The Japanese city of Iga, about 280 miles from Tokyo in central Japan, claims to be the birthplace of the ninja, and has built its tourism industry on that reputation. Iga relies heavily on its ninja heritage to bolster tourism, mainly during its annual ninja festival, when its population of 100,000 grows by about 30,000, as tourists come expecting to see locals donned in ninja garb. Now, however, the mayor of Iga, Sakae Okamoto, feels it is not enough.
According to the United Nations World Tourism Organization, Japan has seen a recent boom in tourism, with almost 29 million tourists visiting Japan in 2017 (up almost 20 percent from 2016), but rural cities such as Iga are struggling to capitalize. To draw more tourists to Iga, and encourage them to stay longer, Okamoto is relocating city hall and building a second ninja museum in its place. A chief component of the plan, however, is attracting labor forces to live and work in Iga. “There is a ninja shortage,” Sally Herships of NPR’s Planet Money podcast said, “or — to be accurate — a ninja-performer shortage.”
Japan’s low unemployment rate (2.5 percent) makes it difficult to find available, specialized ninja performers, and Iga’s rural location seems to be a deterrent to young people (According to Business Insider, Iga lost 1,000 residents last year alone).
So, if you do happen to be a ninja looking for work, the pay is quite competitive. You can earn anywhere from $23,000 to $85,000 — that’s more than the real ninjas made back in the day.