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Ninja Government

The Mayoral Shuriken contest
as seen in a TBS Newscast.

Located on the southern end of Japan’s main island in Mie Prefecture, Iga City was long ago the home of the Iga Ninja Clan who, along with the Kouga Clan of Shiga Prefecture to the north, were one of the two prominent ninja groups in the land.

TBS News is running a video report (click the buttons under the image for streaming Real or WMV) about a most unusual revival. On February 24th, the mayors of Iga and Kouga revived the ancient rivalry often depicted in action movies when they donned “official” ninja garb and competed against each other in a shuriken throwing contest. The mayor of Kouga emerged victorious in the less-than-serious contest of skill (or lack thereof).

This isn’t the only way that Iga has celebrated the area’s claim to international fame: Yesterday, April 2nd, the Iga City Council held a Ninja Council Meeting.

All of the 70 people in attendance, from the mayor and council members to the audience, came dressed in ninja costumes. Those who could brought costumes from home, while others took the rental ninja-wear route, and some went to far as to bring decorative swords, shuriken, or headbands.

The meeting was, of course, bloodless, although the mayor, Imaoka, proposed a bill by reading from a scroll. At least one council member made sure to open a question with the very ninja-like phrase “Mono moushimasu,” meaning something vaguely to the effect of “If I may, m’lord.”

A Ninja Councilmember
reads from a scroll as photographers hover.

This isn’t the first Ninja Council Meeting, either. In April 2001 and March 2002 similar meetings were held in Ueno City (which is now part of Iga City) to promote the “Iga Ueno Ninja Fest.”

Toward the end of this March the festival’s planning committee requested a revival of the Ninja Council Meeting, and while some people who apparently lack a good sense of humor objected on the basis that city council meetings are serious business, in the end everyone agreed to support the event.

Imagine how much fun C-SPAN would be if there were throwing stars and ninjas involved.

EMTs Busted For Buying Cookies

The national news is reporting on a rather unimpressive misuse of official vehicles in the capital of rural Yamanashi prefecture.

A trio of men manning an ambulance decided to make a quick stop on the way back from dropping a patient off at the hospital. Since it was White Day (the gender-inverted version of Valentine’s Day), they wanted to grab some sweets for the ladies. Unfortunately for them, while two of the men ran into the 7-Eleven (yes, those are all over Japan), a bystander took offense at the unofficial use of the flashing lights and tattled on them.

Goofy reenactment

Reenactment of the “crime”
as seen on TV Assahi.

The result was an official reprimand and national media attention ranging from bemused commentary all the way to TV Asahi’s online video report, which includes a graphical reenactment (shown here) and a voice-scrambled, anonomized interview with the tattletale himself.

While it may not have been the best idea to leave the lights running while munchy-shopping, it’s not exactly a high crime, and you’ve got to be a pretty serious stick-in-the-mud to photograph the guys shopping and call in to complain.

For those unfamiliar with White Day: The Japanese Valentine’s Day tradition is for women to give men chocolate—loved ones as well as less significant male acquaintances like co-workers or classmates. A while ago the candy companies decided that they were missing out on half the market, so they cooked up White Day and advertised the heck out of it. Now, every March 14th, men are obligated to return the favor and give chocolate to women, again both sweethearts and female acquaintances. So these poor guys—who stopped for between 2 and 6 minutes, depending on which report you believe, and reportedly spent all of 900 yen (about US$8) on cookies—probably weren’t even going to be giving them to wives or girlfriends.

There’s even a term in the Japanese language for this: “giri-choco,” meaning roughly “obligation chocolate.”