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The Japanese TV Police


25 Sep 2003
Some people I have met have told me that Japan is not a free country. Some others have told me that it is. Some have told me that this is a Socialist nation. :eek:

I can't really tell anymore. In some ways, I think this is a freer nation than America (and I thought that well before Bush ever became president). And in some ways, I think this is not a free nation at all. Confused? :confused: Yeah, me too.

One of Japan's ways seems to me a very free country is that there is still very little crime. When I lived in America, I always worried about my parents or my wife being victims of crime whenever they stayed out after dark. Heck, I was afraid to be out in downtown LA. by myself after dark! Maybe I was made so afraid because of sensationalist TV news in America. I don't know. I don't think I can make an objective judgement about that anymore. But I think fearing for your own personal safety in your own neighbourhood is a kind of "oppression."

I have never felt this fear in Japan. Okay, well, I did. Once. I was walking down the street late at night by myself after drinking with some friends. It was probably about 1:30 in the morning. I had just gotten to Japan and still didn't really know what was going on here -still don't.
Anyhow, I walk down this dark street and out from behind me pop two guys from a dark alley. I got real scared! I thought these two guys were going to "roll" me. I started walking a bit faster. They were gaining on me! But then I remembered I wasn't in downtown Los Angeles. I was in downtown Tokyo. Maybe living in L.A. so long had made me a bit "jumpy" (L.A. has a funny way to make anyone "jumpy" for that matter). I thought,

'These guys aren't dangerous. Hell, I'm probably the most dangerous person around here!" I stopped, and the two guys walked by me, and I overheard them talking about some girl at work that they thought was "hot."

A few of the ways that Japan is not as free a nation as America seem sometimes to really have nothing to do with what the government does or decides. This is an extremely crowded place. Imagine your worst last minute Christmas shopping at the mall nightmare and multiply that by 50... Yeah, that's about right. That's what any train station around Tokyo is like on any given workday at 9 in the morning. :mad:

Some comments I've heard from people is that, "It's so crowded here that you don't have room to change your mind." Or "My apartment is so small, I put the key into the lock, and cracked the bathroom window." Being so crowded, Japan is a great place to learn patience. There's no point in getting mad or really being in so much of a rush...You aren't going anywhere!

And, if you got mad here, lost your temper and started screaming, well that's the worst thing you could do. Japanese people don't really raise their voices (unless they're drunk) and if you raise your voice and start screaming the only thing they will understand is that you are mad. :angryfire ...U could be shouting the most logical, rational sentence in the entire world and all they will do is give you a blank look and think: "What's this guy shouting about?" So it does you absolutely no good to start shouting here. You'll be "turned off" by everyone around. You'll be ignored and realize a few moments later that you are standing there, shouting by yourself, and everyone is staring at you with little question marks floating over their heads. :confused:

But there are times when the Japanese government makes rules about this or that. Well, I guess so. Isn't that what governments do? Sure the US government screws things up and very often makes rules that are just ridiculous. I am reminded of the warning label on a package of drain cleaner that said something like: "If you are unclear about the proper usage of this product or you are unable to understand or read these instructions, do not use this product!" (I'm not making that up either!)

But the Japanese government has their own unique, well... let me say "cute" way of screwing things up. One great example is what I call the "TV Police"
I'm sure if I say "TV Police," it conjures up images in your mind about jack-booted cops bursting into your house and clubbing you over the head for watching some anti-government propaganda programs. Or like the RIAA Nazis, you have in America who want all 12-year-olds arrested for downloading music off the Internet.

No, no! That's not it. You are thinking too deeply here if that's what you are imagining. It's even more simple and devious than that!

The doorbell rings. I answer it. The guys say he's from NHK. NHK is the nationally run broadcasting station in Japan. It's kind of like PBS, except they have interesting programs sometimes. I open the door and talk to the guy. He tells me I have to pay some money.

"Money, for what?"

"For your TV"

"For my TV!? Why?"

"Because it's the law."

He's right. It is the law. NHK is the government run broadcasting network here, but they don't take money out of your taxes to pay for it. No! They have a much more efficient system of running it here!
They have some guy who comes around to every house in the neighbourhood, kind of like the newspaper boy, to make "collections."

