People ask me if it’s expensive in Japan, and I don’t know what to tell them. Compared to what? America? I don’t know what that means. What do you pay for bypass surgery in the U.S. these days? A lot, I’d guess, even if you happen to be insured. There’s not a lot of bypass surgery among the Japanese, but I imagine if it became necessary, it’d cost about a tenth of what an Arkansas pig farmer might pay, as they have national health insurance here. Maybe there’s not much bypass surgery because sushi costs two-thirds what it does in the U.S., and my local supermarket carries boneless chicken breast at ¥48/kg, which converts to about a buck a pound, if you can believe it. Dark meat’s more expensive, but that’s just how they roll. This, after all, is a people who value chicken cartilidge (grilled on a skewer, if you please) as much as they do skin and hearts, which is to say a great deal. I imagine chickens must be to the Japanese what the bison was to Native Americans: an all-purpose flavor machine, but on feet instead of hooves. (To eat chicken feet, you need to go to Korea.)
On the other hand, a decent piece of beef here, if you can find one (good luck), will put you in the poorhouse. Lunchmeat and cheese are both outrageous, a can of soda’s the equivalent of $1.14, and the cheapest thing to be had in the Starbucks next to my workplace is a teacup-sized drip-brewed coffee for ¥310 – about $2.95. I ask for hot water and dump some of the display beans in it. It’s close enough. And don’t go looking for a bottomless cup of coffee in this country; they’ve never heard of free refills. Booze is ridiculous: a 12 oz. draft for around $5 is considered a good deal, and a can at the corner convenience will lighten your wallet by two bucks. Sake’s roughly the price of U.S. wine, but not as strong. You don’t want to drink the wine in Japan.
Pizza, such as it is (standard toppings include corn, seaweed, octopus, fish roe, potato wedges, hot dog weiners, and fried eggs – but fried eggs come on everything in Japan; see “chicken” above), requires a personal loan: think $35 for a “large” from Pizza Hut. I don’t know what a sandwich costs here, they don’t have them. Or when they do, you find noodles or bean curd or a fried egg inside.
Rice costs a lot more than you’d think, but that’s because of all the subsidies. If you feel gas is expensive in America at the moment, try driving in Japan – or anywhere else in the world, for that matter. Homes here come with mortgages that you hand down to your grandchildren but not with central heat or air. Travel by train is about the same as what you’d expect to pay in the U.S. in gas, snacks and sodas, tolls, and parking fees for the same distance. Fashion, and I use that word loosely, can really set you back around these parts, and that goes double if you want to traffic in the previously-owned stuff, which is half again as expensive as the new duds. (If everyone who reads this will ship me one pair of dirty, stained, ripped Levi’s, I’ll retire a wealthy man in one month.)
So I don’t know, is it more expensive in Japan than the U.S.? Probably a little. But can you order a pizza with grilled chicken cartilidge and fried eggs on it there? That’s what I thought. So don’t look so smug.