Paying and avoiding NHK

Like in the UK, you are required to pay the government if you have a television. However, there are no real fines if you refuse to pay. Sooner or later you will find an old guy from the Japanese government channel NHK knocking at your door and asking if you have a TV. Say no and he’ll go away for a while. Say yes and he will order you to pay. Over and over again. Even if you say you never watch NHK because it’s made for insomniacs who don’t respond to strong drugs, or never even turn on the tube at all, he’ll demand your money. And having a satellite dish hanging out on your balcony is a dead giveaway. One way around this is to live in a building where the building has the dish, and you just plug in your “broadcast satellite (BS) tuner” from inside your room.

That’s from The Japan FAQ, long one of my favorite English-language resources regarding living in Japan.

NHK reports that nearly 40 million households pay NHK fees. That’s out of about 50 million households in Japan — so non-payers are definitely in the minority.

NHK is getting better at collecting its fees, too. Analog TV has almost become obsolete, and digital TVs have identifying chips which make it possible to link an individual TV with an individual NHK contract. If you use a new TV for more than a month, it will start showing nag messages superimposed over the NHK BS channels, telling you to call NHK and get the TV registered to your NHK account. NHK has also sued some non-payers, which is somewhat intimidating but not an economically effective way to compel payment: 33 households were sued in summary court in 2006, and of those, two viewers’ appeals lodged with the Tokyo High Court were only dismissed this June.

I have always had an uneasy relationship with television license fees. On one hand, broadcasters supported by license fees, like NHK and the BBC, offer some of the very best programming in the world, almost completely free of commercial content. Terrestrial TV in Japan is largely a cesspool of talentless celebrities, product placement and blatant commercial fluff, but NHK’s channels carry a wide array of useful and sensible programming. Even for fresh-off-the-boat foreigners who don’t speak a word of Japanese, NHK dubs its evening news into English and rebroadcasts news and documentary programs from around the world (and they tell you how to pay for it all in English).

On the other hand, the license fee itself is essentially a regressive tax. Basically every household has to pay the same amount, and it isn’t pocket change–it’s currently around 15,000 yen per year for terrestrial broadcasts and around 25,000 yen if BS channels are included. There are exceptions for disabled people and people on welfare, but able-bodied working people with low incomes are shaken down to a proportionally higher degree than wealthier people. The fee is determined somewhat arbitrarily by NHK and approved by the Internal Affairs Minister. Even though NHK is nominally a viewer-supported private association, it is chartered by the government, its board is chosen by the Diet, and its budget is subject to review in the Diet.

I grew up with PBS in the United States, which is a sort of constellation of private non-profit broadcasters funded by a combination of voluntary viewer donations, corporate sponsorship, foundation grants on behalf of dead rich people, and state and federal subsidies (including a large amount of federal money pushed in through the Corporation for Public Broadcasting). The advantage to this system is that anyone can legally own a TV and watch PBS without paying a dime; the disadvantage is that the programming is dictated by the interests who actually *do* pay, and the way this works is not always transparent even to viewers paying into the system. There is also a lot of PBS air time devoted to begging for donations, usually through periodic “pledge weeks” which disrupt ordinary programming.

Personally, although I am a free-marketer in other spheres, I believe that if public broadcasting is going to be heavily government-influenced anyway, it might as well be funded by the government, and the costs spread among the public just as they would be for any other government expense. But if given the choice of either NHK or PBS, I would probably take PBS and throw money at it every now and then so long as it’s relevant to me, rather than live with NHK’s mandated entitlement to a fixed chunk of my income even if I don’t care for its programming at all.

