My friend Kelly from China who’s lived in Japan for many years gave me a trick for when I want to seem like a really stupid foreigner, to get rid of unwanted attention.
Instead of saying “Nihongo wakarimasen 日本語分かりません…I don’t understand Japanese,” say “Nihongo taberimasen 日本語食べりません…I don’t eat Japanese.” She says it works like a charm. They politely back away.
I wish I’d tried that on the pushy NHK collection guy who came to my door at 9 p.m. last night. Apparently, the government requests all Japanese citizens and residents to contribute a monthly fee to the national television station—one price for terrestrial broadcasts and a higher one for satellite broadcasting. He almost wouldn’t leave when I insisted on taking his info and asking my coworkers before making any payments. I thought he’d shove his way into my apartment. Finally, though, he agreed to leave me with a payment hagaki, along with a warning that he’d be back if I didn’t pay. “If you own a TV,” he repeated. “If you have a single TV set in your home, whether or not you connect it, whether or not you watch it, you must pay.”
My coworker Akai-san explained that only about 50% of Japanese people actually pay this fee. She herself splits the difference between compliance and rebellion and pays the terrestrial but not the satellite fee. And they still come to her door once a month. She told me not to worry about it, just to look in the video doorbell and ignore it if it’s them.
“How do you know it’s them?” I asked.
“It’s always the same guy,” she said.
Well, I’ll definitely remember this guy—gaunt face, thin sharp nose, hunched over shoulders, huge mop of chunky black hair, giant point-of-sales device strapped over one shoulder. And a grumpy I-hate-my-job look.
Next time, if I accidentally forget and answer the door, maybe I’ll just say, “Nihongo taberimasen.” (Though, of course, I’ll pay! I’ll pay! At least the terrestrial part…)