but it's also easy not to.

I reckon I'll be forking over plastic for a couple of nice meals

A little OT, but be warned that your ATM and credit cards probably won't work in most places (if you are staying in a big western-style hotel it might have a usable ATM though, and tokyo is probably better than other places in this respect). It is normal to have tons of cash on hand there, and pay for everything with cash.
posted by advil at 9:17 PM on October 10, 2006

You have $85 per day PLUS whatever you would have spent on yourself anyway at home. You can live well. If you are trying to do it AND save, that could become problematic.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 9:18 PM on October 10, 2006

Travel and accommodation are the expensive bits. As for meals, if you're into Japanese food, you can eat quite a lot of foods fairly cheaply, say 500 - 1000 yen per meal. Ramen, udon, donburi places like Yoshinoya, and teishoku (set meal including rice, soup, veg and main) places. And conveyor belt sushi, some places are 100 yen per plate (two pieces). If you want to eat western food, it'll be more expensive, but still manageable on $85 per day. Cafes often have western style 'morning sets', they're often a good deal.

As for fun - drinks are generally 500 yen and up. A lot of places, instead of having a cover charge, will bring you complementary snacks and charge for those instead. Look out for nomihoudai - 3000 or 4000 yen, for all you can drink for a couple hours, sometimes with restrictions on the variety of drinks you can order.

$85 is totally doable. I've travelled in Tokyo a couple times as a poor student, and I got by on a lot less than that, and still managed to have a great time.
posted by Sar at 9:20 PM on October 10, 2006

With that much money you'll piss it in.
posted by bunglin jones at 9:27 PM on October 10, 2006

Oh - in case you don't know, that means "you'll have plenty of money to have a good time in Japan".
posted by bunglin jones at 9:28 PM on October 10, 2006

Best answer: I do a conference in Tokyo every year, which entails staying in Shibuya for several weeks and doing a lot of drinking and partying. Depending on how much you eat (remember that japanese portions will seem tiny to you) you should expect to spend about USD $15.00 on lunch and about USD $30.00 on dinner. Breakfast is usually included with your hotel. That may seem a bit expensive, but that's assuming you're usually out at group meals with people who want to eat 'nice' food. If you don't mind eating at a lot of ramen houses, you can probably get by with about USD $5.00 per meal.

Drinks can range from quite pricy to quite cheap. Going to an all-you-can-drink (there's a japanese term for this, that I can't remember right now) is usually pretty cheap if you can pack the booze away (usually it's about USD $20.00 for as much as you can drink for 2 or 3 hours). Beer is usually reasonably priced, a small bottle will run you about USD $3.00, cocktails and mixed drinks are more like USD $5.00 to USD $15.00. Keep in mind that prices can be wildly different from place to place, and that if prices aren't noted on the menu, you need to ask how much it will be before ordering. There are some places where the sky really is the limit on the bar/food bill you can rack up, so be a bit careful.

Taxis are stupidly expensive in Tokyo, and the subways all close at midnight (and then the taxi rates go up), so keep that in mind when out partying. It is definitely worth getting both a JR card and a TokyoMetro card if you spend any time in Tokyo.

Cover for clubs and the like is about the same as anywhere. Expect to pay stupid money for someplace popular, and reasonable money (USD $5 - $20) for someplace normal.

Clothing for the average north american male is almost impossible to find in Tokyo, I imagine it isn't much better anywhere else in Japan. I didn't hear anyone complaining about the insane prices, so I think clothing for women must be about the same as Europe. If you forget stuff, or need to buy more (toothpaste, deodorant, razors, etc) expect it to be about the same price as the states, or maybe slightly more expensive. You probably won't recognize most of the brands though.

This is what we usually give our speakers and instructors, some of it may be useful for you if you decide to go (some of it is pretty obviously specific to our conference).
posted by mock at 9:35 PM on October 10, 2006

15$ / lunch is on the high end, even in Shibuya. You can find numerous "lunch sets" for 500-1000 yen in most places as Sar said. Most restaurants will offer 2 to 4 choices for lunch and full dinner menus.

nomihoudai 飲み放題 = all you can drink

tabehoudai 食べ放題 = all you can eat has great restaurant listings, has cool show listings.