If you don’t want to pay NHK, there are a few ways to legally avoid the fee:

* Don’t own a TV. Note that, legally speaking, any sort of TV tuner which can receive NHK will subject you to the NHK tax. This includes mobile phones and computers that have TV tuners built in.
* Don’t use your TV for the purpose of receiving broadcast signals. (Or get a TV which is incapable of receiving signals. Many expats get TVs from US military bases, which can be used for watching movies on disc, or as a large-screen computer display, but cannot get Japanese TV signals; therefore no NHK tax is incurred by owning one.)
* Set up a school or welfare facility of some sort (these are exempt from fees).
* Become gravely disabled and/or go on government assistance.
* Leave Japan.

The Japan FAQ is still correct in that illegally avoiding the fee is easy. Unlike the UK, where TV freeloaders can be fined by the government, Japan decided not to impose any penalties for failing to pay the NHK tax. The only practical penalties are BS nag screens, periodic doorbell rings by NHK collectors, and the risk of a lawsuit (which generally has no teeth in Japan, since there is no contempt of court here and appeals are both easy and time-consuming).

Lies, damned lies and the Nikkei

Fewer Than Half Of Young People Support Themselves: Report

TOKYO (Nikkei)–Just 44% of those aged 15-34 subsist on their own income, the Labor Ministry wrote Thursday in a report that reflects young people’s struggle with low wages.

A full 46.8% of the group rely on additional income from some other source, such as their parents.

Of those 15-34 with full-time jobs, 51.6% live on their own income, but only 30.3% engaged in other types of jobs are self-reliant.

I got this article from a co-worker earlier today. He remarked “What’s interesting is that only 51% of people with full-time jobs can (or rather do) support themselves.” But that conclusion falls apart when you see the original statistics in the original Japanese (here):

Note the column headings. The options for the survey were:

Living Expense Situation (Multiple Answer) Combination (生計状況(複数回答)の組み合わせ)
(1) Own income only (自身の収入のみ)
(2) Own income plus other income (自身の収入+他の収入)
(3) Other income only (他の収入のみ)

Now the situation becomes clearer. That 44% figure only includes people who are actually paying for all of their living expenses with their own income. It excludes many people living with their parents or grandparents, all working couples (even where one person is a part-timer), and probably even certain parents with working children. It excludes me and Adamu, both productive employees in the financial industry who just happen to have working spouses.

Of course, that fact doesn’t help push the narrative that young Japanese people are getting poorer and/or lazier — and here we can see that respected Japanese media like the Nikkei can skew facts toward their chosen narrative just as badly as respected foreign media like the New York Times.

Why Nausicaa is awesome

Via Roger Ebert, here is Filipino reviewer Michael Mirasol’s take on what’s so great about Miyazaki’s Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind:

My favorite part (emphasis added):

The film is considered to be the first of Miyazaki’s works to showcase his strong environmental inclinations. In every film since he has made his case for man to grow closer to nature as a return to the olden days. He does so with positive reinforcement, hardly ever resorting to demonizing, moralizing, or sermonizing. Here, the toxic jungle isn’t so much an inhospitable realm as it is a fearsome marvel of nature. It’s huge arthropod denizens never come off as oozing grotesques, but wondrous (though scary) creatures. The film’s largest creations, the ohmus, are wholly original, and are almost proof that the eyes are the window to the soul.

Miyazaki’s refusal to narrow down conflict to two or even three sides is refreshing, and quite admirable considering its target audience. The film’s story does concern good versus evil, but they aren’t manifested in simplistic ways. Each populace has its own motivations. Each conflict has its reason. Wars exist among man and against nature. Several stakes exist. Even death is hardly out of bounds. For much of the film, there is no one problem/solution. But despite this moral complexity for an animated film, it all fits Miyazaki’s big picture, and in the end we see it.

The link has a transcript, so it might be easier to read that instead.

I think it’s a testament to Miyazaki’s subtle storytelling power (or maybe just my own lack of insight) that this point never explicitly dawned on me after watching the movie. It’s just a natural part of the landscape. And it’s surprisingly rare for movies to take this approach, though it seems to be a major feature of Miyazaki films.

