In Japan, there is a TV tax, which supports the NHK news network. It doesn’t matter if you ever watch the TV, if you have a TV; they expect you to play a monthly tax on it. These taxes are collected door-to-door by collectors, and there’s no actual penalty if you don’t pay. When I arrived in Japan, I was immediately advised to do as my Japanese friends did: turn off the lights and hide when the collector came around.
One day, I wasn’t really paying attention, and opened the door to find myself face-to-face with a pleasantly smiling man wearing a motorcycle helmet that looked like a white mixing bowl. NHK was emblazoned on his clipboard. Now, when you’re a foreigner in Japan, you can play along, or you can be a total pain in the ass and pretend like you don’t speak Japanese. I, when faced with authority, always chose the pain in the ass route.
This is really a better story told in person, but I’ll do the best I can.
NHK Guy: (In Japanese) Hello, I’m here to collect your NHK tv tax! that’ll be 1000 yen for the month or you can pay by the year.
Me: (smiling brightly) Konnichi wa.
NHK: Konnichi wa. (repeats Japanese spiel)
Me: Konnichi wa.
NHK (Still in Japanese) Do you speak Japanese?
Me: (English from here on out) Hello. Can I help you?
NHK (look nervous, but still smiles. He switches to English for the remainder of the conversation.) Hello. You…TV.
Me: (I hold my fingers up against my head like tv antennae. This is actually usually used in Japan as the sign for “cockroach.”) TV?
NHK: TV! Yes. TV. (Mimics my “TV” sign–we both did it every time we said it. He peers past me and sees the TV clearly–it’s a one room apartment, so I can’t hide it.)
Me: Yes. TV.
NHK: I…you…TV money.
Me: It is my TV.
(NHK guy makes the “OK” sign, turned down, which is the signal in Japan for “money.”) I need…TV money. You money me.
Me: It’s my TV. I bought it.
NHK: No! TV…money. NHK money. You give it.
NHK guy: Ahhh…You…TV. Me…money.
Me: Oh! You’ll buy my TV! Okay!
(I hold out my hand expectantly.)
NHK: No. No. You me TV money.
Me: No. YOU give ME money.
NHK guy sighs, takes off his helmet and fans himself with it. In the meantime, I make the okay signal and sweep it toward me, the “give me money” signal.
NHK guy: No. You…Japan money.
ME: Well, yes, we are in Japan, so Japan money.
NHK: You…TV money.
Me: Okay. (I wait expectantly with my hand out.)
At this point, he looked calm on the outside, but I know he was imagining throwing me down the elevator shaft.
With a deep sigh, he tried again. NHK: You…give me…money. For TV.
Me: TV? (cockroach sign, which he mimicked)
Me: (points at the TV) TV. My TV.
NHK: Yes…money please.
ME: No, MY TV.
At this point, the poor guy hung his head, shook it, and said, “Okay. Okay. Sayonara.”
He left without his TV money. He came back a few months later, and when I opened the door, I said brightly, “Hello! Want to talk about TV?” He smiled–not with his eyes–bowed, and walked away without a word, and never came back.
Of course, there’s a simpler way to deal with the NHK guy. One of my coworkers was a very tall black man with a booming voice, and he was forever being ousted from the bath by the NHK guy. Finally, one day he heard the knock and lunged from the bath, holding a washcloth over the pertinent bits. He stormed over to the door, flung it open and screamed, “WHAT?” The poor NHK guy dropped his clipboard and fled, never to be seen at the door again.