Recently, Sally Herships of NPR’s Planet Money visited Iga to speak with Mayor Sakae Okamoto about the plan to use ninja performers to boost tourism and fight depopulation in the small, rural city.
“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’s solution? More ninjas.
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“Japan’s government is funding ninjas.”
Business Insider notes that while Japan’s tourism industry is booming, rural cities like Iga are apparently not drawing travelers. Iga’s annual ninja festival is the city’s main attraction – during it, the population grows from 10,000 to 30,000 people.
But that’s just one day. Iga hopes to build on the festival’s popularity by investing in ninjas. They’ve already built a second ninja museum with financial help from the government.
Yes, really. As Herships said, “Japan’s government is funding ninjas.”
The challenge now is to attract a labor force and skilled ninja performers – no mean feat in a country with an unemployment rate of 2.5 percent and a city that lost 1,000 residents in the last year alone.
Iga is offering prospective ninjas more than just bragging rights, however. Salaries for ninja performers range from $23,000 to $85,000 per year. That’s significantly more than the $8,000 to $17,000 earned by real ninjas, per NPR.
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