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How Much Does it Cost to Live the FIRE Life in Mito? (As a Single)

fire life mito city kzaral flickr

Mito Station, Ibaraki” by Kzaral is licensed under CC BY 2.0

How Much Does it Cost to Live the FIRE Life in Mito?

Hello, and welcome to interview #29 in the How Much Does it Cost to Live the FIRE Life interview series! Part interview, part spending report, this series will introduce us to FIRE* seekers from all over the world.

They’ll reveal their essential spending and money-saving tips—all to help us learn new ways to save on our own expenses. As a bonus, we’ll also get to discover the unique advantages and challenges of living in different places around the globe.

*FIRE stands for financial independence, retire early. It’s also known as FI—financial independence. For more info, see my FI School series—it’ll teach you everything you need to know about FI (and FIRE).

About the interview series

I created an intro page for this interview series to help explain what it’s about, what’s included (or not) and why. I’ll also link to all the interviews from the intro page—so check back there to see the entire collection.

Jump to the series intro: How Much Does it Cost to Live the FIRE Life? (The Interview Series)

Disclosure: These interviews may include affiliate links. That means I’ll receive a commission if you make a purchase through my links—at no extra cost to you. Thank you!

Interview #29: Sayu from Mito

In today’s interview, we’ll meet Sayu from Mito, Japan. Mito is the capital city of Ibaraki prefecture. It’s located 116 kilometres northeast of Tokyo (about 1.5 hours by car or train). Mito is a small to medium-sized city with a population of about 270,000—similar to Saskatoon, Orlando, or Belfast.

It’s within a few hours’ drive of a major centre, which puts it in a sweet spot. The cost of living is affordable, with decent services and amenities available locally. And, if you need specialty goods and services, the big city is a reasonable drive away!

About Sayu

I ‘met’ Sayu on Twitter when I came across photos of his travels around Japan. He’d recently retired and was using his newly-gained freedom to explore his own country. (My family and I have been dying to return to Japan, so it was fun for me to travel vicariously through Sayu’s tweets.)

As most of you know, I’m a Japanophile, so I had to ask Sayu to join this interview series! He’s my second interviewee from Japan; Syun, whom I interviewed a while back, was the first. (I’m starting to wonder if there’s some secret to reaching FIRE in Japan—both Sayu and Syun have both achieved FIRE already! 🤔)

Sayu has been extremely patient with me as I’ve taken far too long to publish his interview. Since I first interviewed him, he went from being a renter to a homeowner AND started his own blog! (Thank you for your endless patience, Sayu! 🙏)

About Sayu’s blog

I hope you’ll take a few minutes to visit Sayu’s blog—Life after early retirement in Japan. I always try to support new bloggers, and I’m sure Sayu would be happy to gain some new readers. His posts are short and sweet, so you’ll be able to get caught up on most or all of his posts in no time!

But before you do that, take a few minutes to read Sayu’s interview. As on his blog, Sayu’s concise with his writing, so it’s a quick, easy read! 

Part 1: Getting to know you

fire life mito city lazy fri13th flickr

Garden in Mito” by lazy fri13th is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Tell us about yourself

I am a nurse in my mid-thirties living in Japan. 

I love traveling and sushi. 

My specialties are karate and sign language. 

I am single and travel all over Japan by car.

Where are you in your journey to FIRE?

I now do lean FIRE and can cover my living expenses. 

I started investing about 10 years ago (mutual funds, ETFs, RITE, individual stocks, etc. No bonds). 

I saved money by working as a nurse and a second job as a sign language interpreter. 

My savings rate was over 70%, so I was able to FIRE in my 30s.

What type of FIRE are you aiming for? (FIRE, Lean FIRE, or Fat FIRE*)

How Chrissy defines FIRE, Lean FIRE, and Fat FIRE

Some people define Lean FIRE as under $40k in annual spending; FIRE as $40–$100k in annual spending; and Fat FIRE as $100k+ in annual spending.