If you let me know what area in Tokyo you will be staying at I can give more specific recommendations.
posted by ejoey at 9:58 PM on October 10, 2006 [1 favorite]

Definitely doable. I spent 2+ months there and while I *did* have a full kitchen, it was often easier to just eat out (cooking for one is sooo boring). There were many days (no alcohol mind) where I got away with less than 1000 yen. Usually that meant a cheap set lunch or noodle/rice bowl at lunch and then the same for dinner. But it's hearty filling food. I tend to just have a slice of bread or yogurt for breakfast which averages quite low obviously, but if you like more, there are a bazillion and one "famiresu" (short for family style restaurant) just like Denny's where you can get an egg breakfast (pretty western-ish) for less than 300 yen, including juice/coffee. And, also remember, there is no tipping. You could easily "save" 45000 yen for either blow-out "fun" nights or just be really cheap and save it. :)

BTW, I wouldn't sweat the train shutdown. I only got caught by it once in my (cumulative) 3 or so months there. If you're out with people (esp if all staying in the same area), you can always move to a bar/restaurant close to your accommodations or frankly, central Tokyo just isn't that big. A taxi ride within the central part will probably run less than 1000 yen (starts at 660). Or you can just walk. Also, if you're out with japanese (who most likely will live a bit outside cetral Tokyo), they'll probably want to leave in time to catch *their* trains too. Or just stay in a capsule hotel or find an all-night cafe. :)

And bars are definitely variable. Certain styles command much higher prices (the "irish" pub, a classy speakeasy style place, etc.) I once split a tab where my half was 6000 yen and all we had was two drinks each and split a small pizza -- and the pizza was only 1000 yen. But that place was hip (must be dressed up, the waiters were in white suits, etc.)

There is also the most awesome type of bar/restaurant -- izakaya. Basically, they are places where you sit around for hours in groups drinking and ordering small-ish plates (usually quite varied). Many are quite cheap and you can get a lot of food and drink for not a whole lot of money (but of course, in a big group it would be easy to lose track and spend a lot. :)
posted by R343L at 10:04 PM on October 10, 2006

Another vote for no problems. It is more expensive, but I'd guess that a big part of that is the extraordinary cost of accommodation, so you shouldn't have to worry.
posted by Paragon at 10:07 PM on October 10, 2006

You should be fine. Worst case scenario, eat a lot of pre-fab dishes from convenience stores and you'll easily spend no more than $10USD for a decent-sized meal. You will likely also be treated to lunches/dinners by business associates often, if your stay is a short one.

DoctorFedora, dude, he asked about Japan not 1980s Soviet Russia. :P
posted by nightchrome at 10:21 PM on October 10, 2006

A little OT, but be warned that your ATM and credit cards probably won't work in most places

Japan doesn't have visa/mastercard? I find that hard to belive.
posted by oxford blue at 10:45 PM on October 10, 2006

They do, but cards from other countries only work in 'International' ATMs (usually you have to hunt them down). The Japanese Visa network is not connected to the rest of the world, or something like that.
posted by Paragon at 11:06 PM on October 10, 2006

I spent well over half my time in Japan over a 2-3 year period. As many others have said $85 / day can easily cover eating well. Eating in Japan is only expensive if you can't be bothered having some fun or are scared to try new things. I had many great lunches and dinners that seldom cost more than 1500 Yen.

Also on the ATM / Cash Machine front. Citibank ATM's were the only reliably accessible machines for getting cash out of the cirrus or other international networks at the time (1999-2002). Some Japanese banks had ATM's hooked up to those networks but the interfaces were only in Japanese.

JCB and Diners Club are widely accepted. MC, VISA and Amex generally so, but don't be surprised if they aren't.
posted by michswiss at 11:39 PM on October 10, 2006

Foreign ATM cards work fine at Postal Service ATMs. You can find them at pretty much any post office (not sure about out in the sticks, but I doubt that'll be an issue). They're commonly found in train stations, too. I had a Citibank account when I lived in Tokyo, but mostly used the Postal Service ATMs, as they were more conveniently located.

Foreign credit cards will work in certain big-name stores and in tourist trap gift shops, but at a lot of places, credit cards aren't accepted PERIOD. Japan is still a cash-based society. That's why it's important to know where usable ATMs are located. Also, be aware that many ATMs only function during banking hours. If you're planning a night out on the town, you'll need to make your withdrawal earlier in the day.

As for getting by on $85... perfectly reasonable. You have to live like a normal person, though. I once worked at a similar per diem rate in suburban Tokyo (with accommodation paid), and managed to save $3000 USD in about two months. I had an apartment with a kitchen, however. That, and I didn't do much partying.

When it comes to day to day needs, Japan is really no more expensive than the United States.
posted by jal0021 at 12:49 AM on October 11, 2006

Post Office ATMs take most international credit cards. They also have a English option. But, like most ATMs here, the opening hours are restricted. Most people withdraw a large chunk of money occasionally, and use cash for everything. Which does mean carrying around large amounts of cash, but the crime rate is so low that it's pretty safe to do so.
posted by Sar at 12:54 AM on October 11, 2006

Check out this AskMe thread about living and travelling in Japan as a student. It's full of cost-saving tips, where to find cheap eats, etc.

