Rent a house, not an apartment – a cost comparison


Posted by jamie | Posted in -Featured-, Family Life | Posted on 31-03-2009

tinyapartmentApartments in Japan are ridiculously tiny and astronomically expensive. If you can afford to spare an extra 20,000 or 30,000 yen a month I really recommend you look into renting a house when your lease is next up. Initial moving-in costs like key money and deposit are similar to an apartment. If you can get a friend to move in with you you’ll find the cost per person is actually less per month than you were paying for a rat-cage apartment, only you get a whole lot more space – and if you’d rather live alone you’ll be paying only a little more for a lot more space.

The house may be a little older than a similar priced apartment, but a home is what you make of it. You may also find you have free parking with a house, so it’s definitely a cheaper option if you’re currently paying for a separate parking space like I have in the past. You’re unlikely to find a house in the central city area if that’s a big point for you; but you’ll also find life a few kilometres out of the centre is a lot more peaceful and relaxed.

Cost Comparison:

Here’s a breakdown of the situation for my current house and previous apartment to give you a ballpark idea.

Location - central Kyoto, 5 minutes from Hankyu Omiya station
Rent: ¥ 50,000 / month + ¥5,000 parking fee for motorbike
Deposit + key money: ¥ 150,000
Size: 8 mat main room, tiny kitchen/genkan area, low ceiling bed sized loft space for sleeping, small veranda.
Notes: annoying landlord lives next door; wall to next apartment very thin

My Current House:
Location – North Eastern Kyoto, 5 minutes from Demachiyanagi Keihan station. Next to Kamogawa river.
Rent: ¥ 65,000 / month
Deposit and key money: ¥ 200,000
Size: 10 mat bedroom, 8 mat bedroom, 10 mat living room, 8 mat kitchen, 8 mat low-ceiling loft for storage, separate bathroom and toilet, 3 verandas, parking space for one car (or many motorbikes!)

I’m currently living with my girlfriend who is still a university student, so the house is big enough for the both of us and I’m able to pay all the rent myself to save her some money towards tuition. We also currently have someone renting one room for a nominal amount of rent, and it doesn’t feel cramped at all. As for getting into the very centre of town, it only takes about 5 minutes longer than when I lived in the apartment due to Japan’s awesome public transport – and truth be told, there’s a lot more to do out of town than in!

Do you rent or own a house in Japan? Let me know in the comments about how much it cost you and much cooler it than the apartment you were crammed into when you first came to Japan! If your still living in an apartment, what’s holding you back? Is it big enough for you?

100 yen shops and the concept of value


Posted by jamie | Posted in Shopping | Posted on 25-03-2009

value : relative worth, merit, or importance

In the world of 100 yen stores around every corner, it’s important that we take a moment to reiterate the meaning of value and to not be fooled into thinking cheaper is better. When I first came to Japan, I believed that 100 yen stores were quite possibly the greatest thing since sliced bread the iPod. How wrong I was. Now, I only purchase items of value.

The hook:

100 yen stores sell a few key items significantly cheaper than regular stores, and they lose money on them. These are designed to hook you in. Then they sell you lots of other items that are both lower in quantity and of a lower quality, and make their profit by selling you lots of them. You go in for a hook (literally), and come out with stationery, plastic bathroom and kitchen trays of all assorted sizes and random snacks. You just got mugged, mate.

Plastic fantastic:

Most 100 yen shop items are plastic, and are designed to be replaced in less than a few months. The amount of plastic trash in landfill sites and incernerators because of cheap and poor quality throw-away goods sold in these stores is simply overwhelming. Plastic also degrades faster than other materials so pretty soon it’ll be looking horrid – but who cares, you can just buy another one right?

If you didn’t know, I also help out with a removals service for foreigners leaving Japan – so I have first hand experience of what gets trashed first. The simple fact is that when it comes to selling stuff when you leave Japan, or even giving it away, no one will take the cheap used plastic stuff because they can just as easily buy their own for the same amount of effort. Real quality items though – those with value – can always be given away or sold easily.

