Apr 1, 2018
No matter where you live in the world, transportation is a consideration, but the mode and cost of transport differs greatly from place to place. For those who live in big cities (especially in Japan), there is little need for a car when you have such an extensive network of trains, buses, and cabs. Out in Snow Country, however, we aren't as lucky, so we have to rely on a mix of personal and public transport to get around. Unfortunately, having a heavy mix of modes of transport can be costly if you do not think about ways to maximize the economy of each.
Here are some considerations for budgeting for transportation in snow country:
It is possible to survive in Snow Country without a car, but life becomes exponentially easier if you have one. Expect to spend around 500,000-1,000,000 yen on a good used car and snow tires (which are must-haves for the winter season). You should also budget about 2,000 yen for a sturdy snow brush/ice scraper tool to keep in the car for when it looks like mine did in the picture above (don't skimp on this, since the cheaper tools tend to break under the heavy amount of snow, meaning you'll be out more money replacing the original). Insurance, tax, and maintenance will come to about another 120,000 yen annually. If you minimize use of your vehicle, you can probably get away with budgeting about 3,000 yen a month for gas. All of this may seem expensive, but having to take a taxi imposes heavy real and opportunity costs when you need to take care of things during the long and snowy winter season.
Although the winter season hampers your ability to ride bikes for about 3-4 months of the year, the other 8 months tend to be great for getting around on a bike instead of having to use a car. Although some folks will look for fancier road bikes, mountain bikes, or fat bikes for getting around the area in snow country, my wife and I put about 11,000 yen each into a standard mamachari bike (see pic above). We store those bikes outside (under cover), and in spite of all of the weather conditions that roll through snow country, they have kept up extremely well over the course of 5 years of use. I certainly advocate for everyone to have a bicycle in Japan, whether in the city or the countryside, and a good mamachari bike will only run you between 10,000-15,000 yen plus 500 yen for registration.
One big advantage to living in Snow Country (thanks to former Prime Minister Kakuei Tanaka) is the Joetsu Shinkansen that connects Tokyo to Niigata. It's hard to believe that our little town has a bullet train stop, but it sure does, which means that if we need to take a trip into the city, there is no need to fly or take a long drive on the expressway. Standard fare to Tokyo from Snow Country is about 16,000 yen, or $150. If you are a student, however, you can apply to use the Gakuwari student discount (up to 20%) a limited number of times a year (apply through your student services office).
Out in the rural areas of Japan, you will generally find that you will have access to either airports or bullet train stations, but rarely both. In my case, I am lucky enough to have a bullet train stop available. The nearest airport, however, is in Niigata city and not near a train station, meaning that I either need to drive 3 hours or take a combination of bullet train and local trains or buses to get to the airport. In that case, it becomes more economical either to take the bullet train to my final destination, or take it into Tokyo to go to Haneda or Narita if I need to fly. When you move to the countryside, make sure to price this out, especially if you intend to travel or expect visitors to come to your town.
Do you have any questions about the cost of transportation in snow country? Do you have any additional recommendations for readers? Feel free to use the comments section below!
Hitting the books once again as a Ph.D. student in Niigata Prefecture. Although I've lived in Japan many years, life as a student in this country is a first.
Blessed Dad. Lucky Husband. Happy Gaijin (most of the time).