FIRST, THE GOOD NEWS: We, as a planet, have plenty of ninjas. Loads of ninjas. Too many ninjas, probably, enough that we got bored teaching the ancient silent death arts to humans and began spawning mutant turtles, just for something to do. Enough that we invented a game show in which people equate a 500-year-old Eastern legend with flinging themselves over elevated monkey bars in downtown Tulsa. Rest assured that tonight, when you rest your noggin on your memory foam pillow, you live in a world stuffed to the brim with three things: Yankees closers, people who are easily duped by Sacha Baron Cohen, and ninjas.
But here’s the bad news: Despite having been fooled seven billion times in the last four days, the internet jumped on an awesome-sounding headline, got the story totally 100% wrong and will pay for it by preeeeeeeeetty much doing the same shit the next time Ken Bone shows up or a douche-looking guy appears to steal a foul ball from an adorable moppet. (And here let me pause to say sorry again to that guy, look man, we Cubs fans are just real itchy about foul balls being caught in the stands.)
Last week, the story was that the country of Japan was severely short on ninjas, so short that it was offering an $85,000 salary to any aspiring assassins who wished to apply/come to Japan/learn to hang out motionless in a pond breathing through a bamboo tube for 12 hours until you had to murder a billionaire tycoon with a blowgun and/or piranha.
This story dinged all the tweet-idiot boxes. It was an amazing headline. It was about ninjas. It included the fairly shocking and almost certainly inconsistent fact that ninjas make nearly six figures a year, which if you think about it seems really weird for a job that easily pre-dated annual salaries. But NINJAS! If all you read was this blurbfrom NPR’s Planet Money, you would have been forgiven for spot-quitting your Social Media Consultant job and booking a flight to Iga:
Iga, a small Japanese city and the birthplace of the ninja, is facing a serious problem — there aren't enough people training to be ninjas, not even for $85k a year. Today on the show, Sally Herships goes to Iga to discuss the city's plan to use ninjas to fight depopulation.
Terrifying, right? So good you actually don’t have to listen to the entire podcast and realize that there’s more to the story. And while the prospect of $85,000 and a sword sounds admittedly amazing, the “plan to use ninjas to fight depopulation” was actually much less about whizzing throwing stars at the throats of your emperor’s foes and more about … wait for it … PUBLIC RELATIONS. Here is the lead from the actual story, which, like most things, is way less sexy and factually accurate:
TOKYO - A city in Japan has been bombarded with inquiries from aspiring ninjas, the country’s famed feudal mercenaries and spies, after a news report on city tourist promotions was mistaken for a “ninjas wanted” advertisement.
Tourist promotions! Is there anything more awesome than tourist promotions? Is there anything better, if you work in tourist promotions, than a web full of dimwits affording you 6 billion times the delicious SEO you’d have ever achieved on your own? Inquiries came in from 23 countries, all people hoping to land that sweet and fictitious ninja money. “That’s wrong, all wrong,” said Motoyoshi Shimai, an official of Iga’s tourism strategy division, told Reuters. “There was no discussion about that, and we didn’t mention money.”
Now, there are lots of reasons that this might happen, like that most people online read about six words of something before growing hopelessly bored, or that nuance in American media died 180 years ago, or that, and I’m just throwing ideas out here, people choose to believe nonsense that aligns with their interests or belief systems even or especially in the face of overwhelming factual opposition, IDK, it’s a theory.
Anyway, all this to say, the ninja shortage is fake news. Everything is mostly fine, even in Iga, which just accidentally picked up some pretty sweet demographic learnings. “We were made to viscerally feel how high interest is in ninjas all around the world,” Shimai told Reuters. He’s right! I hope to visit soon, partly to see the birthplace of ninja history but mostly to visit its tourism department. Those guys do amazing work.