At the risk of overgeneralizing, I sense a broader point here. One of the refreshing things about living in Japan is that people seem much less dogmatic than in the US. That is, issues are seldom as black and white as they seem in the States, and there seems to be less pressure to adopt the “correct” set of opinions based on political leanings. Could this have something to do with a generation raised on Miyazaki’s pluralistic stories as opposed to Americans growing up with Disney tales of good and evil?

My solution to Twitter performance anxiety

There’s an interesting article in the NYT about what Twitter does to your inner dialogue. Basically, the idea is if you are Tweeting all the time you are “always on” and start thinking your life is a reality show.

Absolutely right! Just about anyone who’s used Twitter for an extended period of time could tell you that. In fact, a Google search for “I Tweet Therefore I am” shows multiple articles with that title on other sites, one on Gawker written eight months ago.  But if that gets tiring or is turning you into an asshole, there is a simple solution:

Take a freakin break every now and again!

Remember when your parents said not to watch too much TV? Same thing.

As someone without an iPhone, Blackberry, or even one of the Japanese mobile web platforms, maybe I am being naive and behind the times. But I don’t think it’s too much to ask to maybe keep the phone in your pocket, temporarily disable the Twitter client on your browser, and concentrate for once. I am told that there are even times when the Internet itself isn’t necessary.

On Twitter (unlike Facebook), there seems to be less incentive to pay close attention to who is on your followed list or who sees your updates. People come and go, and even those who follow you only tune in when they are interested. That’s the beauty of the real-time web.

White people for rent – not as innocent-sounding as it seems

A little while ago a story swept the Internet that “white people are available for rent in China.” Apparently, sometimes companies hire Western actors to pretend they’re either visiting foreign businessmen or high-level employees to make a positive impression.

For the purposes of this post, I am assuming the posts and CNN report are basically accurate, though I couldn’t find any corresponding job listings on a cursory Google search.

What surprised me about this story was the cool reaction of much of the reporting and reaction (I’m looking at you, CNN). The dominant explanation seemed to be that white people lend “face” to a company, a characteristic aspect of Chinese culture. But when does getting “face” cross the line into fraud? Sending a fake company representative might sound like a funny sitcom premise, but misrepresenting your company’s operations can have some serious negative consequences. Not that any of this crossed the minds of the winners in the video. By the way, who wears a wifebeater to their CNN interview?

For a case in point, let me point to this Asahi story about securities fraud among startup companies in Japan:

FOI Corp., a maker of chip production devices in Sagamihara, Kanagawa Prefecture, pretended to have sold products to overseas companies when the goods were actually gathering dust in a warehouse in Machida, Tokyo.

To sell the story of its overseas business, FOI took CPAs abroad where they met the company’s supposed business partners. The translator hired by FOI lied to the accountants about the sales, sources said.

FOI was listed on the Mothers market in November last year after apparently window-dressing accounts starting in fiscal 2003.

The company reported fiscal 2008 sales of about 11.8 billion yen, but investigators suspect that 98 percent of the amount was fictitious. The company is now undergoing bankruptcy procedures.

FOI’s tactics fooled not only the CPAs, but also Mizuho Investors Securities Co., which advised the company on the listing, and the TSE.

I wonder if these “out of work actors” ever checked to see whether they were fronting for a real company. The overseas trips could easily have been to China, maybe even to a phony shop floor with real live white people.

The Boy Named Demon

Turning Japanese, a new blog on Japanese naturalisation written by several naturalised Japanese citizens (including some regular commenters on this blog) has had a number of informative posts on the topic since launching recently. The latest post tackles the issue: do you have to take a Japanese name when you naturalise? The post ends with question, and a reference that may not be familiar to everyone, which has Curzon, MF’s vice chairman of legal niggling, taking issue:

As a side note, just because a 漢字 {kanji} is legally acceptable for use in a name doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s appropriate. Characters like 悪 {aku} (bad), 闇 {yami} (darkness), 無 {mu} (nothingness), are on the list… but depending on how you use them, a name with a very negative connotation may not be accepted. Remember the parents who tried to name their child 悪魔 {Akuma} (demon)?

