7 Scumbag Tips to Saving in Tokyo

Tokyo has traditionally been ranked the most expensive city in the world to live in.  Now, this is something we here at GJS have disputed, saying that if one knows where to go and what to get it’s no more expensive than living in any major city.

Despite our efforts however, we have yet to shift international opinion and  Business Insider has ranked Tokyo #6.  An improvement? Sure.

But if you are paying nine dollars or 900 yen per beer at whatever hole you frequent then you dear friend are a moron and deserve poverty and all its hellish trappings.

This list is a knock down drag out filthy collection of ways you can save some coin here in never-never land without resigning yourself to the zombie like lifestyle known as “A serious job”.

Being a Scumbag is not a prerequisite for using these tips, but it helps.

7.  Get a Roommate or Embrace the ‘burbs

There are two types of Expats in Tokyo. Type 1 are those who came here to Tokyo, for whatever reason, got off the bus in Shinjuku/Shinagawa/Shibuya, took a look around and said “Fuck Yes.”

They immediately fell in love with Tokyo. Maybe it was the women. Maybe it was the men. Maybe it was the bright lights and the never-ending heartbeat of a city that wreaked of opportunity. For whatever reason, those in group 1 are here for Tokyo and the rest of it they can do without.

Those in group 2 are the expats who came to Japan with JET. They came to Japan for university in Sendai.  They came to Japan under Nova’s warm and caring wing and worked 6 days a week at a school in Numazu.  They just wanted to come to Japan and they did it.  They made it here.

The thing is the members of group 1 are generally addicted to being in the heart of Tokyo. They feel a need for speed and are terrified to miss a beat.  Group 2 members generally feel more satisfied living on the fringes of Tokyo. For them, Chiba and Saitama are comfortable alternatives to the hassle and cost of living ten minutes from the busiest train station in the world.

This brings us to the point of number seven.  If you want to live in Metropolitan Tokyo you should get a flat mate.  Getting one or even two people to live with you allows you to rent a larger flat with more common space for everyone, in a central location, without the often insane costs so often associated with it.  Another benefit of this situation, assuming you have chosen decent flat mates, is the combined networking opportunities it offers and anyone who has done any business in Tokyo can tell you; who you know matters greatly.

Scumbag Bonus  points:  Networking works in business, it also works in love. Three bachelors living together that pool their social resources means there will never be a lack of female visitors to the flat.  It’s also great for organizing parties, “gokon” and “hanami” events.  When in doubt remember the wise (?) words of an original player:

"It ain't no fun if the homies can't have none."
“It ain’t no fun if the homies can’t have none.”

The second option, often preferred by our group 2 members is to settle for living in the suburbs.  From Chiba all the way out to Ogasawara, it’s all considered bedroom’s of Tokyo. The rent is drastically cheaper and the accommodation’s larger.  Of course, you will be 45 minutes to an hour away from anything that matters but the yen saved will be substantial.

Scumbag Bonus points: A somewhat secluded location and privacy?  All you have to do is get your romantic interest in your area of operation after last train. With a flat or house that size, you two can enjoy a gallon of your homemade (plum liquor/wine/beer/punch surprize) and then give each other a massage. Figure out the rest on your own.  This actually leads us to our next scumbag tip…

6. Make Food and Booze at Home

“Make food at home? Besides Nachos? Nope. I’m a Baller on a Budget, not a bitch.”  I can hear it now.  But perhaps you have heard the old saying “The way to a mans heart is through his stomach.” Well, this applies to women as well.  It also saves you loads of cash, gets you better tasting meals with better nutritional content and it’s a therapeutic activity.

For example, you are cooking for two and you decide on two choices: Dominoes pizza or make something at home.  You’re both hungry so you either A: order a Dominoes Deluxe for 3,000 yen, or B: go shopping and buy 3 sirloin steaks, Chinese cabbage, mayonnaise, and corn tortillas to make some amazing Beef tacos with wasabi mayo, plus a 2 kilogram bag of chicken breasts because you want to get your protein on for a few days and some coffee because you’re out of it, some lemons and 3 beers to drink with the tacos and all that for 2,425 yen.

If the person you are eating with is a romantic interest the tacos, presented correctly, will easily impress far more than a greasy and under cooked pizza from Dominoes.

Buying food regularly that is in season and on sale and learning to be flexible and make dishes with it is an incredible way to save money and impress guests.

Booze works the same way.  This is the season for the Japanese to make home-made umesyu and you can see the displays at most local super markets.  But you can make these  drinks with filthy cheap vodka and whatever fruit happens to be in season all year around.  It’s a small investment for a big, good glass jug and then the cheap seasonal fruit, some sugar and the booze. Chop it up, mix it and fill to the brim. The vodka should just cover the fruit. Let it sit for a couple of months and you will have a high quality seasonal drink great for parties or just getting hammered on the cheap. The fruit is good blended and served as a frozen drink or desert.  There is also homemade wine, punches, and beer. It’s all cheaper when done in some bulk, it’s fun and it tastes amazing.