However, I prefer looser definitions that are not based on hard numbers. That’s because $100k could be Fat FIRE in a small Canadian town but Lean FIRE in San Francisco. That said, here are my definitions:

  • Lean FIRE: The essentials with little or no discretionary spending.
  • FIRE: The essentials plus a comfortable amount of discretionary spending.
  • Fat FIRE: The essentials plus a luxurious amount of discretionary spending.

fatFIRE is tempting, but I’m happy to stay leanFIRE.

I enjoy my life now and don’t feel like I need more money.

Food is inexpensive in Japan and there are many free facilities to enjoy.

I FIRE to be free, and I don’t intend to work for money any more.

But I do continue to do work that I enjoy.

Tell us about your living situation

I used to rent, but now I have moved into a house.

I have no mortgage and my annual maintenance costs are about ¥144,000/year total including taxes, fire insurance, and repairs.

Why did you choose to live in Mito?

It is rich in nature, but also has a growing city. Mito City has the second largest urban park in the world called Kairakuen.

The capital city of Tokyo can be reached in an hour and a half.

And the housing costs are very reasonable!

I love this convenient and beautiful city.

Part 2: The expenses

In this section, Sayu shares his essential expenses and best money-saving tips. But before we get started, let’s review some important notes:

Important notes about the numbers

  • Only essential expenses are included.
  • Discretionary expenses (e.g. travel, gifts, etc.) are not included.
  • Expenses are rounded to the nearest dollar. 
  • Expenses are displayed in the interviewee’s home currency.
  • In this interview, the home currency is Japanese yen (¥).
  • For your convenience, I’ve included a currency converter for each expense.

For detailed explanations about which expenses are included (or not) see my How Much Does it Cost to Live the FIRE Life intro post.

1. How much does housing cost in Mito?

fire life tokyo alley emil karlsson unsplash
Photo credit: Emil Karlsson on Unsplash

Mortgage (¥0)

My house is 44 years old and I was able to purchase it very inexpensively.

The man who lived alone in this house was in a hurry to sell his house to go into a nursing home.

He sold the house to me at a very low price because I was able to buy it immediately for cash.

It is a two-story house with four rooms (two are Japanese-style rooms).

It has a small garden and I hope to one day grow vegetables.

I did have to pay for renovations, though.

Property tax (¥2,000/month; ¥24,000/year)

Property tax in Japan gets lower the older the house is. My house is 44 years old and the taxes are very low. It costs only about ¥2,000 per month.

Strata/HOA fees (¥0)

I live in a single family home so there is no strata or HOA fee.

Home insurance (¥1,600/month; ¥19,200/year)

The house is fire insurance only and it is ¥1,600 per month.

Japan has a lot of earthquakes, but we do not have earthquake insurance because it is too expensive.

Home maintenance (¥2,000/month; ¥24,000/year)

This category includes: home maintenance, repairs, cleaning, and improvements; household goods and supplies; furniture; and appliances.

I do simple repairs myself, so my maintenance costs are about ¥2,000 per month.

However, I cannot repair the roof or water system, so I have cash on hand in case they break down.

2. How much does transportation cost in Mito?

fire life tokyo train carina sze unsplash
Photo credit: Carina Sze on Unsplash

Vehicle insurance and registration (¥2,000/month; ¥24,000/year)

To save on this expense, we:

  • Request new quotes every 1 years.
  • I’m applying online.
  • Pay annually instead of monthly.

Gas (¥7,000/month; ¥84,000/year)

I save money by using my bike in combination with my car.

I love to ride my bike because it gives me exercise and relieves stress.

Vehicle maintenance (¥10,000/month; ¥120,000/year)

In Japan, cars with an engine displacement of 660 cc or less are taxed at a reduced rate. Therefore, I drive a 660 cc car.

Bike maintenance (¥1,000/month; ¥12,000/year)

I enjoy bicycles, so I do the maintenance myself. However, when I was working, I asked the store to do it for me. 

I achieved early retirement by making the time and doing the labour.

Parking and tolls (¥0)

My house has parking and it is free.

When I go out, I try to avoid paid parking lots and walk even if it is far.

Transit (¥0)

I live in an area with limited transportation, so I use my car and bicycle.

