Japan has a rich folklore tradition of yokai. These supernatural creatures are the subject of countless stories and are pretty much all categorically made-up. There is one, however, who still roams the streets, whose knock will keep even the boldest from answering their front door.
I speak, of course, of the NHK Man.
Normally, an encounter with the NHK Man is limited to some awkward deflection because you don’t have a TV/don’t understand why he’s there, or perhaps you give in and pay up just to get him to leave. This is, at least, how it goes for most foreign residents living in Japan.
More recently, though, the NHK Man has been adopting some rather more aggressive tactics.
A crackdown is coming
Tomoki Sajiki took to Twitter to show off an interesting addition made to the standard “you were out but I’ll be back” note that the NHK fee collector usually leaves when nobody is home.
— さじき友樹 (@7j4HKgv1GET5MzZ) January 30, 2019
The note reads: “You have a sticker by your front door. When the crackdown begins next year you’ll be in trouble.”
Captioning his photo, Sajiki tweeted, “What’s this ‘crackdown?’ I’d certainly like to ask about it upon your next visit.”
Protecting the nation from NHK
According to an article published Feb. 18 on Japan Today, the sticker the collector is talking about is one provided by the Protect the Nation from NHK political party — a party whose sole purpose appears to be getting rid of the NHK fee collectors.
The party leader is one Takashi Tachibana, a former chairman of NHK from 1986 through 2005. After leaving the public broadcaster, the journalist and social media activist has continued to speak out about the corruption and malpractice he claims is rife at NHK. The party website lists a number of transgressions committed by NHK as well as handy FAQs on how to avoid paying the fee.
Thus far, one of the main strategies of Protect the Nation from NHK has been to distribute free “NHK Repelling Stickers” to the public. According to Tachibana, those who affix the sticker outside their door will no longer receive visits from fee collectors because he has advised NHK that such persons may behave in a “problematic” way in the event of a visit. Sticker holders can even call party representatives to chase away the collector if the sticker doesn’t work.
Sajiki’s Twitter profile reveals he is the party’s Ichikawa city representative, prompting some people to comment that the sticker might be a fake.
Still, passive aggression and thinly veiled threats aside, the reaction on Twitter was largely in Sajiki’s favor.
“This is intimidation. Talk to the police.” replied user @pelsia_hayami.
Quite a few focused on the handwriting, too. “It looks like someone didn’t make it to high school,” wrote @tanakumabobu.
@Penpen_tousan was the most direct, tweeting in reply:
— ペンペン父さん@秋田犬奮闘中 (@penpen_tousan) January 30, 2019
“NHK really is a bunch of scum and sh*t!”
Is it legal?
Payment is technically required by law for anyone with a TV, regardless of whether or not they watch NHK programming. Not paying is actually illegal, but almost never carries repercussions. NHK isn’t able to do anything beyond “strongly request” that you cough up between ¥13,990 and ¥25,320 per year. An estimated 20% of households don’t pay.
A Supreme Court ruling in 2013 meant that anyone with a device capable of receiving a TV signal would be liable for the fee. This potentially includes laptops, mobile phones, games consoles, and car sat-navs — in short, you can get slapped with the fee even if you physically don’t have a TV in your house.
Sajiki’s wasn’t the only aggressive note to be posted through a door. His post prompted a reply from @osasimi0999, who shared their visitor’s gift, tweeting “Hello, I also got a scary note”:
— おさしみくわえたどらねこ (@osasimi0999) January 31, 2019
The succinct note simply says, “If you’re in, open the f***ing door!”
If all this seems counter to how a major public broadcaster should behave, it’s because it is. The NHK Man (there are women, but I’ll stay in the vernacular) is not an employee of NHK. Instead, they are independent contractors, without fixed working hours or national benefits like health insurance or pensions. The salary, of course, is tied to performance.
Given these conditions, it’s not hard to imagine that there will be NHK Men who go above and beyond to get those signups, be it out of genuine financial panic, stress or spite. So the vicious cycle continues. This probably won’t be the last we hear of over-aggressive tactics, but it’s important to remember that these people are not supernatural yokai. They’re as human as the rest of us.