Here’s an interesting survey from goo Ranking, looking at what people think that compared to overseas is far too expensive in Japan.

Demographics

Over the 23rd and 24th of August 2010 1,127 members of the goo Research online monitor group completed a private internet-based questionnaire. 57.3% of the sample were female, 11.7% in their teens, 16.5% in their twenties, 29.0% in their thirties, 23.2% in their forties, 10.9% in their fifties, and 8.7% aged sixty or older. Note that the score in the results refers to the relative number of votes for each option, not a percentage of the total sample.

With the recent appreciation in the yen, prices have got a bit closer, but looking at the list, number 1 is fair enough for city property, although land in the countryside is often ridiculously cheap. Homes are perhaps comparable in price, but certainly not comparable in terms of floor space or build quality! Pizzas are stupidly expensive, but I’m not really sure about US university fees, although compared to many places in Europe they are, as further education costs are heavily regulated or even non-existent. An hour on Japanese motorways costs about the same as a week-long or more carte for German, Swiss or Austrian motorways, but petrol is similar in price to Europe. Movies are expensive, although the concessions are cheaper and more importantly there’s no-one talking on phones, shining laser pointers or otherwise disrupting movies in Japan. My monthly minutes (30 minutes) for my mobile is about the same price as a plan with 500 minutes or more in the UK, and it costs me close to 100 yen to load just the specially-designed Japanese mobile-friendly home page on Twitter! Foreign brands are heavily marked-up, but personal tax (income and sales tax) in Japan is low, although the national insurance component has been slowly creeping up as of late.

The others I disagree with are tropical fruits – all fruits are expensive, and alcohol. The average pint in the pub or carry-out can of mainstream beer is more expensive that the west, but there’s always the all-you-can-drink option, and in supermarkets the own-brands of firewater – chu-hai fruity alcopops, gut-rot whisky and the two litre sake bottles – have a pretty good price/performance ratio.

Oh, and everyone seems to have forgotton rice, which is kept expensive by the government to keep small farmers farming.

Ranking result

Q: Compared to overseas, what do you think is far too expensive in Japan? (Sample size=1,127)

Rank   Score
1 Land 100
2 Homes 95.7
3 Delivery pizza 74.3
4 University fees 69.6
5 Motorway tolls 68.5
6 Petrol (gasoline) 62.6
7 Movie tickets 51.7
8 Mobile phone talk time, data packet fees 49.6
9 Foreign brand items (clothes, bags, shoes, etc) 46.2
10 Tax 43.8
11 Meat 36.8
12 Tropical fruits 34.9
13 Museum, art gallery fees 33.2
14 Dairy products 31.9
15 Alcohol 29.6
16 Cosmetics 28.5
17 CDs, DVDs 26.6
18 Electricity 24.7
19 Beauty parlour, other service fees 24.2
20 Perfume 22.8

4 Comments

Clarissa at Talk to the Clouds · September 27, 2010 at 04:38

Well, the low cost of fruit in the US (and likely Canada) is partly due to the rampant poor conditions and terrible underpayment of workers, so I’m not sure our low costs are really a good thing.

As for college, according to College Board:

” * Public four-year colleges charge, on average, $7,020 per year in tuition and fees for students who live in their state. The average surcharge for full-time out-of-state students at these institutions is $11,528.
* Private four-year colleges charge, on average, $26,273 per year in tuition and fees.
* Public two-year colleges charge, on average, $2,544 per year in tuition and fees.
Keep in mind that the actual price the average undergraduate pays for a college education is considerably lower than the published tuition and fees. This is usually due to grants and other forms of financial aid.
Of course, that’s not the total price. You still have to live somewhere, eat, buy books and supplies, and do your laundry.”

These costs are going up by leaps and bounds, however.

Janne · September 27, 2010 at 09:34

I can only compare to Sweden, which would qualify both as “overseas” and “west” by any reasonable definition.

* Foodstuffs are more expensive in Japan than Sweden, as is commercial and private rental levels. Corporate taxes are comparable in practice. Despite that, cheap restaurant food (udon, washoku set lunches, that kind of thing) is significantly cheaper in Japan than Sweden. Go figure.

* Rice is a lot cheaper in Sweden than Japan. That includes imported Japanese rice. Something is wrong with that picture.

* Beer is about the same price, both in stores and in restaurants. Spirits is cheaper in Japan, wine cheaper in Sweden. Overall it’s a wash.

* University education is free in Sweden (that includes foreign students, though there’s a long-running debate about that). You still need money for food, housing, books, beer and so on, and most people take student loans for that.

* Phones with all-you-can-eat data is about half price in Sweden compared to Japan. And there’s no carrier phone locking anymore so you can get whatever phone you like, then use it with the carrier of your choice.

* Taxes are mostly much lower in Japan than in Sweden, though less so when you add in the pension and other benefit payments that are part of the income tax in Sweden but separate in Japan. And Japan has stuff like inheritance taxes that are mostly absent in Sweden.

Overall, Japan is a bit more expensive to live in than Sweden, but the salary level and lower taxes do mostly compensate for that.

dokool · September 27, 2010 at 14:42

Dirty American here. 3, 5, 7, and 17 stand out to me.

Pizza: Pizza Hut’s prices are just horrible, so forget about them. Domino’s offers pretty good discounts, especially w/ their iPhone app (basically 20% off and you can play silly games for free food coupons and whatnot), but the sizes are way below US standards and the price of toppings is ridiculous. Granted, you don’t have to tip in Japan, but overall I would give my right leg for one of the local pizza places back in the US. Even at Japan prices I’d still get delivery if they at US menus.

Hell, delivery EVERYTHING is ridiculously expensive. And yet couriers like Kuro Neko Yamato and Sagawa are incredibly cheaper than they’d be in the US.

Highway tolls (and gas): What the hell. Even during the gas crunch it couldn’t have cost me more than $40, including gas AND tolls, for me to go from my house to my college (roughly 200 miles). I think it’d be 3x that much in Japan.

Movie tickets: Japanese theaters are cleaner and generally nicer and the attendees are well-behaved, but even at 1250 for those special tickets you can buy at the local shops I feel like I’m overpaying. Also, I miss giant American theater sodas…. I do like the programs they sell for each movie, though, and always pick one up.

CDs/DVDs: 3000y for a new CD? 6000+ for anime on DVD? The heads of the media companies in this country can all take a long walk off a short pier. Sadly these prices won’t change until something drastic happens in either the economy or the global distribution system.

bingobangoboy · September 29, 2010 at 14:35

Hmmm, I would say 1 and to a lesser extent 2 are of course true in general, but of course there’s so much variation by region that the general statement isn’t terribly meaningful.
5 is true but I’m fine with it, as Japan is still notorious for overspending on road construction, and if they can’t fix that problem, then I’d rather the money came from highway tolls than from the general tax pool. Also, lower tolls would probably mean more congestion, and more pollution.
6 is really only true for the USA/Canada (and the developing world).
7 is true, but movie prices in USA/Canada are catching up (I don’t know about Europe). 25-30 years ago, you could see a movie on Tuesdays for $2 (Canadian!).
10 is something citizens of every country seem to believe. On the other hand, I guess even moderate taxation can seem high when you still have to pay a fee for just about every government service you use (health care, education, road fees, …)
15 varies too much by country to judge, but I think hard liquor is quite cheap in Japan. Beer is rather expensive. Bar price inflation is also rather ridiculous, but perhaps less so than for cafe drinks.
Don’t know about cosmetics firsthand, but I’ve often heard the complaints.
Fruit & rice? Totally.

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