Japan’s worrisome demographic crisis has a peculiar side-effect. There aren’t enough ninjas.
And we’re not talking about coding-ninjas or sushi-ninjas or meme-ninjas or whatever. We’re talking about the real thing. You know, ninja-ninjas.
The small city of Iga is located about 450 Kilometres from Tokyo, and has a population of nearly 100,000. The city claims to be the birthplace of the ninja or Shinobi, the famous breed of mercenaries who specialised in espionage and infiltration. They first appeared in Japan around the 15th century and still permeate popular culture to this day, mostly through video games and manga.
Traditionally, the city of Iga proudly holds an annual ninja festival that attracts some 30,000 visitors and provides a significant boost to the local economy.
But following the trend of the whole country, Iga is currently suffering the consequences of depopulation. Among other side-effects, that means there aren’t too many ninjas around. So, no ninja-ninjas, means no visitors.
The rest of Japan is experiencing a tourist boom, and Sakae Okamoto, mayor of Iga, wants to promote the city’s ninja heritage to bring those dollars home.
In order to do so, Okamoto has a plan to relocate the city hall and construct an updated ninja museum in its place. Central government has already allocated funding for the project, but the country’s population shortage is proving to be an immense hurdle.
Aside from there not being enough trained ninjas around to perform at the festival, the city is also having trouble attracting a labour force to pull off the project. This is a result of Japan’s country-wide fertility crisis, their extremely low unemployment rate (about 2.5%) and the fact that there aren’t too many people willing to relocate to the rural city to work.
Just to put the seriousness of the situation into perspective, the entire Mie Prefecture, where Iga is located, only managed to attract 43 new young residents in 2017.
Although amusing at first glance, this ninja shortage does highlight Japan’s grave population decline. Their drastically low fertility rate, a result of low spending, means that if the situation is left unchecked for a few more decades, the country might plunge into an unprecedented economic and social breakdown. Not enough people to make stuff, and not enough people to buy stuff, does not make the best of economic cocktails.