Save on the little things and you can splurge later on ;-)
posted by armage at 5:03 AM on October 11, 2006

I lived in Japan for quite a while (Tokyo). If your rent/travel expenses are covered, 85$ a day will do perfectly. It is more than enough. You'll have a great time, be able to eat at nice places, enjoy a lot of the local shopping, and also be able to travel to the outlying areas.

Have fun!
posted by dead_ at 6:40 AM on October 11, 2006

Also, what jal0021 said is dead on.
posted by dead_ at 6:41 AM on October 11, 2006

I'll join the crowd and say that you can eat quite well for $85/day. You'll probably want to splash out a few times during that time, but you won't do it every day—if on one day you have a few nigiri for lunch and have dinner at a ramen shop, the next day you'll have about $75 of your per-diem left over.

Going to bars can be very expensive, as many have exhorbitant cover charges (apparently) meant to make you feel trapped there for the night.

I've had stores refuse to accept my American credit card—I was unclear on the reason, but I think it had to do with a very slow transaction-clearing process (so it wasn't a matter of "we can't accept this" rather "we don't want the hassle"). Things may have changed.
posted by adamrice at 6:56 AM on October 11, 2006

I'll nth that you'll be fine. I was there for a week several years ago and was amazed at how little I spent. Granted, I was with locals who took us to places that were for locals and I was paying prices that I would have paid at home. Your hotel might have a $200 Kobe beef dinner smackdown, but the little noodle shop around the corner will be very reasonable.

As long as you mostly stay away from tourist traps, you will have plenty of extra money in your per diem to have fun.
posted by mmascolino at 8:47 AM on October 11, 2006

Don't forget to have sushi at a kaiten (conveyer belt) place. They can be ridiculously cheap by US standards, but you're better off avoiding the rock-bottom places (which advertise ¥100/dish). Plenty of other choices available. My favorite (Daidokoya) is up the hill from Shibuya station.
posted by Rash at 9:18 AM on October 11, 2006

Because you can't buy groceries, dinner out, or nearly anything else with plastic, it's completely normal to carry huge amounts of cash around with you. When I lived in Japan as a cheapskate 23yr old I routinely carried $300+ in my wallet. This is the same country where some businessmen who miss the last train feel safe falling asleep on the train platform with an umbrella opened over their heads for privacy. Seriously.

In the city I lived in (which was nowhere nearly as cosmopolitan as Tokyo!), my bank closed at 6 p.m. and wasn't particularly close to where I lived. The only other place to get money [from my Japanese bank account, not my American account] was at the 7-11, which for some reason was the only convenience store that had non-bank-specific ATMs. Obviously in larger cities getting money will be easier, but don't make the mistake of assuming it'll be anything like the ATM/credit situation in the states or Europe. Also, in regard to withdrawing money from your American bank account from postal savings ATMs, keep in mind that there'll be fees on both ends, usually around $5 per transaction.
posted by soviet sleepover at 10:00 AM on October 11, 2006 [1 favorite]

I went to Japan just over a month ago. Before I went, I repeatedly heard about how Japan was so much more expensive than the US. I don't know where those people were going. Everything was as cheap or cheaper than what I'm used to. Most meals were less than 1,000 yen per person, and there's no tax or tip. So, $85/day is a hell of a lot.
posted by kingjoeshmoe at 11:07 AM on October 11, 2006

Also, one more thing about the ATMs: as others have said, they are often closed during non-bank hours, and that includes Japanese holidays. At one point a friend of mine mentioned that he would need to withdraw some cash the next morning for the train ride back to Tokyo. He didn't make it back until the day after, because the next day happened to be a holiday, and he couldn't find an ATM that worked. It's especially important to plan ahead if you will be there during the big holidays: Golden Week (the week and two weekends surrounding April 29th-May 5) and New Year's (Jan 1-3, but closures and crowds may get annoying as early as Dec 28).

I don't carry much cash in the US, but I would recommend cash over credit in Japan. Also, keep 2000 yen folded up in the back of your wallet for emergencies (missed your train and need to get a cab or hotel, can't get cash and need to eat, etc). Chances are you won't need it, but nothing ruins an evening like realizing that it's 12:10 and you spent all your money at the game center.
posted by vorfeed at 1:19 PM on October 11, 2006

If you are used to London, you'll find some/most things to be cheaper here. Especially eating out, entertainment or alcohol. If you are used to smaller towns then it'll seem expensive. The quality is superb, and attention to detail very high.
posted by lundman at 6:02 PM on October 11, 2006

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