"More vodka! Fucking more Vodka!"
“More vodka! Fucking, more Vodka!”

Scumbag Bonus point: Delicious food. Good, strong cocktails that cost almost nothing. A little Alex Clare playing in the background and by desert you’ll be making out heavily.  If you really want to put on your shiny shoes make her a (cheap) and amazing breakfast. Then give it to her in bed right when she wakes up.

I mean the breakfast, of course.

5. Entertain at Home

By and large the Japanese do not really entertain at home. At least not on the scale that North Americans and Europeans do.  A lot of people here still live with family or live in very cramped quarters  which are often lined wall to wall with their junk.

A home party simply isn’t a viable option unless you can come up with a really unique theme.

"If this box car's a Rockin', don't come a Knockin!"
“If this box car’s a Rockin’, don’t come a Knockin!”

If you are following some of the advice in this column, you have a bigger flat with a bigger common area than what is considered normal.  Invite people over. Have dinners. Have little parties.  Get people used to coming over to your place. The benefits are many.  Nearly anything you can do outside, you can do at home, but cheaper.  Want to get hammered? 1,500 yen at the local Yamaya and you have a large bottle of vodka and some mixers.  Want a six course meal and wine? Spend a few thousand yen at a local department store on good in season ingredients, watch a YouTube video and get cooking.  Have your friends each bring over a bottle of wine and some fresh bread. Everyone can eat, drink and be merry in comfort and at a low expense.

Also, in return when you host these  kinds of things a couple immediate benefits are clear. One, you save money. Two, people leave a lot of alcohol at your place after the dinner/party and three, you get invited to BBQ’s and parties other people are having.

Scumbag Bonus point: Pimping on mere pennies?  Try this; at one of your parties set up a can with a hole in the top.  Put it center stage at the party and put a note on it that says something worthwhile yet completely unconnected to your party ie “Save the Rain forest” or “Clean up Coney Island”.  Tell people, after everyone is well drunk, that you are collecting donations and “anything is OK but no less than 500 yen, please.”  20 people at the party you can average 10,000 yen with ease and a little hustle. 

4. When going out, go out Ghetto Style

Home parties are awesome but sometimes we need to get out and experience this amazing city.  I know. But that doesn’t mean you have to spend ten thousand yen to have a good night.  Some simple planning can ensure that you have fun, meet new people and get well-lit for very little money.

The first rule here is this: never drink anywhere unless it’s happy hour or you have a guaranteed “nomihodai” or all-you-can-drink deal. Never.  It may “sound cheap” and it is; that’s the point, but buying drinks one at a time at the standard rate is an easy way to rack up a 5,000 bill in an hour and a half and that’s before you even get to dinner.  If you go into a place for happy hour, never stay after that or you are just flushing money.

Unless someone else is buying all the drinks for you and in that case…

"...you can just leave us the bottle, barkeep."
“…you can just leave us the bottle, barkeep.”


Nomihodai’s are Japan’s gift to the world and if you’re not taking advantage of these every time you are out then you are either a recovering alcoholic or you believe in fairies.  All-you-can-drink courses range anywhere from 1,000 for two hours in dingy Ikebukuro Izakayas all the way up to 4,000 yen per head at Gordon Ramsay in the Conrad hotel; all premium champagne.  If you like to drink these will save you a massive amount of money as long as you do not make the classic error and go to a mainstream bar afterward to piss away 5,000 more yen.  Make a plan and keep it cheap all night.

Scumbag Bonus point:  If going to a park to hang out, instead of buying beers, try bottling some homemade vodka punch on ice and bringing out some plastic cups.  It tastes good, is cheap and usually attracts some attention. Offer some to the cute girls sitting near you and start-up a conversation then proceed back to number 5 then number 6.  Also, a great way to meet people in general is to buy cans and sit at outside tables.  It’s cheap, you can get some sun, ogle the girls walking by and possibly meet some new people.

3. Embrace Craigslist and Second hand Shops

Is Craigslist filthy? Surely. Is it awesome? Without a doubt.

If you’re moving in or moving out, starting a new hobby or quitting an old one, Craigslist is the place for you to be.

Expats come and go in Tokyo and most of the time they can’t be bothered to ship their furnishings to the next location.  Many people put these things on CL and with a little time and bargaining savvy that 300,000 yen sofa from BoConcept can be yours for 30,000.

