My $100 sushi dinner

or “Japan is expensive after all”

No doubt you’ve heard that Japan is one of the most expensive countries to live in. Up until recently, Tokyo held the distinction of being the most pricey city in the world. Former JETs warned me that since I’m in what you could call the “greater Tokyo area” my funds would be spent quickly after I earned them. When I came here, I was a bit worried that my hope of paying off my college debt would be impossible due to the supposedly ridiculous price of everything.

However, these cautionary tales of over-price-dom have not been realized by me. My rent is subsidized, but even if it was twice as much, it would be reasonable. My utility bills are all comparable to home, my internet and cellphone are actually cheaper, and my complete lack of interest in Japanese TV has left me without a pricey cable bill. It does cost me $9 round trip to get to the nearest good-sized city, and twice that to get to Tokyo, but having no car pretty much offsets that cost. Food is more expensive, I suppose, but probably because I indulge my Western-ness and get the more costly items like cereal and spaghetti sauce. If I stuck to a more Japanese diet, it would likely be less. Dining out is also not as expensive as I expected. You’re never too far away from a decent noodle shop that will give you a very filling bowl for anywhere between 500-700 yen.

Just when I was thinking Japan was not living up to it’s pricey reputation, I finally encountered what makes Japan so damn expensive. This is a warning to those who are penny-pinchers but also want to be entertained on a regular basis, Japan is not the country for you.

Take my weekend, for example. I started off the day seeing the Japanese-language version of “The Lion King.” The price? 11,500yen, or about (at current rates) $110. Yeah, it’s a popular Broadway show and all, but when I saw it in New York in very similar seats, tickets were $90. Afterwards, we headed to Urawa to a “famous” sushi shop. The first order of business was for everyone to pony-up 10,000yen, or nearly $100. Of course it was delicious, the octopus wasn’t chewy (it’s possible!) and the sushi that’s usually a bit dodgy in cheaper establishment, like squid or sea-urchin, was super tasty. A hundred-bucks tasty? Probably not, but still very tasty.

This all made me realize that entertainment in this country is not cheap. Here are a few of the other outrageously priced items in Japan. (For conversion, $1US varies from 105-115 yen, though right now it’s 103yen to a dollar)

Movie Tickets: The box office price is 1800yen, absolutely cheapest you can get (this is only certain days) is 1000yen. I don’t think I can complain about $9 Friday night tickets anymore.

CDs and DVDs: 2000yen and 3000yen respectively. I don’t know about you, but if I see a DVD for more than $20, I put it away and figure it will be on the bargain bin of Wal-Mart at some point. Which is the other problem in Japan, the price never goes down no matter how old or crappy the CD or movie is, hence $30 Bruce Willis movies.

Video Games: For a Nintendo DS, anywhere between 3000-6000 yen. Again, new games in the US might be that much, but eventually they’ll come down. Meanwhile, crappy random action game based on crappy random anime will be 5000yen, forever!

The upside to all this is that for every store that sells new, over priced CDs, DVDs, and videos games, there’s likely a used store that sells most of these things for much cheaper. Most big stores have some kind of point card so that you can eventually earn a discount on some of these pricey items.

One thing I think Japan definitely has the US beat at is the dollar-stores (or here, the 100円ショップ, hyaku-en shoppu). Dollar stores in the US are usually only good for things like party favors for 7 year olds who don’t mind if their birthday napkins have some knock-off Little Mermaid named ‘Tiny Fish-girl’ or something. But in Japan, the 100yen shops are pretty awesome. Plenty of high-quality, name brand things that are selling across the street at the supermarket for 50% more. They even have Disney stickers, which are my main tool to brib the elementary school kids to like me.

Yes, Japan is unavoidably expensive, but play it right, and you’ll be far from going broke.

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