"I'm not going to pay you any money!"

"You must! It's the law!" I can tell that this guy isn't going away easily.
I realize that I had already "blown it" by speaking Japanese to him in the first place.

"I don't watch NHK." I counter.

"It doesn't matter. Everyone who owns a TV must pay!" He demands. This does not register in my brain. It's like I'm having some sort of short-circuit. Sparks are flying out of my ears and my eyes are twitching. I can't think straight. I repeat,

"But I don't watch NHK!" :angryfire

"It's the law. Everyone who owns a TV must pay for NHK regardless of whether they watch it or not!" He hands me an explanation paper. It's written in English. The guy is maneuvering me into a corner.

I come up with my next snappy line of reasoning, "I'm not paying!"

"You must pay. NHK does not have commercials so everyone must pay!"

"What!? Look this isn't the Soviet Union!" I say, "If you guys don't want to have commercials that's your choice. I didn't decide that! No one asked me!"

"It's the law that NHK has no commercials!"

"Look," I say, "I'll write you a note giving you my permission to air commercials, okay?"

"No! You must pay!"

I act like I'm going to step out of my apartment, so he steps back. That was my chance! As soon as he stepped back, I slammed the door shut and locked it!

"Whew!" I thought. But damn if this guy wasn't persistent! He must have kept knocking on my door for two minutes after that until he realized I wouldn't answer it, so he gave up and left.

"What a bunch of crap! I don't even watch NHK!" I thought as I turned on the TV and watched Sesame Street with my kid. Okay, well, I do watch NHK. They show Sesame Street! That "Cookie Monster" and "The Count" crack me up!

The next day the doorbell rang and it was the same guy. I couldn't believe it! And this time he showed up with his boss! My kid answered the door so it was already opened. I couldn't act like I wasn't here.

The boss is even pushier than the other guy. We go around through the same conversation that we did the day before. The boss is not going to give up as easily as the other guy did. He's got his foot in the door.
He's not going to leave until I give him the money. What am I going to do? Well, what would any self-respecting husband in Japan do? I blame my wife! Yeah, I tell them that I don't have any money anyway and that my wife controls all the money so talking to me is just a big waste of time.

This kind of logic works well in this country. People in the West think Japanese women are treated as second-class citizens here. In some ways yes, in some ways no. But in a very large percentage of households in Japan, the wife has complete control of the family "purse-strings." So you tell me, if the women have all the money here, who really holds the keys to power in Japan?

So the NHK guys ask me when my wife will be back. I tell them "tomorrow."

The next morning I'm at work talking with an old-timer in the broadcasting business here in Tokyo. This guy had worked in the broadcasting business for almost 40 years at the time. I'm sure he is retired by now. I tell him about my little escapades with the NHK guys. I ask him what I should do. He says: "Don't pay."

I am quite surprised at what he tells me. I mean, here is a Japanese guy, working in this broadcasting business and he's telling me not to pay!

"No one in this business ever pays, Mike." He says.

"But what about the law? If I don't pay, they said they'd penalize me!"

"Yeah," he says, "In the law it is written that if you don't pay NHK, you will be given a penalty. But the law doesn't state what the penalty is!"

"Just like Japan!" I think. I say, "So if I don't pay, there's nothing they can do about it?"

"No." He says, "They are just worried that if the neighbors find out that you didn't pay that the neighbors will stop paying. That's all. I had the same experience and after several times that NHK came over, finally they sent a very high-ranking official to my house. He told me, okay. You don't have to pay. Just don't tell the neighbors that you don't pay and we won't bother you anymore. So we agreed."

Unbelievable! Well, actually very believable if you're ever here before.

So, that was about 18 years or so ago. I have seen the NHK guys many times since. I've tried everything to get rid of them! I acted like I couldn't speak Japanese, that didn't work; I've acted like I wasn't home, they waited for me; I've even tried to act like I was just the house-keeper, no dice! I guess I'm a bad liar. It must show on my face. They keep coming back.

