The Unlikely Hero: How a Stray Cat Rescued a Railway Station from Bankruptcy
Our heartwarming story began in the picturesque town of Kinokawa, nestled within the beautiful Wakayama Prefecture of Japan. This story revolved around a calico cat named Tama, who would ultimately become a beloved and legendary figure in the world of railways.
Tama’s tale began in Kinokawa, where she was born and raised among a group of stray cats that had found solace near Kishi Station. Passengers and the informal station manager Toshiko Koyama often fed these furry friends, creating a bond between humans and felines.
A Station in Crisis
In 2004, the fate of Kishi Station hung in the balance due to financial troubles on the rail line. Just when closure seemed imminent, Koyama made a life-changing decision. She adopted Tama, seeing potential in the adorable cat. The citizens of the town passionately rallied to keep the station open, and their efforts proved successful. In April 2006, the newly-formed Wakayama Electric Railway decided to destaff all stations on the Kishigawa Line to reduce costs. As part of this change, the stray cats were evicted from their shelter to make way for new roads. Koyama, refusing to abandon her beloved Tama, pleaded with Mitsunobu Kojima, the president of Wakayama Electric Railway, to allow the cats to live inside Kishi Station. Recognizing Tama’s potential as a maneki-neko (beckoning cat), Kojima granted Koyama’s request.
And so, on January 5, 2007, Tama officially received the title of the station master. Her primary duty was to greet passengers and bring smiles to their faces. In recognition of her invaluable service, Tama was given a year’s worth of cat food and a prestigious gold name tag for her collar, proudly displaying her name and position.
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Rise to Stardom
Tama’s appointment as station master catapulted Kishi Station into the limelight. The publicity surrounding her newfound role resulted in a remarkable 17% increase in passengers during her first month compared to January 2006. Furthermore, ridership statistics for March 2007 showed a 10% increase over the previous year. Tama became an emblematic figure, symbolizing a phenomenon known as “Nekonomics” or “cat economy,” showcasing the positive economic impact of having a feline mascot. A study estimated that Tama contributed a staggering 1.1 billion yen to the local economy.
Tama’s remarkable journey continued in October 2008 when she was knighted and awarded the prestigious title of “Wakayama de Knight” by the prefectural governor. This distinction served as a testament to her exceptional work in promoting local tourism and bringing joy to the community.
2009 marked another milestone for Tama as the Wakayama Electric Railway introduced a new “Tama train” to honor her third year as stationmaster. The train was beautifully customized with charming cartoon depictions of Tama, capturing her essence and spreading her contagious enthusiasm throughout the railway.
Tama’s unwavering dedication and contribution to expanding the customer base led to another promotion in January 2010. She was bestowed with the esteemed title of “Operating Officer,” making her the first cat in history to become an executive of a railroad corporation. Despite her new role, Tama remained committed to her station master duties, delighting passengers with warm greetings.
Of course, Tama didn’t navigate this journey alone. She had two trusted feline companions by her side. Tama’s sister, Chibi, and her mother, Miiko, both served as assistant stationmasters, supporting her endeavors. Together, they formed a formidable team, adding to the charm and allure of Kishi Station.
A Fond Farewell
Sadly, on June 22, 2015, Tama’s illustrious journey ended. At 16, she passed away due to apparent heart failure. The news of her departure spread quickly, and thousands of her devoted fans flocked to Kishi Station to pay their respects. Tama was given a Shinto-style funeral at the station, and her posthumous title of “Honorary Eternal Stationmaster” immortalized her in the hearts of those who adored her.
In August 2015, Tama was enshrined as the spirit goddess “Tama Daimyojin” at a nearby Shinto cat shrine. This spiritual honor solidified her place as a guardian deity, forever watching over the station and its passengers. A small Shinto shrine called Tama Jinja, located next to the station, became a place of reverence and remembrance. Within its walls, a plaque bearing Tama’s name, written in calligraphy by President Kojima, accompanied a bronze statue of the beloved stationmaster.
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Carrying the Torch
After mourning, Tama’s duties were passed down to her loyal deputy, Nitama. On January 5, 2012, Nitama, the official apprentice, was unveiled as Tama’s successor. Rescued from under a train car and adopted by Okayama Electric Tramway, Nitama trained at Idakiso Station before assuming the role of the stationmaster. Her medium-hair calico coat and endearingly fluffy appearance captured the hearts of visitors just like her predecessor. Nitama faithfully carried on Tama’s legacy, greeting passengers with the same warmth and charm that had made Kishi Station a beloved destination.
As the years passed, a new addition joined the ranks of stationmasters. On January 6, 2017, the 10th anniversary of Tama’s installment, Yontama, affectionately known as the “Fourth Tama,” made her debut. This eight-month-old calico became Nitama’s subordinate and assumed the role of stationmaster at Idakiso Station, where Nitama had trained. Yontama’s youthful energy and playful spirit added a new dimension to the Kishi Station family, captivating visitors and continuing the tradition of feline stationmasters.
The heartwarming tale of Tama, Nitama, and Yontama continues to captivate the hearts of those who hear it. It serves as a reminder that even in the most unexpected places, our bonds with animals can bring profound joy and leave a lasting legacy. Kishi Station is a testament to the power of love, devotion, and the remarkable journeys that can unfold when humans and their furry companions unite in harmony.
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