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FILE PHOTO: Children dressed as ninjas pose for a souvenir picture during a ninja festival in Iga, about 450 km (280 miles) from Tokyo, April 6, 2008. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon/File Photo

(reuters_tickers)

By Elaine Lies

TOKYO (Reuters) - 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.

Iga, a small city in central Japan, has long dubbed itself the home of one style of the black-clad, throwing-star-wielding covert agents for hire, staging ninja shows and offering "ninja experiences" for tourists.

But a programme aired last week on National Public Radio in the United States about Iga's ninja-centred town promotion effort set off a frenzy of internet interest after its host said the city faced a shortage of ninja performers and even quoted potential salaries, giving the impression it might be hiring.

"That's wrong, all wrong," said Motoyoshi Shimai, an official of Iga's tourism strategy division. "There was no discussion about that, and we didn't mention money."

Still, the city received volleys of telephone and email queries from 115 ninja wannabes in 23 countries, including Japan.

"Most were questions about whether we were really hiring, but there were a few that begged us to employ them and tried to promote themselves," Shimai added. "Some had real confidence in their bodies and strength."

Iga ultimately issued a statement in several languages saying it was not hiring and warning against fake news, but said plenty of other ninja fun was on offer.

"(The city) is the Iga-style ninja birthplace. We can feel breath of ninja at every turn of downtown," it said.

City officials were surprised but not annoyed by the fuss, Shirai said.

"We were made to viscerally feel how high interest is in ninjas all around the world," he added.

(Reporting by Elaine Lies)

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