One other day I woke up in the morning and saw my 15 yr old daughter standing at the door talking to a different NHK guy and he was having her sign a form for an automatic bank-withdrawal for the fees! A 15-year-old kid! I grabbed the form from her and told her I'd take care of it.
The form was in Japanese, so I acted like I couldn't read it. I pointed at a line on the form and said to him, "What does this say here?"
He adjusted his glasses and took the form from me so he could explain what was to be written in each space. As soon as he did, I slammed the door shut and locked it.

Of course, he stood outside and knocked on my door for a while until he gave up. God! Do I hate these control freaks! So I goosestepped into the living room and told my kids that if it's the NHK guy at the door that they are "verboten" to answer the door under any circumstances.

So I was trapped in my apartment. Living in fear. I was afraid to go outside and be accosted by the TV Police. Yes. NHK in Japan- PBS with teeth! Well, maybe not teeth, more like dentures.

😲 😌 ;) ;)
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Lol, you made the mistake in the begining of 1) speaking japanese, 2) speaking english, 3) telling them you have a tv. No tv, no problem 😉 Next time speak german or some other non japanese or english language. "No comprede!"
(rofl, this tactic used often on doorknocking christians, that or answering the door naked)
Unless the NHK people already have your bank number, there is nothing they can do with the automatic bank withdraw form. If they do have your number, it is probably criminal for them to have it and you should look into how they got came by it.

That aside, and while I don't like paying the TV tax either, if you have a TV, and watch NHK, just pay the darn fee.

While the NHK man is a very in your face way of collecting a tax, just like in the US, etc. we don't choose which taxes we pay. Try saying "Oh, I'll just skip medicare taxes this month, since I don't use it" and see which branch of federal agent comes to your door.

Some people in the industry might not pay, but rest assured many, many Japanese people feel obliged to do so. You don't like the law, work to change it. If the extent of social reform is going to be limited to tricking the TV man long enough to slam the door in his face, NHK is not going to get the message that you don't think their programming is worth 200 USD a year and you would like to see change. Either pay up, or speak up.

I share your frustration and dislike of their tactics, Reflected, but not paying the NKH tax is too dark a shade of gray for me.
How much is this tax, and why the heck does it feel like a Yakuza sting or a scam in the frist place ? Canada has the CBC, but if someone from the CBC did that, I'd be legally entitled to call the police.
As taken from the CIA world factbook.

Constitution-based federal republic; strong democratic tradition.
Sadly we ARE moving to socialism, and no one seems to see it or care.

constitutional monarchy with a parliamentary government

Sure that doesn't ensure free, but the point is that even if America is, it won't be in time.

The freest place on earth is HONG KONG. 15% sales tax, Very few laws, Very few benefits "Like SSI which while people think it is good for us, it always backfires."
However, now that China has hong kong back that might change... BTW hong kong is the richest city in the world due to its lack of restrictions and fallbacks.
About a year for NHK programming is about 220 USD.

The thing is, NHK calls itself a subscription-based organization, yet since all TVs will get NHK when you plug into basic TV services, you have signed up. I am not sure, but I think to even get basic TV you have to call an NHK licensed provider (anyone know for sure, my TVs always came with the apartment). In short, it is like a monopoly on basic services, allowed by the government who probably has a very big thumb in the pie (hence the tax-esque part of this shell game).

So the NHK thing runs in a gray area of legality. You have to use NHK to get TV, and then they make you "support" them with subscription fees. Somewhere in NHKs site was a stat from 1998 where they said 34.5 million people subscribed to NHK. Japan is about 125 million in population. I don't know about you, but 1 in 4 people owning a TV does not sound right.