3. How much does food cost in Mito?

grocery store gemma unsplash
Photo by gemma on Unsplash

Groceries (¥35,000/month; ¥420,000/year)

There is a reason why my food expenses are so high for one person.

I am a nurse and my health is important to me.

When I get sick, I have to pay for medical care and my quality of life suffers.

I believe that a healthy diet, even if it is expensive, is a very good investment.

Eating out (¥10,000/month; ¥120,000/year)

There are many delicious and inexpensive restaurants in Japan.

There are many places where you can eat soba or udon for 250 yen! (About 2.2 US dollars.)

4. How much do utilities and bills cost in Mito?

utilities jason richard unsplash
Photo by Jason Richard on Unsplash

Natural gas and Kerosene (¥3,000/month; ¥36,000/year)

I use natural gas for cooking and a kerosene heater in the winter.

Electricity (¥2,000/month; ¥24,000/year)

I use electricity for all other purposes.

Water (¥2,000/month; ¥24,000/year)

I pay for how much water I use.

Garbage and recycling (¥0)

In my city, we do not have to pay for garbage disposal.

Internet (¥0)

I use internet sharing on my smartphone. I have no problems with it.

Home phone (¥0)

I do not have a home phone.

Cell phone service (¥1,800/month; ¥21,600/year)

Unlimited calls and data communication is available.

Streaming entertainment and cable TV (¥408/month; ¥4,900/year)

I am an Amazon Prime member only. I enjoy movies, music, and e-books for ¥4,900/year.

5. How much do other essentials cost in Mito?

clothing polina tankilevitch
Photo by Polina Tankilevitch on Pexels

Life and disability insurance (¥0)

I do not have a family to support, so I do not have life insurance.

Medical insurance (¥8,600/month; ¥103,200/year)

Japan has a universal health insurance system, so it is compulsory to join.

Out-of-pocket medical expenses (¥0)

I am healthy and have no illness, so there is no cost.

Clothing and footwear (¥2,000/month; ¥24,000/year)

I basically wear sportswear, so I don’t spend much money.

Personal care (¥2,000/month; ¥24,000/year)

This category includes: haircuts, toiletries and grooming services and supplies.

Haircuts in Japan are inexpensive, and many stores charge less than 1000 yen without shampoo.

Technology (¥3,000/month; ¥36,000/year)

This category includes essential technology: software and hardware purchases, upgrades, maintenance, and repairs. Non-essentials (video games and consoles, e-readers, security cameras, etc.) aren’t included. 

I don’t save a lot of money on technology-related expenses. This is because I believe that technology is important for comfortable living. I like Apple products, although they are not cheap.

Part 3: Adding it all up

Now that we’ve detailed all of Sayu’s essential expenses, it’s time to add everything up in some nice, organized tables!

Important notes about the numbers

  • Only essential expenses are included.
  • Discretionary expenses (e.g. travel, gifts, etc.) are not included.
  • Expenses are rounded to the nearest dollar. 
  • Expenses are displayed in the interviewee’s home currency.
  • In this interview, the home currency is Japanese yen (¥).
  • For your convenience, I’ve included a currency converter in each section. I hope you find it useful!

For detailed explanations about which expenses are included (or not) see my How Much Does it Cost to Live the FIRE Life intro post.

How much does it cost to live the FIRE life in Mito?

1. Housing

ExpenseMonthly (JPY)Annual (CAD)
Mortgage¥0¥0
Property tax¥2,000¥24,000
Strata/HOA fees
¥0¥0
Home insurance¥1,600¥19,200
Maintenance¥2,000¥24,000
TOTAL¥5,600¥67,200

2. Transportation

ExpenseMonthly (JPY)Annual (JPY)
Vehicle loan¥0¥0
Vehicle insurance¥2,000¥24,000
Gas¥7,000¥84,000
Vehicle maintenance¥10,000¥120,000
Bike maintenance¥1,000¥12,000
Parking and tolls¥0¥0
Transit¥0¥0
TOTAL¥20,000¥240,000

3. Food

ExpenseMonthly (JPY)Annual (JPY)
Groceries¥35,000¥420,000
Eating out¥10,000¥120,000
TOTAL¥45,000¥540,000

