It has turned into Japan week on DID. On Monday Shannon blogged that last year’s recorded population decline was the largest in Japanese history. On Wednesday I reported an interview with a Japanese academic who was not sanguine about his country’s demographic future. Now, there is even worse news for the land of the rising sun: a shortage of ninjas!

It’s not just tdown o their reputed supernatural gift for invisibility that it’s getting harder to find ninjas in Japan nowadays: it’s because there is a major talent shortage. Practitioners of the ancient “ninjutsu” are in high demand at the moment as growing numbers of tourists are flocking to see “ninja shows”. But filling the martial arts squads is getting harder to do as candidates are just not good enough. According to Takatsugu Aoki, the manager of a squad in the city of Nayoga, the candidates who put themselves forward lack the basic skills needed. And these skills aren’t “basic”, at least not from where I’m sitting! Instead they include unarmed combat, acrobatics, concealment, first aid, proficiency with the shuriken (throwing star) and with the sword.

Before they were used to entertain tourists ninjas were primarily used for espionage in feudal Japan. The Independent reports that: 

“Ninjas prided themselves first and foremost on their skills in spying and their endurance – violence was supposedly seen as a last resort.

But they were traditionally skilled in using weapons such as shuriken, known as throwing stars in the West, and the fukiya blowpipe which was usually filled with a poisoned dart. 

They first emerged as mercenaries in the 15th century during an era of civil war known as the Warring States period and were recruited to act as spies, raiders, assassins or even terrorists.”

Interestingly, ninjas were disdained by general society and formed into guilds with their own sets of rules and ranks.

Now, I’m sure that post-modern Japan has more important things to worry about than dwindling numbers of ninja shows. But in a country that is failing to reproduce itself these sort of skills shortages will continue to grow. Today it might be ninjas, tomorrow, it might be farmers, workers, taxpayers, soldiers. 

Marcus Roberts was two years out of law school when he decided that practising law was no longer for him. He therefore went back to university and did his LLM while tutoring. He now teaches contract and...