Every time we travel...
...we stop by real estate offices to stare at their windows.
...we go to grocery stores to browse their aisles.
We simulate living in that country. We check condo prices and rents. We check produce and meat prices while we scour the sauce aisles for interesting sauces to buy back home.
In Nagasaki (Japan), we found 700-800 square foot condos selling for the equivalent of $200,000 to $250,000. That's more than enough space to live, and right in the heart of the city. That's a third of what you would pay in Toronto. But with the population shrinking in Japan even with net positive migrants every year, the demand for real estate is only shrinking and therefore not a good investment.
In Fukuoka (Japan), similarly sized condos with two bedrooms are renting for $1000-$1200 a month. That's half of what you would pay in Toronto. But with an average income of around $50,000 in Fukuoka vs $78,000 in Toronto, seems like Fukuoka wins this one.
Even Tokyo wasn't as expensive as we thought.
Housing is the biggest cost of living for most households. And in Japan, it's a fraction of that in Canada.
I don't have a lot of good grocery store data since we are staying in a very touristy area and the only data point is a high-end department store grocery store where kiwis are $5, grapes can go for over $80, and a pack of 12 strawberries will cost you $35. But these are the high-end stuff. I know regularly priced stuff exists, we just haven't had the chance to explore yet.
Restaurant eating is substantially cheaper in Japan than Toronto. We've found nice sit-down places with very good quality food where a meal would cost around $10-$12 per person. The same quality of atmosphere and food in Toronto would cost at least $20 per person. This is inclusive of tax and tips.
And by the way, tipping doesn't exist in Japan. Good service is part of the job and the price you pay, you are not expected to pay extra for good service.
This culture alone will save you 10%-20% when dining out. This culture in Canada is just another reason we choose to eat at home more than eat out.
For the same lifestyle in Japan and Canada, I'm quite certain we would have a cost of living substantially less expensive in Japan with at least the same quality of life, but probably better.
Save Money Retire Early is written by Jon Lo, a barely 30 something change optimist, and personal finance guy. I believe anyone can be rich or poor, it's what you save that makes the difference.