The reference to the child “demon” may not be familiar to everyone. It refers to a somewhat famous case that rocked Japan in the early 1990s, when a father (with the apparent approval and support of his wife) submitted a birth certificate to the municipal office that named his son Akuma, using the kanji characters for demon. Most people think the municipal office rejected the name and the parents had to choose a different name. But the case was actually more complex, and dragged on for several months, and the parents actually won a court case they filed against the city–only after this court victory did they chose to initiate a compromise that brought the fiasco to a close.

The story begins on 11 August 1993, when Shigeharu Sato (30), who managed a “snack” bar, went into the Akishima municipal office to submit the legal birth certificate for his son. In Japan, the birth certificate issued at the hospital merely states the technical details of the birth — the child is not legally registered until a legal birth certificate is submitted at the local municipal office, which must be done within two weeks of the birth, and at which time a name is given. The paperpusher at the municipal office’s koseki (family registry) window accepted the forms containing the name Akuma without asking any questions.

The following day on 12 August, a different person working in the same division took issue with the name. He referred the matter to his superior in the Legal Affairs office, who responded that there was no problem with the name. However, he changed his mind the following day on 13 August when the papers were to be finalised, and having doubts, the form was completed but the mayor’s seal was not placed on the document. The municipality thus did not complete the family registry procedure. The parents were not informed of this until 28 September — six weeks later — when the mayor of Akishima officially informed the parents that the child’s name of Akuma was unsuitable, and that the child’s name was temporarily noted as “undesignated” on the family registry until they chose an acceptable name.

The father immediately filed a complaint with the Hachioji division of the Tokyo Family Court on 4 October, representing himself and without consulting a lawyer, on the basis that the town’s actions violated his parental rights. He asserted that the name Akuma was fine, as it used characters permitted by article 50 of the Family Registry Law, and that his son was fortunate to have such a unique name. Did he suffer from lack of counsel, or the bizarre nature of his request in the face of courts that many believe are conservative? No — the court quickly came to a ruling that supported the right to reject an unfavorable name, but ruling in favour of the parent plaintiffs less than three months after the complaint was filed. To translate and summarise the ruling:

In the structure of rights in society, the right of naming a child is part of parental rights, and parents may assert this right against other members of society. If there is a clear issue with regard to the suitability of the name chosen by the parent that could affect the child’s welfare, then, as the child has no ability to assert its right to refuse that name that could damage its welfare, the family registry authorities may think they can reject a name on that basis. Indeed, on the face of it, the name “Akuma” is a violation of the parent’s right to name their child.

However, while it may be possible for a municipal office to reject a name such as Akuma on the basis that this is violation of parental rights, in this case, as the municipal office has already accepted the document, it was a violation of its authority to thereafter delete that name, and the name is valid.

This ruling accurately follows an academic concept of administrative law, that an administrative notification is finalised upon “submission” (juri) to the correct administrative organ, and not at the time of “arrival” (toutatsu), meaning that no proactive action by the administrative organ is required.

The mayor immediately petitioned to the Tokyo High Court, and the story became national news. The father went on TV and made bizarre statements like “I want to call my next child “Emperor” (帝王) or “Explosion (爆弾)!” But facing further time and money on an issue, he sought a compromise. He first proposed to use the hiragana (あくま)for “Akuma,” which the municipal office rejected. He then chose different characters for the same name (exact kanji unknown but believed to be 亜区馬, 亜駆 or 阿久真). The mayor withdrew his appeal and the high court never made another decision on the matter.