Pay more, but get a greater value:

Having moved house at the weekend, we forgot to bring the little triangle thing you put in the sink to catch food scraps (what is that called?!) and our first thought was the 100 yen shop. However, I made the concious decision to instead buy a nice quality aluminium one from our local NIKKU hobby shop instead, for about 600 yen – 6 times as much as a horrible plastic one from the 100 yen shop! Why did I do this when the obvious frugal choice would have the 100 yen shop? Because it will last longer and will no doubt travel with us next time we move, it looks a lot nicer and matches the shiny new kitchen sink, and when it does eventually outlive it’s lifespan it will be easily recycled as scrap metal. Being frugal doesn’t mean purchasing cheap – it means purchasing value. I wish I had some actual statistic on how much chemicals I just saved from being released into the air when those cheapy plastic things are incinerated, but I don’t.

Please, please, think twice before you make your next 100 yen shop purchase. Is the item really something of value? Will it last more than a few months? Is it just an impulse buy? Does it seem too good to be true?

Get some wheels (part 1): K-Cars


Posted by Daniel | Posted in -Featured-, Family Life, Trash | Posted on 13-03-2009

This is the first post from our new author Leon. Leon is a web developer and is raising a family in Japan, so he knows all too well the importance of frugality. Be sure to leave and comment, and if you’d like to hear more from Leon and I, then subscribe to the feed!

Being frugal about your transport in Japan takes a little knowledge. I prefer a motorbike for everyday use, but I also have a car for the family and transporting stuff around.

While you can pick up a late model car for a fraction of what it would cost you back home, you need to be aware of the fees structure here. A 5-door regular sedan will cost you upwards of ¥100,000 a year for registration, taxes and jibaiseki (mandatory 3rd party insurance).

A “k-car” or keijidousha on the other hand – which is any car with about 660cc of grunt – will only set you back a few man per year for the same.

It is usually easier to find a good price on a futsusha, regular sedan or bigger car. But when you factor in the increase in fuel, fees and parts costs, the total cost of ownership of a k-car will be significantly lower.


K-cars also get a discount when you use highways or toll roads. A ¥700 toll, for example would usually be ¥500 yen in a k-car (or 250cc motorbike!). Keep in mind though that k-cars are only allowed to carry 4 people at a time, including the driver for a combined weight of I think 200 – 350kgs.

When buying a car, I strongly encourage budding frugalistas to pay the extra for nihoken or 2nd level insurance. This is similar to fully comprehensive cover back home and there are various plans available. Why spend the extra money? The mandatory jibaiseki, which is illegal to drive without, only covers you up to ¥1,000,000. The minimum cost of damages just for hitting a jidouhanbaiki (a vending machine) is ¥5,000,000! You can imagine how many more lifetimes worth of pay-checks you will be paying if you injure a real person!

As with all frugal things and life in general: failing to plan is planning to fail.

Stay tuned for a follow up on 2-wheeled frugalistic fun!

(Re)Discovering Boardgames


Posted by jamie | Posted in -Featured- | Posted on 05-03-2009

Since coming to Japan a good friend introduced me to boardgames, more specifically to what is commonly known as designer boardgames, or eurogames – called such because they generally come from Europe and the game designers name is strongly associated with the game to extent of being printed boldly on the box. These boardgames are nothing like your typical chance-based family games such as Monopoly and Game of Life, where the outcome is decided almost 90% on the roll of dice; instead they are mostly strategy-based, and for that reason they tend to have a lot more depth and whole lot more replayability. They generally aren’t suitable for children due to the sometimes complex rule systems, but adults will get a lot more from these kinds of games. You can also get better at these games the more you play them, developing your strategies. These are games that will make you think!

How are Eurogames frugal?

