Wakayama prefecture is located in Kansai region, Honshu. Wakayama Electric Railway Co. runs a service across Wakayama prefecture and back in 2006 it was really struggling. This resulted in many of it’s stations being destaffed, i.e. just ticket machines and no humans there to help. At Kishi Station Toshiki Koyama, who had taken over the operations of the station, started feeding a stray cat called Tama. After Kishi Station narrowly avoided being closed down Tama was voted in as the Station Master.
Tama was originally just a stray cat who, along with other cats in their area, were fed by the passengers and by Toshiki Koyama. Even though the station was saved Wakayama railway still needed to save money so they appointed a station master for each station, usually a local businessman near to the station. For Kishi Station Tama was selected. She received a uniform, in the form of a beautiful station master’s hat, and instead of paying her a salary they gave her all the cat food she could need! Surprisingly this move by Wakayama railway was a resounding success. Tama was so popular that the number of passengers increased by 17%! In her lifetime, it is said, that Tama contributed 1.1 billion yen to the local economy, not bad for a stray cat! Tama was then promoted for doing such a good job to “super stationmaster”, the president of the railway even attended the ceremony! Tama was now the only female in a managerial position in the whole company. They even made Tama an office, which was an old ticket booth. Tama’s popularity grew and in 2010 she was promoted again to Operating officer. Tama even got her own employees, her sister Chibi and her mother Miiko. Tama even had a train decorated in her honour. Sadly Tama passed away on the 22nd of June 2015 due to apparent heart failure. Tama was given a traditional Shinto funeral and enshrined as Tama Daimyojin, a kami. Many people sent honours, flowers and offering for Tama to show their love and sadness at her passing.
Since Tama has passed, Kishi station has been without a stationmaster. Now Wakayama railway have appointed Nitama as the new stationmaster. Her job will be to greet the passengers of Kishi station and be the mascot and draw that Tama was. Like Tama, Nitama is also a calico cat and has received a station master’s hat so she really looks the part. If you are travelling south of Osaka why not visit Wakayama prefecture and the country’s second feline station master?
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