09 September 2007

Fighting the man

Japan has a lot laws that are very hard to get around. Visa laws, driving laws, drug laws: breaking these laws or trying to bend them is very difficult in my experience. There is one law, however, that is very easy and actually quite fun to break. In Japan, there is one public television station: NHK. NHK has no commercials and is funded half through government funds and half through a law that states that everyone who owns a TV should pay NHK 1,300 yen a month. This law has no stipulation for punishment if you don't pay and is only for people who have signed contracts with NHK to pay and then haven't paid.

Because most people don't pay this money or sign up for contracts, NHK sends out people to go door-to-door to try and get people to sign contracts, reminding them that paying the NHK fee is the law if you have a TV. I have managed to avoid talking to these assholes for my first three years in Japan, but lately, they've been at my house twice. The first time, I pulled the, I'm sorry I don't understand 'Japanese'. This worked very well as they haven't bothered me for a couple of months. But today they came by again, and Yoko answered the door. Yoko, not into lying as much as me, didn't pretend to be Chinese as we had practiced and came back into the living room to tell me the NHK guy was here. 'Tell him we're moving,' I said, which she did. He insisted to Yoko that we would have to pay for at least September and Yoko came back to tell me this and finally sent me out to talk to the guy.

E and his lady were here so I was a little upset. I went out there and said in rather blunt Japanese, 'What do you want?' I'm from NHK, he said, you have to pay your fee. 'We're moving,' I said, and he told me it didn't matter, it's the law. 'Look,' I said, 'We have people over, come back later' which he agreed to do.

When he comes back, I had a litany of ideas from going to the door naked to going to the door naked to with my wife to pretending to be having a huge argument with my wife to trying to hug him to pretending that I didn't speak Japanese again to standing in the doorway smoking and not saying anything to having him in for tea and insisting, in the presence of the TV, that we didn't have a TV.

All of this is, of course, silly, but the point is that NHK can do nothing to make us pay. The system is ridiculous, and when he comes again, all he can say is that if you have a TV you need to pay. But I am not required to tell whether I have a TV and I will tell him that I understand and will pay the money, if I have a TV.

The truth is, I am getting a kick out of finally having a bit of leverage in a system where I have no leverage. This guy is, unfortunately, going to take the brunt of my disdain for being told that I have to do something that is ridiculous. They can make me sit through a driving safety course. They can make me go to immigration once a year to bow low and request my next one year visa, but they cannot prove that I have a TV and they can't make me pay 1,300 yen a month to listen to Abe propaganda. So bring it on, NHK guy. Do your worst.