You’d be hard pressed to find a single person who enjoys a visit from the NHK fee collector. If you’ve experienced this yourself or read horror stories on the internet, know that there are easy ways to avoid paying and even cancel your current contract! If you want to know how to duck and dodge NHK like a pro, keep reading.
Why does Japan say I have to pay for NHK?
NHK (Nihon Housou Kyoukai), Japan Broadcasting Association, is Japan’s national public broadcasting organization that covers TV and radio. For a lot of people, NHK is a popular source for entertainment and news; if you’re reading this article, there’s a good chance you’re not one of those people.
Many of Japan’s oldest and most famous television traditions are created and broadcast by NHK. These programs (excluding international broadcasts) are funded by mandatory TV licensing fees that each household in Japan must pay. To collect these fees, NHK agents go door to door to make sure that everyone is contributing. If you’ve never paid NHK, a collector will graciously help you set up payment, even if your TV can’t receive NHK broadcasts.
Disclaimer: It’s important to mention that if you do actually watch or listen to NHK and benefit from their programming, we recommend doing the right thing and paying the fees.
How much are NHK subscription fees?
There are three levels of fees depending on your television’s ability to receive broadcasts. (Prices are correct at time of publication and apply to all residents of Japan except Okinawa, who have to pay about double the amounts listed below.)
Basic Broadcast Fee (“Chijou Keiyaku”)
Televisions that can receive only basic ground cable broadcasting are charged the “basic broadcast” fee. This fee is ¥1,260 / month (credit card) or ¥1,310 / month (bank transfer). A fee reduction is applied for paying 6 months / one year up front.
Satellite Broadcast Fee (“Eisei Keiyaku”)
Televisions that can receive satellite services as well as regular broadcasts are charged the satellite broadcast fee. This fee is ¥2,230 / month (credit card) or ¥2,280 / month (bank transfer). A fee reduction is applied for paying 6 months / one year up front.
Special Contact Fee (“Tokubetsu Keiyaku”)
If Mt. Fuji is standing between your TV and NHK’s signal, there is also a “special contact” fee. For anyone who lives in an area where receiving capabilities are limited by “natural terrain,” the discounted fee is ¥985 / month (credit card) or ¥1,035 (bank transfer) / month.
Is it illegal to refuse to pay NHK? Will I get in trouble?
You can save over ¥25,000 each year by not paying NHK fees! But how do you keep that money in your pocket?
Recently, refusing to pay NHK fees has gotten a good deal of press (Japanese link) as several Japanese citizens were charged huge fines for ducking and dodging the NHK collector. This has made many people, especially foreigners, cautious about not paying their NHK subscription fees. However, there are several reasons why these types of penalties shouldn’t be a concern if you have the proper knowledge.
NHK Fee Laws
The Broadcast Act states that households with TVs must sign up for NHK services. However, there is a gray area in the language where they make special exceptions for “monitors with built-in speakers,” like those used primarily for gaming or as extra computer screens. This distinguishes TV monitors from active TVs. While the law does state that people with TVs have to pay, by distinguishing your device as only a “monitor,” the NHK collector can’t make you pay the fee*.
Also, while there is a penalty or possible fine for refusing to pay after a contract is signed, you must be the one to sign the contract. If you do not sign the contract, there is no legal ground for fines or imprisonment as you’re not technically delinquent on any payments.
* Important: There are likely going to be upcoming changes to the law that may put smartphones and other devices under the umbrella of TVs. Currently, only “1seg”-capable phones are included under this fee requirement. (If you have a flip-phone or an Android model that can receive TV signals, NHK says you need to pay. If you have an iPhone, you don’t need to pay.)
NHK Fee Collector Tricks
Oftentimes, NHK collectors will try to convince you that there is a law legally binding you to sign the contract. Do not be fooled! If you don’t sign a contract, there is no way they can force you to pay the fee. Once you sign the contract though, you must pay or you could be subject to punishment under the law.
5 Strategies for avoiding the NHK fee collector
What are some ways to avoid paying the NHK fee? After combing through Japanese forums, we’ve compiled five strategies that have worked for residents of Japan.
Strategy #1: Tell the NHK collector you can’t even watch NHK
Explain that you don’t own a TV, 1seg-capable smartphone, or a car navigation system that can broadcast TV programming.
What to say: テレビみれません (terebi miremasen) = I can’t watch TV.
Strategy #2: Don’t let the NHK collector in
Agents are on a mission and can be aggressive. They will try to look inside your house to see if you have a TV in plain site. They also come with many strategies up their sleeves, like knocking at inopportune times, especially right after you’ve moved or late at night. This is so they can catch you when you’re not expecting them, or possibly feeling a bit scatterbrained or nervous.
Remember, they do not have the right to enter your property or search your home. Whatever you do, DON’T let them inside the house!
Strategy #3: Tell the NHK collector you’re a “friend” of the resident
If you happen to open your door to an NHK agent, pretend you’re a “visiting friend,” and can, therefore, make no financial decisions for the household.
What to say: わたしはともだちです (watashi-wa tomodachi desu) = I am a friend.
Strategy #4: Pretend you’re not home
If you happen to live in a building with a front entrance buzzer or you can see the NHK collector through your front door peephole, it’s best to simply not answer.
Strategy #5: Play the “Dumb Foreigner” card
If you speak a foreign language other than English, try using it to convince the NHK collector that you don’t understand what they’re asking about. This can be an effective way of avoiding a conversation and make them leave quickly.
While talking to collectors in English used to be enough to scare them off, the influx of expats into metropolitan areas has caused NHK to hire English-speaking staff — even if the collector leaves the first time, they’re likely to come back with an English-speaking agent.
When none of these strategies work
If all else fails, continue to tell the collector that you have no legal obligation to pay, because you don’t have a TV. They may say that it doesn’t matter, but it does.
Bonus Tip: If you own a television, it’s best to keep it in a place where it can’t be seen from the front door.
How to get out of your NHK subscription contract
If you’ve already signed up, you can always cancel, though it may be difficult. To cancel, you need to call and mail in a form to NHK headquarters.
Step #1: Call NHK
Tell them that you no longer have any equipment to watch NHK broadcasting, and ask them to send you a cancellation paper. You may be asked to submit proof that you no longer have a TV or any other equipment. How can you prove this? Based on our research, a receipt showing that you sold the TV, donated it, or hauled it to the dump is likely the only documents NHK will accept.
NHK Customer service: 0120-151515 (hours 9:00 – 20:00)
Step #2: Fill out the paperwork
If you have cleared the first step, NHK will send you a cancellation form. Fill out your information, and mail it back to them. Once you’ve dropped the envelope in the red postal box, you’re off the hook!
Don’t be threatened by NHK fees
Living in Tokyo can be expensive, but using these strategies can help lower your living costs. When the NHK collector comes knocking on your door, stay calm, stay collected, and don’t get talked into something you’re not required by law to do. If you’ve ever tried any of the strategies above or tried to cancel your contract, let us know how it went in the comments below. We’re all in this together!