4. Utilities and bills

ExpenseMonthly (JPY)Annual (JPY)
Natural gas¥3,000¥36,000
Electricity¥2,000¥24,000
Water¥2,000¥24,000
Garbage and recycling¥0¥0
Internet¥0¥0
Home phone¥0¥0
Cell phone service¥1,800¥21,600
Streaming entertainment and cable TV¥408¥4,896
TOTAL¥9,208¥110,496

5. Other essentials

ExpenseMonthly (JPY)Annual (JPY)
Life and disability insurance¥0¥0
Medical insurance¥8,600¥103,200
Out-of-pocket medical expenses¥0¥0
Clothing and footwear¥2,000¥24,000
Personal care¥2,000¥24,000
Technology¥3,000¥36,000
TOTAL¥15,600¥187,200

Grand totals

ExpenseMonthly (JPY)Annual (JPY)
Housing¥5,600¥67,200
Transportation¥20,000¥240,000
Food¥45,000¥540,000
Utilities and bills¥9,208¥110,496
Other essentials¥15,600¥187,200
TOTAL¥95,408¥1,144,896

Part 4: Other expenses

This is a special section that’s just for fun! It’s the place for my interviewees to mention any expenses that they’ve done a really good job of optimizing and/or just want to share. 

These expenses won’t be included in the totals (just to keep things as standardized as possible). I hope you find this section interesting and informative. Here’s an additional expense that Sayu wanted to share:

Travel

I travel a lot.

I always stay in the car, so the cost is very low.

I’m really happy living in FIRE, where I can go wherever I want, whenever I want.

In the future, I hope to increase my income during my travels.

I found The 27 Best Traveling Jobs To Make Money While Traveling to be helpful.

Thanks for reading!

Chrissy’s takeaways

Thank you to Sayu for sharing his expenses. As mentioned, I love Japan, so I’m always interested to learn how much it costs to live there. In my interview with Syun, we saw how much it costs to live in the middle of Tokyo. 

But here in Sayu’s interview, we get to take a peek into the cost of living in Mito—a much smaller Japanese city. I knew it’d be cheaper than living in Tokyo, but I’m shocked at how much lower it is!

Saving big on housing

When I initially interviewed Sayu, he was a renter. He was paying only ¥33,000 ($316 CAD or $244 USD) per month for his apartment, which is incredibly cheap. But as a homeowner, his TOTAL housing costs are even lower—¥5,600 per month ($54 CAD or $41 USD)! 

This is even after including the additional expenses that come with home ownership (property tax and home maintenance). Sayu has utilized one of the best tactics to significantly lower overall spending: saving big on at least one of the top three expenses (housing, transportation, and food).

I’m so impressed. Well, done, Sayu! 

Saving even more through efficiency

Another way that Sayu saves big is by being efficient with nearly all his expenses. His utilities and bills are an excellent example of this. He uses very little energy, despite living in an older home. He also pays for an unlimited cell phone plan so that he doesn’t need internet in his house.

In addition, he walks and bikes a lot, eats well to prevent illness (and the costs that go along with it), and spends very little on clothing and personal care. Sayu lives a simple, efficient life that many would envy. (It’s very Mustachian!)

Value-based spending

Like my other interviewees, Sayu spends based on what he values. In other words, he optimizes expenses which are less important to him and splurges on a handful of high-value expenses.

For example, when it comes to groceries, Sayu says, There is a reason why my food expenses are so high for one person… I believe that a healthy diet, even if it is expensive, is a very good investment.”

He’s also happy to spend more on technology purchases—including Apple products, which he says “… are not cheap.” 

Despite his higher spending in a few categories, Sayu’s overall total is still ultra-low! Like many in the FIRE community, Sayu spends very little for his comfortable lifestyle—with no signs of deprivation. 

When you spend based on your values, it’s easy and painless to spend less on things that don’t matter as much to you (e.g. internet, clothing). That then frees you to spend more on things you value and enjoy (e.g. food, travel).

