A small city of Iga is fighting an unprecedented ninja shortage to attract more tourists and young people to rural areas
Ninjas, mysterious mercenaries from medieval Japan, are facing an existential threat. Recent demographic crises in the rural areas of Japan places them on the verge of extinction.
That is why Iga, a 100,000 town 200 kilometres from Tokyo, has started to support the martial artists with a large incentive. They are looking for young people who would become ninjas to support local tourism. And the wage can go up to $85,000 a year.
“I think people around the world adore ninjas and they want to become a ninja or want to see ninja,” said Iga city’s mayor, Sakae Okamoto, who has been more than active in the promotion of ninjas and the fight against their shortage, told NPR Planet Money.
Smaller towns in Japan’s rural areas, such as Iga itself, are facing two major difficulties. Young people tend to move to large cities like Tokyo, and the record low unemployment levels of 2,5 per cent in the country leaves the smaller areas without human resources.
At the same time, Japan has been undergoing a tourist boom attracting almost 29 million foreigners in 2017 alone, the United Nations World Tourism Organization estimates.
That is why the mayor has started to focus on enhancing the tourism sector while trying to persuade the younger generation to stay in the city. And being the self-proclaimed birthplace of ninjas, Iga puts the highest bets on the mercenaries.
“Right now in Iga, we are working very hard to promote ninja tourism and get the most economic outcome,” Okamoto said.
“For example, we hold this ninja festival between late April to around the beginning of May. During this period visitors and also local people come here. Everybody will be dressed like a ninja and walks around and enjoys themselves — but recently I feel that it’s not enough.”
Okamoto has also decided to rebuild the town hall in the city and to open another ninja museum – the second one in the city.