During this fiasco, Akishima asked for help from the national government to clarify the rules for accepting family registry names, but no proactive action was taken then, nor to this day, to restrict the use of characters available for use on the family registry. The Ministry of Justice maintains a list of characters that can be used on a family registry as required by the implementation regulations of the Family Registry Law, and that database include both “悪” and “魔.” As far as the judiciary and the authorities are concerned, the rule as stated by the family court stands as valid — as long as you can get your birth certificate received by the municipal office, you can use any characters you like. To the best of my knowledge and research, there is no government order or anything legal that officially prevents the use of negative characters.

ENDNOTE: Family values advocates won’t be surprised to hear the unpleasant aftermath. The father’s business went bust in 1994, the parents divorced in 1996, and the father, who obtained custody, was arrested months later for possession of heroin, at which time he had links to the yakuza. Akuma was cared for by his paternal grandparents and then placed in an orphanage. When his father was released after serving four years in jail, he refused to take custody of the child due to his economic circumstances. Akuma will today be in high school, if he is still attending. His mother said in an interview in 2006, “After my ex-husband was arrested I looked after the child, but circumstances were too difficult and we lived apart. After that he was raised by my ex’s parents. I don’t know what happened after that, but when he grows up, one time would be enough so I hope to see him when he’s older.” Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised the parents abandon their children when they wanted to call him “demon.”

Apply to appear on NHK’s Cool Japan (conditions apply)

Kelvin on Twitter linked to this page on NHK where people can apply to appear on their late night show Cool Japan, about stuff non-Japanese people think is cool about Japan. Here’s an excerpt from introductory spiel and questionnaire for prospective guests:

We are looking for participants who have lived in Japan for less than one year to appear on the television show COOL JAPAN.
Interested parties are requested to fill out the following questionnaire.
Please review the questionnaire carefully and answer each question.

Length of Time in Japan
Unique cultural aspects of your home country you are willing to shareMusic, fashion, arts, etc
Interests in Japanese culture
Aspects of Japanese society you find interesting, unique, odd?

So, is Japan suddenly not cool after you’ve lived in the country for one year? As Durf reminds us by way of WestFearNeon, NHK might be looking to talk to people at that tender stage after arriving in Japan when they tend to feel really positive about Japanese culture. Any longer than one year, and some of the same people who were once raving about might start grumbling about paved-over rivers and overly rigid rules. In WestFearNeon terms, NHK only wants wide-eyed wonderers and eager students.

Too bad, really. As a self-proclaimed “recovered” gaijin I would be happy to talk about all the stuff I like about Japan.

8819 LDP

That’s not a license plate number: it’s the LDP’s cryptic way of tying themselves to the paternity leave system. Read out loud, it sounds similar to papa ikukyu (パパ育休) or “Daddy Childcare Leave.”

The code makes a very subtle appearance in the recent TV commercial featuring Sadakazu Tanigaki’s ridiculously impassioned speech about making Japan number one again. This spot has been coming up once in the rotation during every World Cup game I have seen so far (except, of course, the ones on NHK).

The slogan appears on the green silicon bracelet he’s wearing.

You can buy your own here, although you have to register as an LDP merchandise customer first, and I’m not sure whether non-citizens are definitively eligible for this. They do specify that you have to be a resident of Japan and that they will only ship within Japan.

(Thanks to Mrs. Peter for the tip)

Mainichi announces new, Twitter-enhanced dead-tree edition

National news daily Mainichi has announced a new dead-tree version of its newspaper to go on sale June 1. Named Mainichi RT, the daily tabloid will print the most-viewed stories online, along with Tweets about those stories and some other extras. A subscription will cost Y1980 a month, which would come out to around Y100 on newsstands assuming they only print weekdays. It’s somewhat similar in concept to Sankei Express, a concise Y100 edition of Sankei Shimbun released a couple years ago, and the many free newspapers distributed in major metropolitan areas in the US (except of course, those are free).

Could there possibly be a less useful idea? Are people supposed to buy it to see if their tweets made it in? If you know all the stories are already online, why bother picking up a newspaper? Someone please tell me what I am missing.

(found via J-Cast, cross-posted from Google Buzz)