What Is Considered a Lot of Money in Japan?

If you’re new to using yen, it can take a while to get a feel for how much it’s worth. Aside from conversion rates, you also need to consider the costs of rent and products in Japan, too—right? Well, luckily, it’s not that hard.

After currency conversion, the cost of living in Japan is similar to the U.S. This means you can just convert JPY to USD for a sense of the purchasing power. For example, as of mid-2023, 1 million yen is roughly $7,000 USD, and it can buy about the same as $7,000 USD in the U.S.

Below, I’ll share many reference points for getting a sense of what’s a lot of money in Japan. We’ll look at what is considered “rich,” along with median salary, minimum wage, cost of living, and the cost of various common items!

Converting Yen to USD

Before we get into all the different measurements of wealth in Japan, let’s cover some quick notes on conversion.

The value of the Japanese yen has fallen relative to the US dollar in recent years. So now, it’s actually harder to convert yen to dollars in your head.

It used to be true that $1 USD was about 100 yen. So, to quickly estimate any conversion, you would just move the decimal point over two spots:

  • 500 yen = roughly $5 USD
  • 1,000 yen = roughly $10 USD
  • 10,000 yen = roughly $100 USD

However, as of mid-2023, $1 USD is worth around 140 yen, not just 100 yen. This is great for Americans visiting Japan, as it means our dollars go further in Japan now. But the conversion is trickier.

Here are some useful conversions for the cash amounts you may be dealing with on a vacation to Japan:

  • 1,000 yen = ~$7 USD
  • 5,000 yen = ~$35 USD
  • 10,000 yen = ~$70 USD
  • 20,000 yen = ~$140 USD
  • 50,000 yen = ~$350 USD
  • 100,000 yen = ~$700 USD

And here are some quick conversions for larger amounts:

  • 1 million yen = ~$7,000 USD
  • 10 million yen = ~$700,000 USD
  • 100 million yen = ~$7 million USD
  • 1 billion yen = ~$70 million USD

Again, these are just some rough estimates. If you want precise conversions or you’re not great at doing math in your head, you may want to download a currency conversion app on your phone.

What Is Rich in Japan?

Now let’s look at what is considered “wealthy” in Japan.

An article in the Japan Times mentions a specific set of numbers to define “wealthy” by the standards of the Japanese financial industry.

Those numbers are an annual income of at least 30 million yen (roughly $212,000 USD), and a total net worth of at least 100 million yen (roughly $707,000 USD).

So that’s what is considered “rich” at the high end in Japan. But now let’s look at what is a more typical but still “good” salary.

What Is a Good Salary in Japan?

Japan has a median salary around 3.5 million yen (or ~$24,800) annually, and average salary around 4.2 million yen (or ~$29,700) annually. When broken down monthly, that’s a median salary of roughly 291,000 yen (or ~$2,050 USD) per month.

However, these statistics can vary depending on a few factors, such as:

  1. What year of data you’re looking at.
  2. What the conversion rate between yen and USD currently is.
  3. Whether you’re looking at average or median. (The average is higher, as it is skewed upward by very high earners.)
  4. The specific industry, population, or area being surveyed.

For example, the average salary in Tokyo is about 50% higher than in the rest of Japan, at around 6.3 million yen (or ~$44,500 USD).

When it comes to foreigners working in Japan, one of the most common jobs is teaching English. The average salary in that position is about 3.2 million yen (~$22,600 USD) per year. So it’s a bit below average, but not horrible.

This video shows the average salary for many different jobs in Japan.

What Is a Good Hourly Wage in Japan?

A “good wage” could be defined in a few different ways. I’ll give you a few points of reference to consider.

First, since Japan’s cost of living is similar to the U.S., it’s pretty easy for Americans to think about this issue. Just ask yourself what wage you’d consider “good” in the U.S., and the answer should be about the same for Japan (converted to yen).

If you divide the average annual salary in Japan by the average working hours, we get an “average wage” of 2,417 yen per hour (about ~$17 USD/hour). Most people would consider this a decent wage in Japan, since it’s an average that includes very well-paid workers in the sample, too.

One last number to consider: Surveys show that part-time workers in Japan average about 1,400 yen per hour (about ~$9.90 USD/hour).

