New Emissary

Big Ticket Tokyo?

Four of Japan’s cities have been named some of the priciest in the world. But is it really true?

Big Ticket Tokyo?
Credit: Jack French

Judging from a report by ECA International naming the 50 most expensive cities in the world in 2010, that’s recently gotten major publicity thanks to an article last week by Business Week, Japan is a ridiculously expensive country to live in.

Not only has Tokyo taken the top spot on the list (for the first time since 2005)—three other Japanese metropolises have made the top ten, including the respective port cities of Nagoya, Yokohama and Kobe.

No other Asian countries even made the top 10, while Seoul came in at number 20—a surprise for the South Korean capital considering it ranked 102 in 2009.

However, today I spoke to an Asia-based owner of several publishing ventures in the region, including Tokyo, about this and he had some fairly scathing remarks on some of the data selected by both the ECA report and Business Week.

He pointed out, for example, how the set of ‘average’ Tokyo prices presented in the Business Week piece, including things like an $18 lunch, represents the lifestyles of only a very tiny sliver of the city’s population.

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First, it’s limited to the category of expat residents in Tokyo. Of those, the number actually paying these prices is most likely an even smaller fraction of the people who choose to have ‘Western apartments in expensive districts, steak lunches, tropical fruit, foreign beer, coffee in hotel lobby lounges and who shop at international supermarkets.’ He went on to suggest that the expats or visitors who opt to adapt a little more to Japanese culture will have a much different and significantly cheaper experience, citing the example that ‘a very filling, tasty and healthy lunch can be had for half as much as $18.’

Image Credit: jamesjustin/flickr

Image Credit: jamesjustin/flickr

He also pointed out that having himself spent significant periods in both Tokyo and Sydney in recent years, ‘setting aside the significant AUD-yen exchange rate fluctuations over the last ten years—I see no appreciable difference in the cost of living, with one exception:  fruit really is ridiculously priced in Tokyo.’

Meanwhile, I also spoke to Australia-based design aficionado and author of several Japan guidebooks, Gordon Kanki-Knight, who concurred, attesting that ‘what most people say about Tokyo is that it’s a cheaper city than most big cities. Live like a Tokyoite and Tokyo is cheap. Rent is cheaper than London, public transport is cheaper than London and just as cheap as New York, there’s no tipping in bars and restaurants and no inflation—which means bank loans are more affordable.’