It’s no secret that Japan is facing a national depopulation crisis. (1) Sociologists have observed a gradual decrease in fertility rates in Japan since the 1950s, but that’s not all. Experts say it a combination of factors that have caused this table-turning decline in birth rates. Namely, more young adults are pursuing lifetime careers without taking time off to start families.
Even though the nationwide focus has shifted toward careers, one particular occupation faces a depopulation issue of its own. With their population shrinking every year, Japan is having trouble staffing for what might be the country’s most famous profession. That is, Japan is running low on ninjas.
The Way of the Ninja in Jeopardy
Ninjas are an integral part of Japanese history and heritage. While they are no longer employed as silent assassins, orders of professional ninjas are still very much intact today.
So what’s the scoop on becoming a ninja in the 21st century? Modern ninjas are trained in martial arts and the use of traditional tools. The process is rigorous and requires dedication, as it would have been all throughout history. However, as you might expect, the purpose of this training is no longer to carry out secret strike missions. The role of today’s ninjas revolves around performance. These professionals capture the heritage of their nation and hometowns by carrying on tradition.
Being a ninja pays better than ever. According to NPR’s Planet Money podcast, modern ninjas are paid between and $23,000 and $85,000 per year. Compare that to the inflation-adjusted rates of $8,000 to $17,000 that their historical counterparts would have made. (2) Even by today’s standards, that’s pretty competitive pay for one of the coolest jobs ever. Still, the number of ninja’s in Japan faces decline.
Home of the Ninja Holds the Answers
Iga is a small city in central Japan with a special connection to ninja heritage. In fact, Iga claims to be the original birthplace of the ninja. For this reason, places like Iga experience the overall depopulation of Japan in a unique way.
Fascination with ninjas and what they did since medieval Japan is worldwide, and Iga relies on that interest to bolster their home economies through tourism. Iga is home to a ninja school and historical museum, and yearly festivals complete with authentic ninja performances. However, there is just one problem…
In 2017, the city population decreased by 1,000. In the same year, the whole surrounding region gained only 43 new residents. As a small city located in a rural countryside, retaining working-aged citizens can be difficult. Work in the nearby metropolis of Tokyo holds a massive draw to the young people of Iga’s community. This leaves fewer young people remaining at home to enter the town’s ninja school, and fewer people to carry on the mantle of ninja tradition.
Still, the community remains hopeful. The mayor of Iga (a master ninja himself) has plans to open a second major ninja museum in town. This will be in an effort to increase ninja-based tourism, but there is also a greater goal. By elevating the buzz of the city’s ninja heritage, the mayor hopes to create jobs and increase the draw of living and working in the city of Iga. It’s still too early to know for sure, but ninjas could be a saving grace for Iga, and for Japan.