Lots of people are not paying. Still, 34.5 million times 220 USD is about 7,590,000,000 USD. No small chump change.
In Sweden you have to pay a yearly sum of somewhere about $100 USD to be able to watch the public service channels (called SVT). There are 2 channels, both are commercial free. There was a rumour (most certanly started by SVT), that they had employees running around with scanning devices (for lack of better word) that could tell if you had a TV or not. People who doesn't want to pay this have to always check who's at the door and turn the TV off as soon as they think it's the SVT-guys at the door again.
Heh, my parents told me about when they thought they'd trick SVT for some time. Didn't work in the end, they always had to check who was at the door and so on. And it really isn't that much to pay.
Just thought I'd share some stories from my country. ^__^

Finland actually has allmost the exact system as NHK, the channel we're paying for (or should pay) is called YLE. It doesn't have commercials either, it's a national tv. Usually there isnt't that much programmes that would be intersting enough to watch..But, even if you wouldn't _ever_ watch it, or even ever watch tv even though you own one, you should pay.
Sound familiar? They have these tv-inspectors (="tv police") who check up on some houses to see if they have payed, and have the permission to watch-basicly own- a tv. The amount of money everyone who has a tv should pay is approx. 170 euros per each year.
I paid the NHK guy last week.

Look, it's the law. It's probably a good idea to obey the laws of the country you live in. Granted, it's outdated, (effective since 1950) but that doesn't mean you should make some guy's job harder. If you've got that big of a problem with it, get involved in changing it in a positive way. I highly doubt the fee collecter enjoys dealing with treatment like that.

See article 32 of Japan's TV broadcast laws.
yup, I would just pay it.. No point in making the guys job harder.. He is at work just like you would be on your job, would you like the constant aggrivation of having to go back with less money then hes supposed to have only in return to be jumped on by his boss, most likely...?
jeez galeez i had no idea. good work reflected! it may be highly unjapanese and a terrible thing to do, but it made an interesting story, and its always good standing up for what you believe in.

if i ever move to japan i might skip getting a tv after reading that. wouldnt be missing much.
Mandylion said:
While the NHK man is a very in your face way of collecting a tax, just like in the US, etc. we don't choose which taxes we pay. Try saying "Oh, I'll just skip medicare taxes this month, since I don't use it" and see which branch of federal agent comes to your door.

It all depends. In countries like Germany, there is a religious tax for Christians that is used to restore churches or support the clergy (as if they needed that :eek: ), but by declaring that you are not Christian, you don't have to pay the tax. 😌

In Belgium, education is a federal matters that does not depends on the regions (i.r. states), but the communities (i.e. cultural government, by language group : Dutch, French and German). In other words, if you live in a bilingual area like Brussels, you can choose which community's tax for the education, tourism and cultural matters, just by choosing whether you are Dutch or French speaker (even if you are bilingual, or even if you don't speak either). As the tax is different, so people register in the other linguistic group to pay less taxes. :sick:

I guess there must be other examples of "selectable taxes". But for the NHK issue, that shouldn't be a problem for Britons, which have the same system with the BBC. One could argue that at least you get quality for what you pay, while NHK... 😊
Feral-Darkness said:
As taken from the CIA world fact book.

Constitution-based federal republic; strong democratic tradition.
Sadly we ARE moving to socializam and no one seems to see it or care.

constitutional monarchy with a parliamentary government

Sure that doesn't ansure which is more free but the point is that even if america is, it won't be in time.

What does freedom have to do with republic or monarchy ?
What's the problem with "socialism" ? Don't you confuse with "communism" ?
Compared to the US, almost all EU countries can be considered socialist (and oddly enough not Eastern European countries since the fall of communism), as taxes are high in order to provide free education, free or cheap medical service and unemployment benefits. This has nothing to do with freedom (except that you basically have to pay more taxes, but don't need to pay for medicare or your children's schooling, including university), and it is an additional security for the people, while keeping a very capitalist system. Japan is half way between Europe and the US in this regard.

The freest place on earth is HONG KONG. 15% sales tax, Very few laws, Very few benifits "Like SSI which while people think it is good for us, it allways back fires."

15% sales tax (consumption tax ?), is it a good or bad thing ? It's 5% in Japan, and 25% in Sweden, but it still has nothing to do with freedom. Few laws ? The UK has few laws (probably where HK get it from), but you can get harsh fines for dropping litter, feeding the pigeons or ringing the train's alarm. Italy has so many laws that even lawyers don't get a grasp of it, and consequently nobody respects the law (quite free indeed 😊 ). The important is the content of the law, not the number.

