The small Japanese city Iga, the birthplace of the ninja, is suffering from a dwindling resource: its ninja population is on the decline. In an episode of NPR’s “Planet Money” podcast, Sally Herships visited Iga, a small city in central Japan that claims to be the birthplace of the ninja. The city with a population of 100,000 (many of them ninjas, we assume) is not faring too well as a whole, reports Business Insider.
Iga is losing young people who don’t want to live in the rural countryside, so to revive the local economy, the mayor of Iga, Sakae Okamoto, is promoting the city’s ninja heritage with the aim of drawing more tourists.
“Right now in Iga, we are working very hard to promote ninja tourism and get the most economic outcome,” Okamoto told Herships. “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.”
While Japan is experiencing a major tourist boom and many cities are benefitting economically from the influx of tourists, rural ones like Iga are apparently being left out. Iga needs to attract labor forces to work and live in the rural city as the ninja tourism scheme is extended which means not just builders and planners but also ninjas themselves.
“There’s a ninja shortage,” Herships says, “or — to be accurate — a ninja-performer shortage.”
This issue is especially difficult given Japan’s extremely low unemployment rate, which is just 2.5%. It is therefore hard to find workers in Japan, let alone highly specialized ninjas.
“But this job does have a lot to offer,” Herships says. “First of all, the pay is quite competitive. Today, ninjas can earn anything from $23,000 to about $85,000 — which is a really solid salary, and in fact, a lot more than real ninjas used to earn in medieval Japan.”
So, just so we’re all on the same page: the town of Iga is willing to pay $85,000 to anyone who wants to become a ninja? Where do I sign…?