Japanese city claiming to be birthplace of ninjas faces ninja shortage

Japanese city claiming to be birthplace of ninjas faces ninja shortage
Osaka, Kyoto, Tokyo trip [In the small town of Iga, don't be surprised to see dummy ninja figures on balconies and rooftops, as it is the birthplace of the ninjas.
PHOTO: Geoffrey Eu

A small city in Japan, Iga city in Mie Prefecture, plans to boost tourism by using to the best of its abilities, its claim that it is the birthplace of ninjas. Ironically, the city faces one big problem: ninja shortage.

Sakae Okamoto, mayor of Iga, is counting on the international interest surrounding the city's ninja heritage to bolster tourism, as reported by NPR's "Planet Money" podcast last Monday, July 16. While the city was known for its ninja tourism, it is currently facing competition from other Japanese cities - Nagoya opens ninja schools where tourists, both local and foreign, can train as ninja apprentices; Tokyo is building a ninja museum similar to what Iga has; and Koga is claiming to be the "original home of the ninja."

Iga holds an annual ninja festival to attract travellers. Tourists are given an opportunity to dress like a ninja and explore the city's ninja heritage for an entire day. But the mayor thinks this form of tourism is not enough.

Mayor Okamoto revealed that the city's government plans to relocate the city hall to make way for a second museum with a "lot of virtual experiences," the report stated. Moreover, the mayor said that Iga's second museum proposition will be funded by the central government.

However, it will be hard for the city to proceed with its plans seeing as it has a shortage on the one thing it promotes to tourists: ninjas, or more precisely, ninja performers.

The city is currently facing depopulation, reportedly losing 1,000 people a year. Aside from the fact that Japan has a low unemployment rate, Iga is located in the countryside, and that to become a ninja performer, one should have the necessary skills set - it's no surprise the second museum proposition will take a while before it comes into fruition, despite the reportedly competitive pay.

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