Japan Broadcasting Corporation (Nippon Hoso Kyokai)
Japan Broadcasting Corporation (Nippon Hoso Kyokai)
State Administered Company
Operating Revenues: ¥553.67 billion (US$4.64 billion)
SICs: 4833 Television Broadcasting Stations; 4832 Radio Broadcasting Stations
The Japan Broadcasting Corporation, better known as NHK, is Japan’s national public broadcasting network, as established under the 1950 Broadcast Law. The company is administered by a board of governors appointed by the prime minister and is supported by public fees, which are collected from viewers through a funding arrangement called “receiving fees.” Everyone in Japan with a television set within range of NHK broadcasts is required by the Broadcast Law to pay the company a fee. Through programming that is similar to that of the United States’s Public Broadcasting System, NHK airs a variety of educational, cultural, entertainment, and news programs.
In addition to operating two terrestrial and two satellite television channels, NHK operates three conventional radio networks and Japan’s shortwave radio service. The company also conducts broadcast media-related research through the NHK Technical Research Laboratories and the NHK Broadcasting Culture Research Institute.
NHK traces its origins to the Tokyo Broadcasting Station, which aired Japan’s first radio transmission on March 22, 1925. Tokyo Broadcasting was established with a license from the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications. The radio station was then incorporated under government charter in August of 1926 as Nippon Hoso Kyokai, the Japan Broadcasting Corporation. As Japan’s national broadcaster, NHK was in a unique position to reach the Japanese people, spread over four, large, mountainous islands, roughly all at the same time. Through NHK the country as a whole was able to hear live broadcasts of such important events as the special programs aired to celebrate the enthronement of Emperor Hirohito in November, 1928.
In June of 1930, the company formed a research laboratory in order to explore technological advances that would further the broadcasting industry. That same year, the first international radio transmission was received successfully from London, England, setting the stage for regularly scheduled overseas broadcasting. Under the name Radio Tokyo, broadcasting of daily English- and Japanese-language programs to the Pacific Coast of North America began on June 1, 1935.
After establishing a second radio network in April of 1931, NHK became more involved in current events, providing newspaper-format news programming and coverage of the 1932 Olympic games in Los Angeles. Three years later NHK began broadcasting school lessons, as part of a national effort to standardize the country’s educational curriculum and extend learning to remote areas.
However, with the rise of militarism in Japan, NHK, as well as other media, eventually fell under the control of the government. Through the late 1930s, NHK gradually lost its impartial tone and soon was dominated by imperialist rhetoric. It was through the network that Japanese public opinion was effectively galvanized against European imperialists who, it was charged, had colonized Asia.
At this time, experimental television broadcasting was being carried out at NHK’s laboratories. Before any regular application could be established, however, the Japanese became distracted by the country’s war in China and, later, the war in the Pacific. Virtually all technological development was diverted to military projects, including the establishment of military communications throughout Japan’s theater of war operations.
NHK, in the meantime, had become largely an instrument of government propaganda, though efforts were also made to provide the people with helpful information. For example, toward the end of the war, when Japan was suffering from shortages, NHK broadcast directions on how to produce food from common plants, and even tea, so that people could avoid starvation.
When Emperor Hirohito addressed the nation in August of 1945, he did so over NHK. It was the first time anyone but a small circle of advisors had ever heard his voice. He announced the surrender of Japan to Allied forces.
No longer under the control of the government, NHK broadcasted important news to the Japanese people about the occupation, the formation of a new government, and the establishment of new laws. One of those new laws, enacted in June of 1950, was the Broadcast Law, which established NHK as a special corporation under the direction of a board of governors. This law laid out special provisions designed to guarantee the impartiality and journalistic integrity of NHK, so that it could never again be used as a propaganda device.
Resuming work on technological development, NHK conducted a successful trial of color television broadcasting in March of 1952. The first rudimentary stereo radio broadcasts were also tried that year, using two different AM frequencies. Experiments with FM broadcasts commenced five years later in Tokyo, and regular FM programming began in 1969.
The shortwave station, Radio Tokyo—having suspended transmission at the end of World War II—resumed operation on February 1, 1952, under the name Radio Japan. Its new mission, in the postwar era, was to promote better understanding of Japanese culture and to provide Japanese people living abroad with news and entertainment from their homeland. The station broadcasted in several languages, including English, Russian, Chinese, Arabic, and Indonesian.
NHK entered a new era in February of 1953 when the broadcaster began providing television services, initially aired four hours per day. Though there were few commercial reasons to start a television station—Tokyo could only claim about 900 television sets—NHK forged ahead. The company provided a catalyst for other television broadcasters to enter this new medium, spurring growth in the industry. Only months after hitting the airwaves, NHK provided a live telecast of the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in England. The next year, the company began recorded programming with kinescopes, enabling it to repeat broadcasts and produce fully-rehearsed programs.
The television service became immensely popular, particularly after the entry of Fuji Television, Nippon Television, and Tokyo Broadcasting. The rapid commercialization of the new medium enabled these television services to quickly incorporate new technologies, including color broadcasting, which NHK introduced in August of 1960. Nationwide color broadcast capability was completed in 1966, and by 1971 all General TV programs were being broadcast in color.
While NHK began educational television programming with the opening of a second network, Educational TV, in January of 1959, another network, Nippon Educational Television, began broadcasting to a similar audience only a few weeks later. NET and NHK continued to operate educational programs in tandem for several years until 1973, when NET formally became the commercial network TV Asahi.
NHK was an early pioneer of satellite transmission technology. Virtually as soon as the first public circuits were opened, NHK began news feeds from the United States, Europe, and Africa. The first use of live satellite coverage came on November 22, 1963, when reports on the assassination of President John F. Kennedy were carried live on NHK.
