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Tuesday, Dec. 13, 2005
THE ZEIT GIST
The NHK man cometh
As the broadcaster threatens to sue those who don't pay fees, drastic steps may be necessary
NHK, Japan's beleaguered national broadcaster, is facing revenue losses of around 50 billion yen yen for this fiscal year as a result, it says, of people refusing to pay their subscription fees.
At the moment, the NHK fee (1,395 yen a month for terrestrial broadcasts) is mandatory under the law.
Bizarrely, however, there is no penalty if you don't pay.
But with nearly a million Japanese households refusing to put up the cash, NHK is planning some drastic measures to to crack down on delinquent TV owners who fail to pay their viewer fees to the pushy guy on the moped.
In September, it announced that it may take people to court for nonpayment.
We therefore felt it necessary to draft a list of guidelines to help those who don't feel like forking out for NHK documentaries on cheese-making, squirrels and Finland anytime soon.
Don't answer the door
This is an obvious solution, but not without its drawbacks.
Our (ahem) research indicates that this strategy can lead to Christmas parcels being sent back to the sorting office and potential hot dates evaporating into a frigid mist.
And you should also brace yourself for some protracted bouts of irate doorbell abuse; those moped guys are very spirited.
Lack of trust
The broadcaster has been involved in a number of damaging embezzlement scandals this year.
One producer reportedly pocketed 48 million yen yen in fictitious production funds.
As a result, when the NHK man calls to your home and demands your subscription fee, tell him you can't be sure he won't just spend the money you give him on pachinko, and tell him you'll be calling round to NHK in person to drop off the money.
When you pay your NHK fee, the fee collector will place a sticker above your front door indicating that you've paid your fee.
When he calls to your home, under no circumstances open the door. After he's gone, have a wander around your apartment block or area to see who's paid their fees, peel off their sticker and place it above your own door.
Upon being confronted by an itinerant NHK collector, pretend to have a violent seizure and drop dead at his feet.
Ironically, this only works if he doesn't really buy it (or if he does buy it, but isn't especially bothered that you've just died).
The point is, you really want him to get bored and walk off to badger your neighbor.
What you definitely don't want is for him to call an ambulance and attempt mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.
If playing dead seems a bit extreme, you can always run straight past your helmeted visitor and down the street, shouting "Fire, Fire" at the top of your lungs.
Again you run the risk that the bewildered NHK guy will alert the authorities, but you won't be around to hear the sirens anyway, so who cares?
You can, of course, use alternative phrases, such as "Rats! Rats!" or "E-Coli! E Coli!"
This should appeal to the more creative among you, as well as those who pride themselves on being up to date with current events (e.g. "bird flu, bird flu!" or "United Nations Climate Change Conference in Montreal!")
Pass the buck
Tell the NHK guy that your inconsiderate neighbor has stolen your TV and, as such, you expect him to pay on your behalf.
If said neighbor is another foreigner, this plan might just work.
In any event, if you adopt this strategy, you should probably have the name of another neighbor handy to pin the blame on when Angry Neighbor No. 1 comes over to wrap you around a tree.
Freedom of choice
Tell him that, although you do have a TV, you never watch NHK. This is morally sound (since you're probably not lying), but risky in practical terms.
The moped man tends to respond by saying that you can't prove you don't watch NHK, and that it isn't a matter of choice anyway (a bit like mayonnaise in Japanese sandwiches) and he may start waving a copy of the 1950 Broadcast Law under your nose.
From there, you're just one short step from uttering the "tree in the forest" line, which we all know is a sign that this country has finally driven you mental.
The Scottish factor
Buy a CD of bagpipe music and put it on at full blast before you answer the door to anyone.
If it's the NHK man, yell at him that you can't hear him because of the music, but that he's welcome to come back later when it's finished.
Unless he has the fortitude of Lance Armstrong, he'll studiously avoid your apartment for the rest of his life.
Keep it simple
Tell the NHK guy that you don't actually live at that apartment, but that you are just house-sitting for a friend.
In isolation, this is probably the most effective method of avoiding payment/a scene, but you can only use it once per apartment/moped guy.
Listen politely to his entreaty before reaching into your pocket, as though fishing for money.
Then, adopting an expression of startled horror akin to Charlton Heston at the end of Planet of the Apes, point to an unspecified area of sky behind him and shout: "Oh my god! It's Avril Lavigne!"
When he turns around, skip back inside and bolt the door.
Again, you can probably only use this once.
When all else fails, you can always revert to the classic gaijin default: pleading ignorance on the Japanese front.
The only trouble is, this doesn't wash quite so pristinely as it once did.
It's safer these days to learn how to say "Sorry, but I don't speak Japanese" in a language other than English (Dutch, perhaps: "Het spijt me, maar ik spreek geen Japans").
It's going to take all the thespian inspiration you can muster to string out this linguistic "gestoofde runderlappen" until the moped man gives up and goes away, but if you can pull it off it's a multiple-use banker.
It's true what they say, you know: The old ones are always the best.
Do you have a good strategy for dealing with the NHK guy? Let us know at: email@example.com