I am Nikhil Bugalia. I come from a middle class family in India and in the present world, it can be very difficult to secure scholarship especially for master’s program. However, Japan is an exception. Although very competitive, chances of securing a scholarship are far better here. I got selected for the MEXT scholarship from the Japanese Embassy in India and decided to choose to come to The University of Tokyo.
Tokyo is known to be one of the densest metropolitan area of the world. I was excited to be living in such a big city and enjoy what this city has to offer however, on the other hand I was also concerned about the expensive lifestyle. I was worried whether the scholarship amount of 1,47,000¥, which seemed quite a lot in Indian Rupee (approx. 85,000), would be sufficient. Here in this blog I will talk about my lifestyle and related expenses in Tokyo. Hope some of you may find it useful.
I live in in Japanese Government (JASSO) sponsored dormitory in Odaiba. My day usually starts with the breakfast I prepare for myself. Then I spend about 1 hour commuting (Yes you read that right, this time is less than the average commuting time by Tokyo standards) to my lab in The University of Tokyo, Hongo Campus. Tokyo has a very well connected network of metro trains and subways, thanks to which a distance of even 30-40 km can be covered in about an hour. I do not own a bicycle/or any personal vehicle and mostly use public transport for commuting.
After doing my experiments or reading a bunch of papers till lunch, I prefer going to one of the cafeterias in the University. Occasionally, I go out with my friends or labmates to one of the many restaurants near Campus, or if I lack time, buy a Bento or Packed Lunch Box, which is quite popular here, from one of the “Konbini” (Convenience stores such as Family Mart, 7 Eleven, Lawsons can be found almost every 100 meters in Tokyo working round the clock). These boxes come in a very wide variety of choices and offer a balanced diet catering to the habits of Japanese People. For dinner, I used to cook at home earlier but now owing to long working hours in the lab, I prefer to go out for the meals or again rely on the classic “Bento”. After dinner, or before it, depending on the where I have my dinner, I spend another hour commuting back home. I may watch an episode of my favourite series or a movie before I call it a day, these days most of it is spent studying for my entrance exam though.
Japanese people tend to find a lot of excuses to party. These parties are mostly long sessions with unlimited food and beverages. And although, attendance is never mandatory, l find myself attending at least one party every month.
Being an ardent traveler, I like to explore new places and take short 3-4 day trips every 3 months or so. Over the weekends, I am hardly home and love to take one day trips from central Tokyo, experience Japanese culture, or go out with friends.
I am not a very tech savvy person and possess the basic electronic gadgets. I carry a pocket Wi-Fi with me as to explore the city it is always good to have Internet connectivity especially to overcome the minor handicap of language barriers. And to watch movies when I am idle at home.
Cost of Living
Based upon my expenses for the past one year, I have categorized the cost of living under the following heads
Rent and Transportation
Living in a dormitory, my rent is 35,000¥/month and utility charges are around 8,000¥/month (I do not fancy using Air-Conditioner a lot and hence, use a table fan instead). As a student, I get to avail the discounted monthly rates for usage of public transportation and I spend 12,000¥/month on commuting to the University. Since, it is a dormitory my room is fully equipped with all the necessary electronic items and furniture and fortunately I did not have to spend anything on them. I spend 5,000¥ for the pocket Wi-Fi which gives me a good connectivity at home. So, in total, I end up spending 60,000¥ for rent, transportation and other basic utility charges per month.
This amount may vary depending upon the location and level of furnishing. For example, apartments near Hongo campus for one person could cost around 50-70k¥/month. Usually utility charges and Internet charges are not included in the rent but living near the campus would save time and cost of transportation. Also, apartments made before 1980 are relatively cheap, however they are prone to damages in case of earthquakes. On average 60-70k¥/month is the average amount a person living alone spends in rent and transportation. Some tips to save money in such cases is sharing apartments with friends or renting an apartment in which someone has died recently, as they are half priced for a year, or living in non-central locations of Tokyo.
