Monday, May 6, 2013

Picture box

Yesterday evening, on a dark and stormy night around 10 pm, I spontaneously bought a television and carried it halfway across Sapporo.

I'd been visiting a friend who was celebrating the Christian Orthodox Easter which --apart from occurring at a totally random point in the year-- involved violent acts against boiled eggs cooked in stockings. The net result of this trip was one onion and one television set. The onion however, will be left for a later tale. 

I had been vaguely contemplating getting a TV for a number of weeks. Previously, I had dismissed the idea since I've never been much of a TV watcher and I didn't think the language switching to Japanese was going to improve matters. This changed when I ran into a friend from my Japanese classes:

"How is your Japanese communication going?"

"It sucks," I admitted sheepishly. "My reading and writing improve, but I still find it hard to pick out the words quickly in a conversation."

"Do you have a TV? I found having it on in the background has made a big difference."

Well then. It was practically an educational need.

And so it was that I left my friend's house and dropped in at the second hand shop opposite her apartment complex. The set I bought was actually new and part of an end-of-line batch the store had in stock. It was a little flat screen, 21 inches across and made relatively easy carrying as I hiked back across the river to my part of the city. 

A great thing about Japan is that it is a very safe country. If I'd bought and carried a shrink-wrapped TV in a plastic bag back home in Hamilton, I'd still not have a TV. Or a wallet. 

Once back home, I unpacked it and … hit my first problem. 

Well, actually the second. The first was the cat tried to eat the cellophane wrapper on the instruction manual. The second was that the aerial provided with the TV has two screw ends, while my socket in the wall had a push end. The third problem was that screwed into the empty aerial wall socket was a strange plastic plug that looked like it had a greater purpose than stopping damage to the wall socket[*].

After confirming that brute force solved none of these problems, I fixed the first by balling up the loose cellophane and throwing it in the bin, the second by going down to the local electronics store and purchasing a small screw to push aerial cable converter and the third by losing the mysterious plug behind a pile of books. 

That done, I spread the instruction book on the floor and began to set up my TV. Japanese television sets come with a credit card-sized card that contains a chip. This is called the "B-CAS" card and all digital receivers require one to work. The large page of instructions was clear how to insert the card into your TV set, providing clear pictures of "Right" and "Wrong". Following this, I went on to plug the TV into the power and tell it to find its own channels. Which it did...

… and then told me it the B-CAS card wasn't inserted correctly. 

I checked the card and checked the instructions. I removed the card and put it back in. Turned the TV off and back on. Nothing. Was my card damaged? The internet thought this was possible and it stated the only way to get a new one was to contact the B-CAS customer service, which was only offered in Japanese.

I began to wonder if my new TV wouldn't make a great hat stand. 

In desperation, I took out the B-CAS card and inserted it backwards, a direction quite plainly labelled in the instruction manual as wrong. Instantly, the screen snapped into life with a programme involving stalking foreigners around Tokyo Narita airport. 

Was this a statement about terrestrial TV? It should only be watched by people incapable of following instructions and the rest of you should clear off with your literacy skills and read a book? To support this theory, the TV picture switched to one of monkeys taking a bath.

But we were now up and running! I made dinner as the TV weather forecast appeared, painting the main island of Honshu in red and yellow while leaving Hokkaido in blue. To emphasise this choice of colour scheme, the picture changed between a baby in a swimsuit blowing bubbles in a park in Tokyo to a man wrestling with an umbrella and snow falling around him in northern Hokkaido. 

So far, this TV is reminding of facts I'm trying to forget. 


[*]  Picture of the mysterious aerial socket plug top right and bottom right of the one still in the second aerial socket -- any ideas?  


  1. Perhaps the mysterious plug is a B-CAS converter that let's your TV work with the card the wrong way round?

    Note to website designers, edit buttons are a must have, not a nice to have.

    1. Yet, I tossed it so maybe it's the key to making the whole thing work as described in the instructions?

      Seriously about the edit buttons.

  2. The new digital TVs are a bit of a mystery to me. We have several TVs (indulgent I know) and one aerial. For some unknown reason, each tv has it's own fave stations. So if you cant watch what you want on one, just try another.
    No idea on the mystery plug though