With the proliferation of television broadcasting in Japan, particularly within the heavily populated urban areas, the airwaves were soon depleted of available frequencies. Therefore, NHK began experimental transmissions in the new UHF frequencies. The first of these put to practical use were on special NHK stations in Tokyo and Osaka during 1971.
NHK’s charter in the Broadcast Law mandated the company’s responsibility for airing programs of a more culturally complex nature than commercial television could afford to support. Aside from educational programming, NHK carried symphonies, opera performances, interviews, and documentaries. This programming, however, needed an appropriate venue, and NHK obliged in 1973, with the construction of a massive broadcasting complex and a theater, NHK Hall.
While culturally enriching, these programs did not draw tremendous audiences, though the, shows did serve to make these subjects more popular than they might have been. To provide some variety in their programming format, NHK began airing baseball games—extremely popular in Japan—boxing, soccer and the Olympic games.
NHK was one of the first networks to try direct broadcasting, that is, beaming a signal directly to viewers’ televisions from a satellite. DBS, as it was called, provided several advantages over the terrestrial network, the most important of which was high quality reception throughout Japan. Since 70 percent of Japan is mountainous, it had thus far been difficult for many viewers living in valleys and less populated areas to receive quality radio and television transmissions. Even NHK, with the most complete network in Japan, covering approximately 95 percent of the country, would benefit from DBS, which would enable huge areas to receive high-quality signals at a much lower cost than a network of ground-based relay stations.
NHK’s first DBS tests took place in July of 1978. Based on these tests, NHK developed the MUSE system, designed for the transmission of high-definition television (HDTV) signals. Hi-Vision, as HDTV is called in Japan, was demonstrated at the Tsukuba Science Expo in 1985. Using its research facility, NHK became a participant in a Japanese consortium, the Hi-Vision Promotion Association (HPA), working to broadcast HDTV.
Two DBS satellites were launched in January of 1984 and February of 1986, aboard Japanese N-2 and H-l rockets, allowing NHK, among other users, to begin experimental DBS broadcasts in May of 1984. A regular 24-hour service began three years later and had about 150,000 viewers. When the second DBS channel went on line on June 3, 1989, there were more than 1.5 million viewers. The service was available to anyone with a television and a parabolic antenna. Two more satellites were launched in 1990 and 1991. These satellites beamed two NHK channels—by 1992 the number of viewers had grown to 6 million—and a third operated by the commercial consortium, Japan Satellite Broadcasting Corp.
In October of 1983, NHK began teletext broadcasting, which delivers subtitles to hearing impaired viewers, in Tokyo and Osaka. An improved service was introduced two years later, and by 1986, the entire network was equipped for teletext service. In addition, in 1985, the company also started an Emergency Warning Broadcasting System. Intended for use in the event of natural or other disasters, the system was employed several times to warn viewers of severe weather, tsunamis, and, on one occasion, a volcanic eruption.
In addition to NHK’s two terrestrial television stations, General TV and Educational TV, the broadcaster operates two DBS stations, Satellite Television Channel One and Channel Two. Some of the more popular programs on NHK television are Asia Now, NHK Morning Magazine, and American NFL football games. NHK also operates news-oriented Radio 1 and the educational Radio 2 on medium wave (AM), an FM music network, and the shortwave-frequency Radio Japan. NHK operates shortwave relay stations in Canada, Singapore, French Guiana, Sri Lanka, Gabon, and Britain.
Since its establishment under the Broadcast Law of 1950, NHK has been administered by a board of governors chosen by the prime minister and approved by both houses of Parliament. The 12-member board is responsible for appointing the president and a group of auditors, who survey the president’s business practices. In addition, NHK’s strategic and operating policies, including the annual budget and programming plans, are determined by the board. The budget and operational plans are then submitted to the Minister of Posts and Telecommunications, who reviews the material, which is passed on to the Cabinet and, finally, to Parliament for approval.
Accepting governmental financial support only for overseas shortwave services, NHK’s operating budget is financed through receiving fee contracts with television owners, originally collected door-to-door or through bank transfer. In the 1970s, however, automatic bank transfers were introduced and in the early 1990s represented the method of payment used by more than 60 percent of the contracted households. NHK charges ¥1,320 each month for regular channels and an additional ¥930 for DBS reception.
Through this unusual funding mechanism, NHK operates Japan’s largest broadcast network, completely without commercial support. In addition the company has always been at the forefront of technological advancements in the industry. NHK is more than a broadcaster, it is in many ways a broadcast laboratory.
NHK Enterprises, Inc.; NHK Educational Corporation; NHK Creative Co., Ltd.; NHK Software, Inc.; NHK Joho Network, Inc.; NHK Promotion Co., Ltd.; NHK Art, Inc.; NHK Technical Services, Inc.; Japan Broadcast Publishing Co., Ltd.; NHK Kinki Media Plan, Inc.; NHK Nagoya Brains, Inc.; NHK Chugoku Software & Planning, Inc.; NHK Kyushu Media, Inc.; NHK Tohoku Planning, Inc.; NHK Hokkaido Vision, Inc.; NHK Sogo Business, Inc.; NHK Integrated Technology, Inc.; NHK Culture Center, Inc.; NHK Computer Service, Inc.; NHK Business Service, Inc.; Print-Center, Inc.; NHK Service Center, Inc.; NHK International, Inc.; NHK Engineering Service, Inc.
“The Changing Face of Television,” Look Japan, March 1993; NHK Factsheet, Tokyo, NHK, 1993; NHK in Focus, Tokyo, NHK, 1993.