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Stray Cat who Saved the Train Station is Honored After Death

Ian Harvey
Tama, the stationmaster of Kishi Station, Wakayama Electric Railway, located in Kinokawa, Wakayama, Japan

Ever heard of the phrase “man’s best friend?”  Generally people tend to think of dogs, but they should not ignore the fact that cats can be just as friendly and influential on the lives of animal lovers.  What’s even crazier is the fact a cat can run a train station in Japan.

The calico cat, Tama, had been working as the train master since 2007.  Although she didn’t do a whole lot during the day while at work, she boosted train transportation dramatically.  She worked as Super Station Master of Kishi station in Kinokawa City, which happens to be the last stop on the Wakayama Electric Railway.

After the last employee left in 2006, the railway only had Tama.  When people heard of the ever growing famous cat, it became known as the Tama effect, resulting in a major boost in train ticket sales.

Tama, the stationmaster of Kishi Station, Wakayama Electric Railway, located in Kinokawa, Wakayama, Japan

Tama, the stationmaster of Kishi Station, Wakayama Electric Railway, located in Kinokawa, Wakayama, Japan. Wikipedia

Before Tama began working as the station master, the railway had been losing over four million dollars a year.  This was most likely due to the fact people either drove or used other means of transportation, leaving the railways abandoned. Since Tama had become a huge hit at the railway, people were flocking to her, wanting to buy their tickets from her.  Not only that, but what used to be a basic railway has now turned into a major tourist destination.  Tama even had universal appeal, as people worldwide had been visiting her.

Thanks to those visitors and tourists who paid to see Tama, the nearly-bankrupt railway received over 10 million dollars. You may think this is crazy – this much revenue from people who were ecstatic to meet Tama.  But her railway is visited by so many tourists that she even has her own souvenir line; from T-shirts to stuffed animals, the railway has everything depicting Tama.  There’s even a full dining room set a person can buy.

In 2009, Tama was so popular that the railway had a special occasion, unveiling a train car that depicted a cartoon version of the cat on its side.  In 2010 the station had a new structure built that resembled her head as well, making all of Tama’s fans go crazy.

Tama's office inside the old Kishi Station in June 2008.WIkipedia

Tama’s office inside the old Kishi Station in June 2008.WIkipedia

Since becoming popular, Tama had kept her own blog.  When she first started her work she was 14 years old and received her salary in cat food. Her only duty at the station was to greet the customers.  Her position also came with a station master’s hat, an office and, to top it all off, a ticket booth litterbox.

Tama was born in Kinokawa and had originally grown up among strays.  She was found wandering Kishi station until  in 2007 the officials of the rail system decided to name the calico cat.  She was known to hang around the rail station and the local grocery store, so the officials thought that naming Tama and keeping her at the station would encourage the number of visits. Boy, were they right!

In January 2010 Tama was named official Operating Officer, making her the first-ever cat to become an executive of a railroad corporation. Tama was allowed to have two staff members assist her in her daily duties.  They were named Chibi and Miiko, however, they did not stay as long as Tama.

Tama is known internationally and has just finished her first documentary.  It was titled La Voie du Chat in French and was even released in German under the title Katzenlektionen.

Sadly, Tama died in 2012 from old age.  She lived to be 16 years old and had a great life.  Nearly 3,000 people attended her public funeral.

Tama wearing a decoration of 'Wakayama de Knight' (a pun on 'It's got to be Wakayama' in Japanese) presented by the governor of Wakayama

Tama wearing a decoration of ‘Wakayama de Knight’ (a pun on ‘It’s got to be Wakayama’ in Japanese) presented by the governor of Wakayama

Her dedication to keeping the railway busy and successful has earned her the status of Shinto goddess.  She has helped to keep the indigenous Japanese religious practice of honoring animal deities alive and relevant. Tama is now enshrined at a nearby site dedicated to other cat dieties.

Follow the link to view the photos of Tama’s everyday life as the station master.