Mixed feelings in Japanese city over 'fake news' on 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

IGA, Mie - The municipal government of Iga, Mie Prefecture, has been taking a closer look at recent fake news articles that claimed the city is facing a shortage of ninja performers and offering job candidates a maximum annual salary of ¥9.45 million (S$115,121). The erroneous stories resulted in the city being flooded with email applications from people in 13 countries overseas.

The stories went viral worldwide about 10 days ago. Iga Mayor Sakae Okamoto held a press conference to deny the news, and the flood of applications has now abated.

National Public Radio in the United States interviewed Okamoto in the city office building on July 5. The mayor wore a ninja costume and talked about the city's tourism promotion strategy, which takes advantage of the legacy of the Iga ninja school.

Okamoto did not mention the annual income of ninja actors or ninja recruitment during the interview, according to the city.

The uproar began after NPR broadcast a segment based on the interview in mid-July. An NPR reporter said that few people wanted to become ninja, even for the generous annual salary of US$85,000 (S$115,726). Internet sites then disseminated the news secondhand.


The city emailed the Foreign Press Center Japan in Tokyo, which helped arrange the interview, about where the claim originated. According to the US radio network, the information about the shortage of ninja performers and their annual income came from the Ninja Museum of Igaryu in the city and Mie University International Ninja Research Center, not from the mayor.

However, the museum said the Ashura troupe that puts on ninja shows at the museum is not short of staff because plenty of young people are training to perform as ninja. Mie University also denied the report, saying it explained the ninja's income during the Edo period (1603-1867) but did not discuss the current annual salary of ninja performers.

The city is unsatisfied with NPR's response and intends to ask for further explanations about the incident.

"Fortunately, we haven't been harmed by the incident. We welcome the publicity to some extent," said a city official in charge of tourism promotion.

"However, it's a serious problem if people regard future news about the city as fake. We'll thoroughly investigate why the report was so misinformed," the official said.