Chrissy’s closing thoughts

At only ¥1,144,896 per year ($10,955 CAD or $8,473 USD), Sayu’s essential spending is, unbelievably, the lowest of all of my interviewees. It’s even lower than Marjolein’s ($11,781 CAD) and Fire Trekker’s ($12,344) essential spending! 

Related: Check out my one-year of FIRE interviews post for detailed cost comparisons from my first year of interviews.

Sayu achieved his very low spending by slashing his housing costs and optimizing nearly all of his expenses. This does take effort, thought and planning, but it pays off. Using the 4% rule, Sayu would only need ¥28,622,400 per year ($274,174 CAD or $211,820 USD) to reach FIRE!

Even when I add 50% to his expenses (as an estimate to cover all his spending, not just his essentials), his FIRE number still only comes to ¥42,933,600 per year ($411,261 CAD or $317,730 USD). That is a very achievable number for most people. 

It’s a powerful position to be in when you’re able to keep your life simple and efficient. Even high inflation is unlikely to affect Sayu much—when you spend so little, a temporary 8 to 12% increase is probably not a game changer.

As we all navigate these turbulent times together, I hope you’ll be able to take inspiration from Sayu’s interview. (I know I’m, once again, motivated to take another look at our expenses!)

Connect with Sayu

If you’d like to connect with Sayu, you can find him on his blog, Life after early retirement in Japan, or on Twitter. Sayu says, “This is my Twitter account, I just started it on November 1, 2021. I’d be very happy to get to know you!”

Share your thoughts

Were you surprised by Sayu’s essential expenses? Are any of them significantly different from where you live? Share your thoughts in the comments, along with your own money saving tips!

Brian and his family live in Newport, Rhode Island—home to the luxurious Gilded Age mansions. Even so, they live relatively frugally (but happily splurge in a few important areas).

Visit the intro page to learn more about the what and why behind the series and access the complete list of interviews.

Support this blog

If you liked this article and want more content like this, please support this blog by sharing it! Not only does it help spread the FIRE, but it lets me know what content you find most useful. (Which encourages me to write more of it!) 

You can also support this blog by visiting my recommendations page and purchasing through the links. Note that not every link is an affiliate link—some are just favourite products and services that I want to share. 🙂

As always, however you show your support for this blog—THANK YOU!

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6 Comments

  • Reply
    GYM
    June 20, 2022 at 11:27 pm

    Wow, just wow!

    I always thought it was very expensive to live in Japan, thanks for breaking down my misconception!

    • Reply
      Chrissy
      June 21, 2022 at 7:25 pm

      Hi GYM—I think most people assume that Japan is a very expensive place to live. Sayu and my other Japanese interviewee (Syun, who lives in Tokyo) have proven that’s not the case! It’s a pleasant surprise!

  • Reply
    Teresa
    June 23, 2022 at 8:23 pm

    I also thought it was very expensive to live in Japan. Now I understand why my second cousin is moving out of Tokyo to be able to afford a larger home since he started a family. He said that even though he has to buy a second hand car, it will be less expensive to move away from Tokyo and he will have more outdoor space for his 3 year old daughter. Thank you Sayu for sharing and you are a great role model for young people.

    • Reply
      Chrissy
      June 23, 2022 at 10:38 pm

      Hi Mom—this is what I love about this interview series! It’s been fun to have so many of my assumptions challenged and my eyes opened.

      I’m still amazed by how little Sayu spends to live a very nice life in Japan! I agree that he’s a very good role model. 👍

    • Reply
      Sayu
      June 24, 2022 at 5:42 pm

      Thank you very much.
      I enjoyed sharing my experience as well.The cost of living in Japan is not expensive, and it is very safe.
      However, expensive restaurants, new real estates, tower apartments, new cars, etc. are expensive.Spending money on these things makes early retirement hard to achieve🤣

      • Chrissy
        June 25, 2022 at 8:11 pm

        Hi Sayu—Vancouver is quite safe, but when my family and I visited Japan, we were amazed by how much safer we felt in Tokyo than in Vancouver. We felt so comfortable that we often let our kids (11 and 13 at the time) walk home from the train station by themselves AT NIGHT! This is just one of the reasons why we love Japan. 🙂

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