Dream jobs – They’re something which we all aspire to, but very few of us actually make a reality. It’s why TV shows like American Idol are so popular. The contests have a dream which we can all relate to in one way or another, and watching their journeys allows us to live vicariously through them and imagine what it would be like to suddenly land our dream jobs.
Of course, not everyone aspires to be a singer, and when we are young, more often than not, we have completely unrealistic expectations about what we can and can’t do with our lives. Ask any preschool class how many of them want to become an astronaut, for example, and likely half a dozen will say yes. There would also be a similar response to being a ninja.
Speaking of ninjas, it turns out that the reality of this much-aspired-to profession is very different from what we all thought as kids. It might seem like one of the coolest jobs on the planet, and one that would see you turn into a real-life superhero, but there aren’t many grownups who’re interested. In fact, despite an $85,000 salary, there’s actually a ninja shortage in Japan right now.
Specifically, in Iga city – widely regarded as the hometown of ninjas. It’s ironically suffering from a shortage of performers who possess the skills of these iconic warriors (although contrary to popular belief, you don’t need invisibility or the ability to walk on water).
Iga possesses a number of ancient documents on these fearsome warriors that date all the way back to the 1400s. Wanting to keep its heritage alive and well, Mie University founded an International Ninja Research Cente so that more could be learned about these iconic warriors, and the city is currently in the process of building its second ninja museum.
However, despite these steps to keep their ninja heritage thriving, there aren’t enough ninjas around to show people exactly what this job entails. This is hitting the local tourism industry hard and the city’s leaders are worried.
During Iga’s annual ninja festival, its population of 100,000 swells by around 30,000. Now Iga’s mayor wants to publicize its history in a bid to increase this number, but without enough trained ninjas in the rural city, this is proving to be a challenge.
So why exactly does no one in Iga want to become a ninja? I mean, if the movies are anything to go by, it really is a dream job.
Well, it’s because there are unfortunately better opportunities afforded to young people in Japan’s cities, which is why they are leaving Iga – which is more than a four-hour train ride away from Tokyo – in their droves.
To see one of the jaw-dropping moves which ninjas can pull off, check out the video below:
It’s for this reason that the ninja pay is so high – ranging from $23,000 to $85,000 – as the government wants to encourage the city’s young people to stay and give the Iga the trained warriors its economy so desperately needs.
That being said, Sugako Nakagawa, curator of the local Ninja museum, told Reuters that, “Ninja is not an inheritable class. Without severe training, nobody could become a ninja. That’s why they have silently disappeared in history.”
Speaking about Iga’s ninja shortage in NPR’s Planet Money podcast, Sally Herships’ co-host Stacey Vanek Smith said, “It’s facing a shortage of those two key things you need to keep an economy humming: stuff to sell and people to buy the stuff.”
“Right now in Iga, we are working very hard to promote ninja tourism and get the most economic outcome,” the city’s mayor 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.”
Japan is currently in the midst of a tourism boom, with 20% more tourists visiting in 2017 than the previous year, but as it stands, this has predominately affected its larger cities and not those in more rural areas.
In addition to building a second ninja museum, Okamoto has relocated the city hall in a bid to make traveling to the rural city worthwhile for tourists. The city has also received funding from the government and public to increase its ninja numbers. “Japan’s government is funding ninjas,” Herships said.
Despite these good intentions, however, Japan has an extremely low unemployment rate of just 2.5% which makes it even harder to entice people to become 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.”
According to the International Ninja Research Center, ninjas in Iga earned an inflation-adjusted $8,000 to $17,000 a year.
Perhaps because of the popularity of ninjas in the west, Iga’s problem has garnered quite a lot of attention online, and now countless people are throwing their hats into the ring to be considered for this extremely badass position.
“I love being a doctor, but definitely missed my calling: Japan is suffering from a ninja shortage,” wrote @ColinChampMD.
Others were simply glad that the job description did not involve superhuman qualities and @ScannellKate wrote, “‘Invisibility and walking on water, despite the folklore, are not part of the job description.’ #ninjashortage”
But @zv_real07 wanted to clarify exactly what kind of ninjas the city of Iga needed and jokingly wrote, “Is Japan running low on regular ninjas [sic] or teenage mutant ninja turtles? #ninjashortage”
Unfortunately, despite the positive attention which this role has attracted from those who are most likely to visit Iga as tourists, the city itself only attracted 43 new young residents and lost a staggering 1,000 last year.
That being said, we would like to wish the mayor all the best on his quest. Hopefully, this opportunity will inspire young children in Iga who’ve yet to decide on a career path to keep the city’s ninja heritage alive for years to come. Mainly because ninjas are badass and super cool!
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