Grocery and Food
I prepare my own breakfast and sometimes dinner too. My weekly consumption for grocery items is about 3,000-4,000¥. Typically, for 3,500¥ I can buy 3 ltrs of milk, 1 kg of cereals, 10 eggs, 500 g Yogurt, 350 g of Chicken, 3 bananas, 2 packets of bread, 2 ltrs of Juice and some veggies. These are sufficient for me to support my breakfast for 7 days and at least two dinners.
In Japan, it was very surprising for me to know that there is no concept of a Maximum Retail Price and also prices are not the same everywhere. One can see a large difference in the price of the same grocery item. These prices depends on the store one chooses. Usually all type of supermarket stores with these price ranges are situated in the vicinity, you just have to learn to look. Also, there are discounts offered for the products with shorter shelf lives such as Milk, eggs, Fruits, Meats etc. and there is sale for such products in the late hours, which is not very late considering, the discounts, varying from 10-30%, start from 5 pm in the evening. If you plan efficiently, you can save yourself a huge sum, just by shopping from the correct place and at the correct time.
I personally do not have any specific food restrictions, hence, there are lot of affordable eating out places nearby university or in general Tokyo available for me to try. A typical Japanese lunch/ bento costs around 500-600¥ and dinner costs around 700-800¥. Bento is cheaper than going to a restaurant.
A lot of Indian/Nepalis/Pakistani restaurants also offer filling food for a little extra prices. On average, one meal out costs me around 900¥. These prices are reduced significantly when I cook on my own, as a home cooked meal roughly costs 300¥. Raw ingredients for a typical Indian meal are also readily available in Tokyo. They seem expensive as compared to rates in India but in long term they help save the money. On an average with my eating habits, I spend 40-50k¥ on my food in a month.
Apart from the basic heads above, there are miscellaneous expenses that would occur. These could include your phone bills, Health Insurances, Some shopping for your personal needs. Health Insurance with student discount cost around 13000¥/annum, Contract phones with 5GB of 4G data would cost around 5-6k¥/month and occasional movies in theater at around 1500¥/movie.
In total, with about all the above mentioned expenses, 1,20,000¥/month are sufficient to live a hassle free convenient life. With the MEXT scholarship, I am able to save around 25,000-30,000¥/month. Some scholarships such as ADB or Todai-IIT pay around 1,60,000¥/month and hence, the savings could go a little higher.
Japan is a wonderful country to be in and is very famous for its tourist attractions. Be it the Sunrise of the Mount Fuji, or the exotic “Onsen”, or be it the beautiful autumn leaves of Kyoto or The Snow festival in Hokkaido, there is lot to explore and enjoy. Bullet trains are another major tourist attractions. In the beginning, I felt that with so many basic expenses, I will hardly have any money to travel. But money was the last thing to worry when I started making travel plans. Unfortunately, I cannot make very frequent plans owing to my busy research schedule but I still try to sneak in a small detour every 3-4 months. Typically a 3-4 Days trip costs 40,000¥. This includes flight tickets (Bullet trains are much more expensive than flight tickets), stay in shared accommodations such as Traveler Hostels, fees of local sight-seeing, local commute and buying small souvenirs. Although, this amount could significantly increase if I choose to stay in Hotels, or travel by Bullet Trains and so on.
In general, the monthly scholarship amount is sufficient to lead a comfortable and healthy life in Tokyo. I have permission to work 28 Hours of part-time work in a week. There are a lot of translation Jobs, English teaching jobs available for the foreign students. The opportunities to get part-time job are way higher if you have some Japanese Language proficiency. Even 10,000¥ I earn in occasional part-time jobs gives me an opportunity to lead much more relaxed lifestyle and of course travel more.
So, while you pack your bags to come to Tokyo, rest assured that money will never be an issue. I have given an overview of my expenses to help you plan yours before you come here, the actual spending, however, will depend on your lifestyle and the place that you live. You may actually end up saving much more than I.