BTW, are you from Hong Kong ? Have you been to other places such as Europe.
mad pierrot said:
Look, it's the law. It's probably a good idea to obey the laws of the country you live in.

Depends where you are from. Among Europeans, it is notorious that some people like the Danes, Belgians or Italians, make a point in doing something just because it's forbidden, and cheating on taxes or avoiding the law has become a national sport. You should respect people's cultural specificities. :D

Granted, it's outdated, (effective since 1950) but that doesn't mean you should make some guy's job harder. If you've got that big of a problem with it, get involved in changing it in a positive way.

A good way to avoid paying the NHK fee is not have a TV, to watch TV on your computer. Get an Cable TV Internet connection, so that you can actually watch TV channels, and pretend it's only for the Internet. As laws haven' evolved since the 50's or so, computers aren't considered as TV's, and the NHK guys wouldn't even suspect it. Ahh, amateurs, really ! :giggle:
Mandylion said:
You have to use NHK to get TV, and then they make you "support" them with subscription fees.

Really ? Is it about having a TV, or having the free cable connection that brings you NHK and other channels ? What about if the place where you live has no cable access (e.g. you build your own house and decide to to connect it), but you have a TV to watch video/DVD's or play games ? They shouldn't be able to charge you for the NHK fee. Otherwise, just hide the TV (new flat screens are convenient for that) when the guy come and pretend not to have one. After all, I've read of a case of an Italian ceramics factory near Rome that was mounted on wheels to avoid the tax collector. 😲 If you can hide a factory, you can hide a TV (read with an Italian accent). :sorry:
Lol, you beat me to it! I have tv on my computer and have no intention of getting a tv, i could just get a bigger monitor!

A flat screen tv would make a nice insta-table :p
That's a pretty funny story Reflected, it reminds me of when I was younger and my mum used to hide the TV from the 'teleman' :D

In England there is a very similar thing to that, because the BBC do not air adverts you HAVE to pay a TV license by law and if you don't you can go to court and pay a fine of up to ツ」10,000, it costs about ツ」110 a year and even if you don't watch the BBC you still have to pay (Although I think there was a case where a bloke from Wales won because he couldn't quite receive it in the hills and valleys)

Ewok - where did get TV from on the net, cheers.
I actually signed that automatic withdrawal form, believing the bullshit the guy was telling me. Later, when I found out what the deal was, I had to send in a form certifying that I no longer had a TV to get them to stop.

The next time the guy came, at first I tried to argue -- but I don't watch crappy jidai geki I said. He was very rude. Even stepped into my genkan uninvited. Then I just flat out said that I wasn't going to pay "taihou sareru made". He threatened to go get a cop and I said fine, go ahead. That year there were a lot of people in the news not paying their income taxes for some reason (maybe because of military or some government waste I don't remember) so I said, it was a matter of principle to me similar to those people (except I wouldn't be dumb enough not to pay income taxes). And that was it. He didn't have any choice but to leave me alone. And I never saw him again. Actually I did see him bicycling around the neighborhood but he never came to my door again.

By the way, I wouldn't feel sorry for those guys. They are not poor NHK employees. They are essentially bill collectors. I believe they get a percentage of whatever they get people to pay. Hence the reason why they are such a**holes. If they can bully you into paying, they get a cut.
If the government really was concerned about this, they would either enforce the law or simply roll the fee into the tax structure. I didn't see the point in contributing to support something that I don't use and that even many, if not most, Japanese don't pay for.
I've heard about those vans off my mum, sounds funny for me.

I agree with mdchachi, if it was required it would be part of some tax or rate that you pay the government.
Here is an opportunity to restart this wonderful thread :
NHK boss exits as viewers stop paying

Faced with a rising number of people refusing to pay viewer subscription fees due to embezzlement scandals, NHK President Katsuji Ebisawa tendered his resignation Tuesday
More than 113,000 households have refused to pay mandatory subscription fees for those owning televisions as of the end of November, apparently out of outrage over the embezzlement fiasco. As a result, NHK is facing financial difficulties in compiling its budget, and pressure had been mounting for Ebisawa to resign to take responsibility.
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