Are Most Japanese Rich?

Most Japanese would not qualify as “rich.” Less than 4% of Japanese earn the equivalent of $100k USD per year or more.

Again, keep in mind that the cost of living in Japan is very similar to the U.S. on average (more on that below). So just think about how these Japanese salary numbers would apply to the U.S.

As an American, I’d say you are definitely not “rich” if you make less than $100k/year in the U.S. You may be comfortable, but not “rich.” So I’d say the same applies to Japan.

Another way to look at whether people in Japan are “rich” is per-capita GDP.

The per-capita GDP in Japan has fallen relative to other countries since the 1980s. In 1988, they were 2nd in the world by this measure of wealth—but in recent years, Japan ranks 28th in the world.

That’s still pretty good in the scheme of things (the U.S. ranks 13th on the same list)—but it’s not like Japan is super rich.

Cost of Living in Japan

The cost of living in Japan is about 4% lower than in the United States on average. That said, this depends greatly on where you live and how you live.

For Tokyo alone, I found cost-of-living estimates between $1,300 USD and $3,300 USD per month. These were real figures from people living in Tokyo. (That was before the yen fell in recent years, so now the estimates would be lower in USD.)

For a possibly more “objective” look, you can check out cost-of-living comparison calculators online. How does the cost of living in Tokyo compare to other cities around the world?

CityIs Tokyo cheaper or more expensive?
New York CityTokyo is 14% cheaper
San FranciscoTokyo is 9% cheaper
LondonTokyo is 3% cheaper
SydneyTokyo is 1% cheaper
SeoulTokyo is 5% more expensive
Hong KongTokyo is 8% more expensive
TorontoTokyo is 12% more expensive
BangkokTokyo is 62% more expensive
ShanghaiTokyo is 64% more expensive
Mexico CityTokyo is 126% more expensive
Cost of living comparisons from Numbeo.com.

Personally, as someone who grew up in the U.S. and has lived in many U.S. cities, I feel like the estimates I see for Japan prices are usually pretty similar to the U.S.

The common impression is that Japan is more expensive than the U.S. But personally, I would say it’s about the same when it comes to most expenses.

Mercer’s 2020 Cost of Living survey estimated Tokyo to be very expensive, however. They found Tokyo to be the third most expensive city in the world for expats to live in (Hong Kong was #1).

If you live in a smaller city in Japan, your costs should be lower than in Tokyo, however. Numbeo estimates that Kyoto is as much as 15% cheaper than Tokyo overall. (They don’t have data on much smaller cities.)

In my experience, one of the very expensive things in Japan is hotels and Airbnbs. So if you got a long-term lease, you may be able to get much better prices than living short-term in Japan.

Cost of Common Items in Japan

To get a bit more specific, here are some other common prices in Japan:

  • Alcohol – Beer and other alcoholic drinks seem to be cheaper in Japan than many other places, at about 100 to 500 yen per drink (roughly $0.70 to $3.50 USD). You can sometimes get an “all you can drink” 2-hour pass for around $15 USD.
  • Eating Out – There are quite a few cheap food options in Japan for eating out. Fast food chains like Matsuya and Sukiya offer many meals between 300 yen and 1,000 yen (roughly $2 to $7). Ramen is usually more like $10 USD. But fancier restaurants could be much higher, in the $50+ USD range.
  • Gym Membership – Joining a gym is more expensive in Japan than in most other countries. In one “cost of living” breakdown I saw, the gym cost was around $140 USD/month. In my personal experience, I think I paid about $80 USD per month for my gym membership in Osaka.
  • Monthly Transit Pass – These are around 10,000 yen (roughly $70 USD). As someone who used to buy monthly transit passes in Chicago, I can tell you it was somewhat similar, maybe a bit more.

Another thing to consider about Japan is that they have these “100 yen stores,” which are similar to dollar stores elsewhere. (100 yen is about equal to ~$0.70 USD.)

At dollar stores in the U.S., the quality of the products is often lacking. But in Japan, the 100-yen stores actually have some high-quality, durable products for a great value. So these can potentially help with reducing your bill.

What It Takes to Be “Rich” in Different Asian Countries

Read my other guides to what counts as “rich” in Asia—complete with salary data, net worth statistics and more: