Being a professional ninja might sound like a little kid's fantasy, but in Aichi, Japan it's a very real job you can have as an adult. Aichi is the birthplace of the Samurai warrior and there are still many places in the city related to Samurai history, from castles to battlegrounds, that people can visit. The ninjas serve as publicists for these sites in order to help boost tourism.
When the Aichi government put out an ad looking for professional ninjas, there were 235 applicants and 200 of them were foreigners -- only 35 were Japanese. Chris O'Neill is one of those foreigners who made the cut. In fact, he is the first American to ever become a salaried foreign ninja. He now performs all over the world in a group called Hattori Hanzo and the Ninjas, fulfilling his lifelong dream of becoming a professional ninja.
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O'Neill told Seeker he wasn't nervous about the acrobatics part of the audition, but he was nervous about the interview because it was all in Japanese. "I have no anxiety to do acrobatic tricks and audition that way. But the interview section was going to be all in Japanese. So I was so, so nervous to get up and speak. It was a challenge," O'Neill said.
Emi Yamada is also part of Hattori Hanzo and the Ninjas and is the only female in the group. Even though ninjas are typically thought of as male, there were actually many female ninjas known as kunoichi, who worked as spies and assassins in medieval Japan. Yamada is the most popular ninja among children and the elderly in particular and she told Seeker ""The ninja's image is very male-oriented, but women are not inferior by any means. We have girl power!"
When Chris O'Neill was growing up, people used to make fun of him for wanting to be a ninja, but he worked hard and he finally got his opportunity. His excitement about his job is palpable. He told Seeker, "I'm so excited to be the first gaikokujin ninja. I think it shows people that no matter what anybody says, anything is possible."
-- Molly Fosco