The doorbell rang.
Me, here less than a week, and not exactly bulging with new acquaintances, foreign or Japanese, was a bit surprised. Who`s that knocking at my door, as Scorsese might have asked.
I opened it.
I should have known.
He was back.
The dreaded, nefarious, unstoppable NHK man.
NHK is the Japanese equivalent of PBS or TV Ontario, but, unlike our North American public broadcasting equivalents, the Japanese version is not content raise funds by such puny, pathetic tactics as bi-annual, marathon weekend pledge-fests. No, here in Japan, when they want your support, they don`t wait for you to maybe, possibly, conceivably donate -- they come right to your door to grab your cash.
Suited up in dark blue and sleeky gray like Robocop at his best, with a similar exhaustive, noble and cleansing mission to fulfill -- the NHK man, ready for action.
"Ah," he said, looking me up and down, more than surprised, possibly even perplexed -- this was not in the manual.
"Good evening," I said.
"You're a foreigner," he said.
(Does it sound as awkward in English as it does in Japanese? I think it does, but he said it anyways.)
"That's right," I said, nodding. "I'm a foreigner."
"No, I'm Canadian."
"Oh, I see," he said. "This is NHK..."
"Do you have a television?" he asked.
"Yes," I said, "but I don`t use it."
(Which was technically the truth; I couldn't figure out how to use it, truth be told.)
"I see," he said, drawing out the phrase, looking down at his little calculator-type-thingee.
"Is everything okay, then?" I asked. (Daijobu desu-ka?)
"Yes," he finally said, after a lengthy pause. He then nodded, giving me a strained, perfunctory smile, before heading out on his way. Foiled again.
I'm not completely sure what the deal is, although a few days ago, and a few days after my encounter, the newspaper here said that NHK was going to crack down on people with TVs who refused to pay. And since NHK is available on every Japanese television set, and since more people watch more TV per capita here than anybody else in the entire free world, that's, well, a lot of coin they're waiting to collect.
For me, though, the solution seems simple: when the NHK man comes, don`t open the door.
'Cause I ain`t paying.
Of course, I do feel a little bad for the NHK man; I'm not sure what happened to him when returned to the office. Did he get reprimanded by his superior, his co-workers, even his wife? He knocked on my apartment door around six or so, doing the supper-time rounds, I suppose, but most Japanese work extremely late hours, anyway, so I'm betting that those doors he did knock on, other than mine, went entirely unanswered. And so not only was he not collecting their fees, but how did he explain my reluctance to cough up any cash?
"Well, there was a foreigner living in the Leo-Palace apartment," he might have said to his colleagues, as he sipped some coffee and dragged on his cigarette. "You know those foreigners..." And they might have nodded, too, and sipped on their coffee, dragged on their own cigarettes. Another night at the office, that's all.
Not that I minded his sudden appearance. A little more Japanese practice for me; a little novelty in the night.
The next time my doorbell rings, I'm checking my peephole first.
These NHK men, nice as they are, harmless as they are, can be persistent little buggers. And I'm worried that next time, knowing my resistance, he might decided to bring in reinforcements.
Who knows what could happen then...