Wannabe ninjas plague Japan city after viral mix-up

TOKYO (AFP) - A Japanese city has been left fighting off wannabe ninjas after a news report on local labour shortages that suggested it wanted to hire the traditional assassins went viral.

The western city of Iga was featured in a report by American radio station NPR this month about Japan's depopulation and labour shortage problems.

The report said Iga was trying to capitalise on its history as home to ninjas by building a new museum focused on the warriors, but was struggling to hire staff, including ninja performers.

In its reporting, NPR said ninja performers in Japan can earn anywhere between US$23,000 and US$85,000 a year. But a number of copycat reports by other media or viral sites went with less nuanced headlines such as: "This town in Japan will pay you an US$85,000 salary to train as a ninja."

By Wednesday, at least 115 aspiring assassins had contacted the city and its local tourism association, puzzled Iga officials said.

Would-be warriors from at least 14 countries had been in touch, they added.

"Iga didn't put out information about 'a lack of ninjas in Iga' or the 'annual income of ninjas', that is currently reported by some news sites on the Internet," the city said on its website.

In a statement issued in Japanese, English and three other languages, the city tried to squelch the hopes of applicants, adding: "Please be careful about fake news."

"We are just puzzled," Motoyoshi Shimai, a city official, told AFP.

"So far, neither the city nor ninja performing groups here have any plans to recruit ninja performers."

The official said the city's mayor had expressed "surprise at how big the impact of the word ninja is".

But the viral mix-up could end up being a boon for Iga, which might not be hiring ninjas, but is hoping its association with the feudal fighters will draw more tourists.

It already hosts one ninja museum, boasting a house rigged with hidden ladders, false doors and an underfloor sword box.

Visitors can watch a ninja performance or rent ninja costumes.

And they can even join a one-day ninja training programme - just don't ask about job openings.