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Do As Tokyo Does NHK Ain't No HBO
(Entered Oct. 02, 2009)
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I sometimes try to watch TV here with the idea of improving my Japanese, but every time I try I always find myself frankly appalled at how bad Japanese TV really is. Day or night, you're bombarded with sappy, poorly acted dramas, boring cooking programs, unamusing game shows and my all time favourite, the panel of semi-famous people that sit around 'discussing' stuff that would be 10 times more interesting if I was simply able to watch it myself.
If that was all there was to it, I wouldn't bother complaining, my TV would just stay off and you wouldn't be reading this. Unfortunately there's more, and it gets worse. the Japan Broadcasting Corporation (NHK) requires you to pay money for the priviledge of receiving their crummy electromagnetic waves, and the NHK tax collector recently paid me a visit....

tv in japan is not free

During my 10 year stay in Japan I've dealt face to face with the NHK people only twice. The first time was way back during my first year of living in Tokyo. At that time I had no clue that TV wasn't free. When my doorbell rang I naively answered, and was confronted by a middle aged lady demanding I pay something like 1300 yen per month for watching NHK. When my brain translated what she was saying, I told her I didn't speak any Japanese and she promptly switched into English. Then I told her that I don't watch TV, much less NHK (which was true enough), but this also didn't matter. By the way, NHK only broadcasts on channels 1 and 3 (in Tokyo at least), the other 10 or so channels are free. If you have a TV, you must pay NHK money, and that is that. I'd understand it if NHK was a pay per view kind of deal, and you had to pay to get an unscrambled signal, but making me pay for a channel simply because I own a TV set? Well that's just ridiculous, and I said as much to the lady. She then started to get all huffy and excited, something which I'm sure her job allows her to do a lot, telling me that it's the law and everyone has to pay no matter what. I still wasn't convinced she wasn't some kind of scam artist so I ended up closing the door in her face after a few minutes.
It wasn't long after that I discovered that what she was saying was all too true, that it really is the law, but that my reaction was far from uncommon. Most of my students told me they didn't pay either. The law may be the law, but currently there is no punishment for not paying NHK their so called 'dues', so a large percentage of the Japanese population refuse to do so.
Years past without any sign of the NHK people. Perhaps they came to my place a few times but I've since adopted the safe policy of never answering the door unless it's someone I know, or if I'm expecting a delivery, so I didn't have to deal with them again, until now that is. Just last week Kumi inadvertently let the NHK guy through the apartment doors for another showdown...
In the intervening years between NHK's first visit and now, I've come to understand their position with a bit more clarity. Interestingly enough, NHK is commercial free, meaning they don't make any money from advertising, which in turn is the reason they hound the public for cash. Of course I had no idea they didn't air commercials until a student told me, something I suppose I'd know if I ever watched NHK. No commercials eh? Admirable perhaps, but another thing I've noticed about Japanese TV, the commercials are often more interesting than the TV programs.... Anyway, admirable or not, time hasn't really mellowed me out to NHK's cause, so once again a door was closed on a face.

I'd be interested in hearing what other people in Japan do in this situation. Do you pay? And if not what kind of excuses you use. The most common excuse my students use is 'I don't own a TV'. The NHK people must love hearing that one...


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