Making Friends With The NHK Man

Tonight, I did something that perhaps no other foreigner in Japan has done. I called the NHK guy and invited him round. I know, I’m a fool. But I was feeling charitable.

It isn’t quite as simple as that, I suppose. I mean, I wasn’t sitting at home wondering what to do when I thought, ‘I know! I’ll phone the NHK guy!’ No, he had popped round earlier, as he had several times in the last few months, to try and cajole me into paying several years worth of back-payments and I’d told him I was too busy to talk to him. He asked if he could come tomorrow and I said no. He left me a card with his number telling me to call when I was free and I had laughed at the very notion. I sat down and had a beer and then, for some reason, I called him and invited him back.

You see, whilst enjoying my beer I began thinking what an awful job that man had, having to go round and try and get people to pay him what they did, in fact, legally owe. There may be no enforceable punishment for non-compliance with the NHK payment system, but, it would appear that it is actually the law that anybody with equipment capable of receiving NHK broadcasts must pay. So there the chap was, going door to door and most likely being brushed off at every home before having to go back to the office and get a dressing down for being shit at his job. I felt sorry for him and I began to wonder why I didn’t pay.

Well, one reason is that I almost never watch NHK. I used to sometimes watch the bilingual news but got fed up with switching on and hoping to find out what was going on in Afghanistan or Iraq only to hear an English voice telling me, ‘This little boy says he likes to throw beans for good luck. He hopes he won’t catch a cold. This woman says she likes Setsubun because she can eat many beans! This year I ate 73, she laughs!’  I stopped watching it, but if I’m honest the main reason I stopped paying was not that the quality of programming annoyed me, or the frequency of my viewing dropped; it was that I had heard that nothing would happen to me if I didn’t pay. When news broke of fraudulent practices within the corporation I pretended that I was not paying as a protest. But that wasn’t actually the case. I stopped paying because I could do so without penalty. Nothing more.

I don’t much care for NHK, but I do believe in national public broadcasting. I always paid my televison license fee in the UK and did so without grudge. That I don’t like NHK programmes as much as BBC programmes is down to personal taste and cultural background. Hardly good reasons to refuse payment. The pocketing of funds scandals by executives of a few years ago may be legitimate grounds for true conscientious objectors to refuse payment, but for me they were an excuse. I didn’t really give a fuck about the scandals. Not really.

In any event, I decided to use the NHK guy’s card to call him and invite him round for a chat. I asked him if it was actually the law that people with a television had to pay. He assured me that under The Broadcast Law it was. I then asked him to confirm that about 30% of the population didn’t pay and that, at present, there was no way to punish such non-payment. He said that was correct. I asked how much I owed. He said it was ¥96,000 yen. ‘Right,’ I thought. ‘Maybe I should just tell him to piss off again.’

But that would be a bit too cruel – to basically tell him to piss off because I was too busy to talk and then to phone him up a little later and invite him round just so I could tell him to piss off properly. Instead, I used the pocketing of funds scandals as an excuse. I said I hadn’t paid because of NHK’s behaviour but would happily start to pay again if they didn’t seek any back-payment of funds. My protest had been made, I lied. He agreed immediately.

And so it is that I am once again paying for NHK, even though I rarely watch it. Perhaps I made the poor guy’s shitty job a little better, I don’t know, but I do know that I feel better for having made this choice. Because in the back of my mind there was always this little voice saying, ‘What do you think of people who come to your country and refuse to obey the laws because they don’t happen to like them very much?’ Of course, if those laws infringe on human rights and human dignity I might admire the protests. But a TV license that I can easily afford?

‘This man says that he hopes NHK can continue as a public broadcaster. He says he will make strong efforts to do the right thing and to be a good citizen. I hope now that the NHK man will fuck off and leave me alone, he laughs.’




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6 Responses to Making Friends With The NHK Man

  1. Jeffrey says:

    Well played. You are now a pillar of your community (as a gaijin that is). I encountered the NHK man just twice, once at the two different apartments I lived in. Both times pretending to not speak Japanese (yes, lame I know), and they just gave up after that.

    If NHK were to aspire to the quality of BBC and/or PBS, then paying wouldn’t seem such a waste.

  2. Jon Allen says:

    very well done sir. I don’t pay because I honestly do not have the equipment to receive the broadcasts, but if I did I would pay.
    They been round a couple of times and my wife invited them in to see for themselves, but I think they were too shy and just believed us and left us alone ever since.

  3. Mattn says:

    Kind of harsh when I think back, but when the NHK guy came round to our apartment we used to open the door, look him straight in the eye and tell him we didn’t own a televison, even though he could clearly hear the T.V in the background (we even used to turn it up for a laugh and get him to speak up). Cruel but funny at the time. And what was the poor guy gonna do? Storm the house and take down 3 Gaijin?

  4. Troy Mouni says:

    “Nihongo Wakaranai”, “Terebi janai”. End of story.

  5. Venom Bottle says:

    I go on the idea that unemployment is not an issue in Japan, (there are so many people just absolutely pointless jobs that everyone seems to have a job!), so the guy probably had some alternative job choices.
    Since he made the decision to work as an NHK debt collector, possibly the most hated people in Japan, he sold his soul to the devil and no longer registers as human in my eyes..
    These ‘people’ come around late into the evening; came last night at 10pm, do not announce themselves at the door (because if they did just say NHK de~su then probably nobody would answer the door!), and then shove their bag and foot in the doorway to seal your doom for the next 30 minutes.
    Their process is the most scary thing, I once almost signed up (the first time they came) it involved putting my bank card into a machine held by this complete stranger and then entering my PIN which was apparently necessary in order to make an account after which I would be NOT be paying by bank transfer… a process completely clonable by any con artist with a suit and a card scanner.
    Putting that aside,the man told me that 75% of households pay, with that including households not currently occupied (which is quite a lot in Tokyo!). But I’ve taken a much smaller sample, my surrounding houses who I often hear shouting at the NHK man and slamming doors, I dare to say with no real proof, 75% – my arse.

  6. Most foreigners I know here refuse to pay, and that is up to them. Nothing will happen if you don’t pay and I completely understand that many people don’t watch NHK and don’t see why they should pay. I just decided that for me, coming from a country where we also have to pay a TV license whether we watch the BBC or not, I would pay. I paid at home and so did almost everybody I knew. I began wondering why I thought the rules didn’t apply to me when I lived abroad, and decided it really wasn’t much of a hassle to pay. In fact it was almost worth it to stop having to answer the door to them! But, I’m not trying to be all high and mighty and down on those who don’t pay. Doesn’t really bother me one way or the other. It really must be an awful job, though, because you basically just have to go to all the homes where the people aren’t paying – in other words all the homes where you are almost certainly going to be told to fuck off!

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