Every Chinese New Year, there are two groups of people that gather at my relatives’ place. 1) the gambling group and 2) the TV group. Well, actually there’s only the gambling group and the nothing-else-to-do-but-since-the-TV-is-on-might-as-well-pretend-to-watch-it-so-we-can-avoid-awkward-conversations group.

Occasionally, there will be people slipping out of the gambling group to take a break. These people also fall under two separate groups. 1) the won-enough-already group and 2) The lost-too-much group. Regardless, both groups will return to the gambling group after a while to either 1) further increase winnings or 2) recoup losses. Whether or not these goals come to fruition is another story.

I’m guessing the annual NHK Red White Song Festival (hereafter “Kohaku”) will be shown as it used to during the CNY, and to spoil things for you, 大島優子 (Oshima Yuko) of AKB48 announced her “graduation” from the group just before performing Heavy Rotation. It was surprising but somehow not as bad as when Maeda Atsuko announced hers because by now, tons of people have done it, and it’s getting really less shocking.

Last year, while I was pondering how I could spend my New Year’s Eve after returning from the ski park in Nagano, I toyed with the idea of catching Kohaku live. I searched the net for tickets and prices go for around 100,000 yen and up a ticket on the black market. Further research showed that the tickets are typically free for people who apply for it in around October. Whether you get it or not is by impartial lottery and each ticket admits two.

However, if you know about the issue with NHK where they send staff around the country knocking door-to-door asking people to pay for the free-to-air channels, you would know that things are not so simple. There are actually tons of people refusing to pay for the service which is by law, a criminal offence. However, as it involves signals, the situation becomes iffy because people can decline to pay for a service they claim they do not use and you can’t stop the signals from going into their homes. So, to punish those who refuse to pay up, from 2006, only those who are paying for the service are eligible to ballot for Kohaku tickets. So what are your odds?

According to the official NHK tally, 72.5% of people are paying for the free-to-air channels. This means, of the over 125 million population, more than 90.6 million people are eligible to ballot for the tickets. Good news is, not everyone participates in the ballot. Bad news is, the population is still pretty huge. In 2012, there were approximately 1.18 million applications for the tickets and around 1300 tickets were given out. That’s a 0.11% chance of people getting a ticket, and 0.00008% of you getting it. Of course, you can submit as many applications as you want to up your chances, but given that each return postcard costs around 100 yen to mail, that would be around 10000 yen for 100 postcards. And mailing in 100 postcards will only increase your chances to 0.008%.

So would you want to pay around 14,000 yen subscription a year to have the chance to participate in a ballot with no guarantee of securing a ticket or would you rather spend 100,000 yen on the black market for a guaranteed ticket bearing in mind Kohaku is only once a year?

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