Big in Japan: The Myth About Money (Part II)

So, two days ago I wrote about the Myth of Money, namely that Japan was surprisingly more affordable than you’d imagine. Needless to say, it’s hard to convince people that Japan is actually a budget-friendly destination, especially since most of us have heard crazy stories of excessive displays of wealth, such as those infamous $500 fruit boxes.

(Truth be told, they do exist – I snapped this photo of perfect melons at a luxury grocery store in Ginza, the most exclusive shopping district in Tokyo).

Of course, unless you have a pressing business engagement, or you’re trying to impress a girl with some serious bling (melons are a girl’s best friend), you shop at the local hundred yen shop (百円屋; hyaku-en-ya) like the rest of us poor working stiffs. The rough equivalent of dollar stores in North America, your local ¥100 shop carries everything from seasonal produce and budget cuts of meat to cleaning products and pet food. They’re found in virtually every neighborhood in Tokyo including Ginza (even rich people love a good bargain), and help lower the price of urban living.

Still not convinced that Japan is affordable? You guys are one tough audience!

Well, the most important thing for foreigners to know about before considering a move to Japan is what is known as a Gaijin House (外人ハウス; gaijin-hausu). Funny thing about that word gaijin – it’s actually a derogatory word used for foreigners (literally it means outsider). Of course, that hasn’t stopped us gaijin from claiming the word for ourselves, and much to the amusement of the Japanese, the word gaijin is tossed around with an air of pride, regardless of how offensive it may be.

Essentially, a gaijin house is a shared house or apartment, similar perhaps to your college dormitory, where internationals (and a few in the know Japanese people) can rent a cheap room by the month. Gaijin houses run the gamut from hundred-year old traditional Japanese buildings with tatami mats and sliding rice-paper doors to institutional concrete prisons with flickering fluorescent lights and sheet rock walls. But, they’re nearly always affordable, great places to socialize and a quintessential part of the Japanese ex-pat experience.

(Next week, I’ll be writing a piece on apartment hunting in Tokyo, which should hopefully illuminate the process of finding a room in the world’s largest megalopolis).

Finally, Japan is affordable in that it arguably has the world’s most efficient and comprehensive public transportation system. To be fair, intercity travel in Japan is very expensive, and you can expect to pay upwards of around $250 for a two-hour roundtrip bullet train between Tokyo and Kyoto. But, it costs no more than $2-3 dollars to cross the whole of Tokyo on the subway, and you’re never more than a few minutes from a station. With that said, making head and tails of the insanely complex train system is something of a rite of passage for new arrivals.

Cheap it may be, but even Japanese get lost in grid sometimes!

Well, after two columns of raving and ranting about the myth of money, I hope that I’ve at least won a few converts out there. However, if you still don’t believe me that Japan is an affordable destination, enjoy your trip to London, and let me know how those $18 Happy Meals taste!