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.’