Though Eurogames games are generally expensive (most are around 5,000~10,000円) you will find yourself playing them for a lifetime. They are an entertainment investment, and will reward you many times over compared to other forms of entertainment. Instead of going out for a night on the town and hitting up the local gaijin bar for an evening of complaining about the JET programme and your JTEs non-existant English ability, get some friends round and host a game night! You get all the benefits of going out (drink, socialising, and complaining if you really want) but it’s a whole lot cheaper and more rewarding in the long-run.

Anyway, let me introduce you to my top 3 eurogames…


I strongly suggest Catan if you’ve never played a Eurogame before. It was the first game I ever played and has very simple rules. It has a good balance of chance and skill too, so it’s a great game for both new players and seasoned veterans. It is the most requested game at my house, and it’s great if you have a mix of English and Japanese speakers as there’s very little language-dependency on the cards etc. The basic version of the game is for 3-4 players.

Basic gameplay consists of collecting resources according to where you have placed your towns, then using those resources wisely to expand or upgrade your empire. The hexagonal board tiles are randomized each time you play, and the numbers on top of those tiles (also random) indicate when you can receive that particular resource. Each turn, a pair of dice are rolled – the sum of which shows which squares produce a resource that turn; any town built around the resource receives one of that resource type. The win condition is having a certain number of points; points are obtained by building towns, cities (upgraded towns) and the longest road. It’s a very simple game mechanic and there are numerous different strategies for winning. Trading between players is also a big aspect to the game.

Right now you can it looks at though you can buy the American version through Amazon Japan (though strangely the Japanese version has sold out) for 5,600円. I would suggest the American version anyway though, as there are expansion packs available for Catan that you might want to get at a later point which aren’t compatible with the Japanese version due to different tile sizes etc.


Carcassonne is a little more complicated and probably something I would introduce to people after they’ve tried Catan. Gameplay consists of drawing a tile from the deck and connecting it to one already placed; the only chance element comes in with this drawing of a tile – there are no dice. Once you’ve placed your tile – be it a piece of road, a piece of castle, or a church – you then have the opportunity to “claim” that item by placing one of little men on it (technically they are called “meeples”, though I couldn’t tell you why). Finishing your road or castle will get you some points, and the player with the most points wins the end of the game. There’s no language-specific requirements at all (everything is graphical) so this is also a great game for mixed language sessions, assuming you can explain the game or print out the instructions in your language.

Also available through Amazon Japan.



Up to 5 players, Agricola is a recent acquisition for me and quickly becoming one of my favourites. It is however pretty language intensive and I really recommend getting the English version either from Yahoo auctions or importing it from America. You will also need a large table to play on as there’s quite a lot of bits to this game, and a lot of time (the rules estimate about 30 minutes per player – assuming they know the basics).

The concept of the game is to build a farm during the harsh times of the middle ages. You score points for having a well built, productive and varied farm – with bonus points for card-based house improvements like an oven etc. Each round you choose one action per family member from a limited action choice. At the start of the game, you’re only real choices are which resources to gather – but every round a new action is revealed that you can choose. At a certain point, and assuming you have built enough rooms in your house, you are given the option of having children. Growing your family which means you get more actions each round, but come harvest time you have more mouths to feed. Again, the game outcome is based almost entirely on your choices – the only chance enters the game with the improvement and job cards you are dealt at the start (although these can be very powerful sometimes).

It’s also a great value game as there are 3 different decks of cards that are included (a total of 350!) of increasing complexity – so when you feel you’ve outgrown the easy deck and your players are experienced enough, you switch over to the “interactive” deck, the cards of which appropriatly deal bonuses to interactions of players and combinations of cards in play rather than basic improved resource gathering or simple bonuses.

If you fancy playing some of these games and you live in Kyoto city, drop me a line and we’ll try and get something organized. I have a small gaming group, but the pressures of work, studies, family and research projects mean we are always down a few players.