Japan is expensive, say many. Here on Odigo, you will find many tips and articles on how to travel and shop cheap. But in this article, we will talk about five things you might find surprisingly expensive in Japan. Prices for different things around the world vary widely, and if you happen to come from Norway, for example, where the prices are skewed, you will find that everything in Japan is pretty darn cheap. But for the rest of us, here goes:
Woe to you if you're a fruitarian visiting Japan. Forget the ornamental novelties like square or heart-shaped watermelons or super sweet Ruby Roman grapes the size of ping pong balls (a bunch was reportedly bought on auction for a whopping ¥500,000!). Even the regular supermarket offerings are far from affordable. The cheapest fruit you could probably get is a bunch of 3-4 relatively small bananas from the Philippines, which on sale days at our local supermarket, go for ¥100 with tax (regular price is from ¥150-¥198) Apples are sold by piece and cost between ¥198-¥250. In general, you will only see the most perfect, pristine, and presentable fruits on display, thus the price. But compared to imported fruits, locally grown fruits seem to be much more expensive. Why? Japanese fruit growers take extraordinary measures to cultivate their world class fruits. A lot of labor-intensive efforts are made to ensure optimum conditions for growing. Excess fruits are stripped away, leaving few of the best to thrive on one vine or branch. This means that each fruit you purchase is the very best. If you'd like to add more fruit to your diet but don't want to break the bank and are not too particular about having them perfect, check out the time service section of the supermarket. You might find fruit a little past their peak at half the price.
2. Movie tickets
After you view the trailer of an upcoming flick, you find yourself in the mood to catch it on the big screen. If you are from North America, you can get tickets for an average price of $8.84 per ticket (data from the National Association of Theater Owners for the first quarter of 2017). And if you are from some other countries, you probably do so for cheaper. Going to the cinema is considered something of a luxury in Japan where general admission tickets are about ¥1,800 (or $16.26 at the current exchange rate). Not only are tickets expensive. The movies are also "old". If you are visiting Japan on a short trip, chances are, the movies being screened have already been released months before in your home country. Japan has one of the slowest movie release dates in the world, partly due to subtitling and dubbing work but the delay is also due to marketing and promotional tactics to ensure optimal income generation. Some movies are meant to be experienced on the big screen and if this is something you'd really like to do in Japan, check the theater you intend to go to for discount days. Toho Cinemas, for example, has Ladies' Service Day every Wednesday and tickets are ¥1,100 for women. Tickets are also discounted to ¥1,100 on the first and the 14th day of the month for everyone. Still a bit pricey, but the discount is considerable. If you are not committed to watching a movie on the big screen and if you don't mind waiting a bit longer, renting a DVD at a video rental place would prove to be many times more economical.
3. Domestic travel and hotel accommodation
You get to Japan and you think: this is it! This is your chance to travel around Japan cheap. You plan to visit multiple cities across the country. As you search for cheap train tickets and domestic flights, you will soon realize that domestic travel costs as much or even more than international travel. For instance, a round trip ticket from Tokyo to Seoul which includes a 2 night hotel accommodation costs as much as a round trip ticket from Tokyo to Osaka, no hotel accommodation at that. Domestic air travel is dominated by Japan Airlines (JAL) group and All Nippon Airways (ANA) group, thus the high cost. Recently however, competition from budget airlines have led to a drop in domestic airfares. If you can forego the superb customer service provided by JAL and ANA, looking into the discount offers of budget airlines is your best bet to traveling cheap to other cities. You will probably find deals that cost less than shinkansen or bullet train tickets. Like any other city in the world, the cost of accommodations can range from budget (¥2,000 a night) to luxurious (¥75,000 a night). Japan's accommodations are expensive in the sense that you get much less space for the same price. So if you're used to squeezing more people into a room than indicated, most likely you won't be able to do this in a Japanese hotel room.
4. Dairy products
One of the things we have to buy almost every day is fresh milk. We use it for our coffee, pour it over our granola and cereal, and use it for cooking (hello bechamel sauce). While the price of milk varies by brand and by fat content (the higher the fat content, the more expensive), regular whole milk averages at ¥200 a liter, expensive if you come from the US where 1 gallon of whole milk (3.7 liters) averages at $3.50 (approximately ¥383). It doesn't seem like much, but if you buy something everyday, it adds up. Butter is also a luxury, averaging ¥400 for a 200 gram bar. If you look closely at the ingredients of the popular brands of breads on the bread aisle, you will see that many of them were made with margarine, not butter. For almost the same price in the US, you get double the amount of butter. Forget about cream and cheese. They are so expensive we only buy them on very special occasions. This detailed analysis of of the economics behind butter shortages may shed light on exhorbitant prices of dairy products. Better enjoy that carton of milk to the very last drop!
5. Health and alternative food and cosmetics
Craving peanut butter? Planning to go on a diet that involves quinoa, amaranth or chia seeds? Looking for cajun spices? Want to shift to toxic free cosmetics? Not only are these difficult to find in regular supermarkets. Your choices will be limited (i.e. you won't find sugarless, saltless peanut butter), and if you do find them, chances are, they would be quite pricey. Every now and then, I enjoy browsing those fancy high end specialty shops in Tokyo that carry yummy wonderful organic goodies. But before I get tempted to buy something, I remember how affordable they are in the US (It's about time we have a Trader Joe's in Japan!). Thankfully, there are online shops like iHerb where you can get the health and alternative food and cosmetics you have been missing from home. They even have free shipping deals if you order enough.
What would you add to this list?
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