I've been asked to write about how much things here cost compared to Japan and North America. The short answer is about the same as the U.S. and cheaper than Japan. Of course, it isn't as simple as that. It depends on how you live and what you spend your money on, but I'm finding that things here seem pretty cheap. I'll do my best to give prices of things that I've found here and to compare them to Japan, but as for the States, I haven't lived there for a while and don't really know what anything costs anymore.
The obvious one for me personally to start with based on the past week is cars. I would say that cars and trucks are about the same as in the States, both new and used. Compared to Japan where you can get a decent 10-year-old car for free, they're expensive. Upkeep here is a different story. Parking is free if you can find a space. (Though I heard only today that there will be a charge for parking in the center of town. I need to find out more about that later.) Around where I live, parking isn't a hassle yet. Gas is pretty cheap with gas being sold for about $1.70 a gallon and unless I'm completely mistaken (I probably am) about 40 yen per liter. A speeding ticket is 700 dirham or $190 and I think that running a red light is the same. Considering that those seem to be the only moving violations that people are concerned with, overall owning a car seems pretty cheap.
One thing that I should have an idea of but really don't know is housing. The school I work for provides housing. After a year, I can apply for a housing stipend and move into another apartment. From what I've heard, due to skyrocketing rental costs it won't cover the cost of rent anymore, so we have to stay in the apartments provided by the school. Since no one I know in my building pays rent, I don't know what the rent is, but I did a search and for apartments in my area and found that 250,000 dirham ($68,000 or 6.25 million yen) a year for an apartment was on the low end. It's a good thing housing is included.
Unfortunately, utilities aren't. I've heard that they're not too bad, but no one can tell me exactly how much I can plan to pay. It's not the monthly cost that is the problem, it's the surprise lump sum that comes at random times. The housing company sends a bill every nine months or so, when they feel like it.
The next big one is alcohol. Depending on where you go, a 24-pack of standard beer like Beck's or Heinekin will be about 100 dirham ($27 or 2500yen). I think a 24-pack of Guiness is about 230 dirham ($62 or 5700 yen)A bottle of liquor can be about 90 dirham ($25 or 2300 yen) with not much difference between low quality and top brands. From what I remember, Vodka was the same for a bottle of Stoli as it was for generic brands. In bars, there isn't much beer selection with your standard lagers like Corona, Fosters and Heiniken or nicer beers like Kilkiney and Guiness. I think a pint of Kilkeney or Guniess typically runs about 30 dirham ($8 or 750 yen) so it ends up being a little more expensive with the current exchange rates.
I bought a Starbucks coffee for the first time since coming here last night and paid 16 dirham ($4.35 or 400 yen) for a grande sized latte so that seemed about the same. We went out to eat a Chilli's and paid 32 dirhams ($8.70 or 800 yen) for a bacon cheeseburger which seemed expensive at the time but looks incredibly cheap now that I look at the converted price. I tend to have lunch at Subway and can get a footlong sub with potato chips and a soda for 28 dirham ($7.60 or 700 yen). For the most part fast food seems to be about the same as the States.
Soda and other western comfort foods are way cheaper than in Japan, too. A can of soda like Coke or Sprite at the hypermarket is 1 dirham ($0.27 or 25 yen). If you want to get fancy with something like root beer, Cherry Pepsi, or Vanilla Dr. Pepper, expect to pay 2.5 dirham ($0.68 or 63 yen). Pretty much any kind of cereal is available for a range of 10 dirham ($2.70 or 250 yen) to 30 dirham ($8.10 or 750 yen). That range can even apply to the same brand, depending on the store and whatever is on sale. Decent frozen pizzas will cost about 35 dirham ($9.50 or 870 yen). Bread is pretty cheap compared with Japan. You can get a really nice loaf of fresh baked bread for 6 dirham ($1.60 or 150 yen) and while I don't remember prices, freshly sliced deli meats and cheeses are cheap, too with a good variety. Pork products, on the other hand run about twice as much.
Electronics seem to be about the same as Japan, too. Blackberries are way more common than i-phones here. I didn't look at how much Blackberries cost, but was intent on getting an i-phone until I saw the 2500 dirham ($810 or 75,000 yen) pricetag for an 8 gig phone. Add to the restrictions they put on them and my miscalculating the conversion rate when I first got here, I couldn't justify it so instead bought a phone for about 600 dirham ($163 or 15,000 yen). We're planning on buying a Nintendo Wii which cost 1150 dirham ($313 or 29,000 yen) including Wii sports.
We just hired a cleaning lady to come in once a week for three hours. She charges 30 dirhams an hour plus 10 dirhams cab fare for a total of 100 dirhams ($27 or 2500 yen) a week. In addition, I hired someone at my school to wash my car every day for a cost of 100 dirham a month. Washing it every day might seem excessive until you see how filthy my car is after two days.
Lastly, Daiso has a nice presence here. For those from the U.S. who are reading this, Daiso is a chain of Japanese 100 yen stores. My wife can get her fix of cheap Japanese products there but instead of 100 yen, things cost 7 dirhams or 175 yen ($1.91). Still, that's not bad and it's nice to know that my wife and kids can easily get things that remind them of home, too.