Need new sports gear? Start with CL.  Everything from full Kendo regalia to ice skates; all discounted; all desperately wanting to be sold.  The flip side of this coin is when you decide, finally, that you are too old to be playing video games and you want to get rid of your PS3. Don’t just toss it or give it away, put it on CL with all the games you have and see what you can get for it.  Making 10,000 yen cash is better than just tossing it out.

Second hand shops are equally amazing because for some strange cultural reason, many Japanese simply throw out perfectly good stuff just because they got something new. In fact, many of them pay the second-hand shop to take it off their hands. No problem to get a 50,000 yen fridge for 15,000.  A 20,000 yen coffee table for 2,000 with free delivery.  These places are gems and they are willing to haggle. Make a habit of checking them out, looking for the diamonds and shopping for Christmas and Birthday presents will suddenly put much less strain on your wallet.  Together with Craigslist these shops are a mecca for the budding cheap skate.

"Not just for the illicit traffic of Sex Slaves."
“Not just for the illicit traffic of Sex Slaves.”

Scumbag Bonus point: People totally use craigslist for the illicit traffic of Sex Slaves.

2. Cancel your useless Gym membership

Still “benching” your weight? How are those preacher curls working for you?  Leg Extensions not putting the slabs of beef on that you had hoped for?

Conventional fitness gym memberships are a fucking joke.  Everything you need to train your body, hard, is all around you in Tokyo. Every station as a little park some place.  There are pull up bars, dip bars, rings, benches for sit ups and other kinds of various workout equipment spread all over the city.

Get off the treadmill and get outside. Jog around your area; I promise you will learn something new or discover some new thing you didn’t know about before.  Need intensity? Try some hill sprints or stair dashes.  Still not intense enough? Try a 500 rep push up workout that you can do, literally, anywhere.

If you do these workouts and you eat well your muscles will grow and that will be 10,000 to 13,000 yen per month that is staying in your pocket instead of going to some cramped and ineffective gym you only use once a week anyway.  What’s more, this training is dynamic and it works quickly. Results happen fast because this is the way your were meant to train. Need more resistance? Fill a back pack with bottles of water or a heavy sandbag and do your pull-ups, your dips, you run.  Be inventive, think outside the box and what’s more, save some money.

Scumbag Bonus point: This is about as ghetto and it gets. Working out outside, the sweat flowing, the sun getting you a nice tan and people checking you out as they walk by. Pullups will blow your back up and dips will make your arms explode with deep high rep squats and sprints for your legs; forget about it.  It also costs nothing and that’s music to my Scumbag ears.

1. It’s OK to take a handout but Always repay your Debts

Life is hard and then you die. That’s just the way it is.  That having been said, you don’t have to go through it forever owing. Owing the bank. Owing student loans. Owing credit card companies. Owing someone who gave you a loan.  Paying off your debt is possible and it’s probably the single most liberating thing you can do in the early part of your life.

First of all, if possible, don’t get into debt.  Don’t use credit cards and if you do then pay off the full balance the next month.  If you don’t have medical insurance, you need to have money set aside in case you get sick, specifically for that.

The single biggest thing you have to remember is to spend less than your earn. I know this sounds like obvious advice, but so many people I know can’t seem to do it.  I was one of these people before too. At one point several years ago, I was making around 6 g’s a month but by the time my pay days rolled around, between debts I had and my lifestyle, I barely had train money to get to work and was shop lifting cans of tuna fish so I had something to eat.

That is completely fucking ridiculous.

Live within your means. Spend less than you earn. And finally, whatever your biggest  debt is, attack it ferociously.  Assault the debt every week and month with as much money as you can throw at it until it’s gone.  When you finally eliminate this piece of shit debt that has been weighing you down you’ll feel amazing. Then you just apply the same principal to whatever is left.  Total all out war on your debts. If you sold some sports gear on Craigslist and made 8,000 yen add that to your normal debt payment.  If you can scrape up a little more each month and throw it at the problem, it will go away that much faster. EVERY SINGLE YEN COUNTS.

Just crush all your debt, one at a time until you’re free. I swear to god it will change your life.

Scumbag Bonus point: Hey, shit happens. Believe me, I know. And when it does sometimes you need some help so don’t be afraid to accept that help.  There are a couple of rules that need to apply though. One is simple but can be tricky: never ask to borrow money, real money, from anyone.  Even if you need it, somehow you need to get that person to offer it without you asking for it. When you ask them for it, the frame of the situation is one in which you have very little power and they have a lot of it and that’s a shit place to be.  If you ask and they deny you the help you need, that can hurt your relationship as well.  But if someone offers and you need it, then take it. 

I once read that the highest expression of love is giving someone money because in this day and age money is our score board and our life blood.  Despite what trite crap people might come up with, money is what matters. 

This leads to the final point- Always repay your debts to people. No matter how long it takes, always repay them.  First, it’s the right thing to do and second, well, you can shear a sheep many times but you can skin it only once.  

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