The $10MILLION cat in the hat: Meet Tama the feline station master who helped save Japanese railway from bankruptcy
The station master in a small Japanese town knows little about trains and is more interested in naps and treats than in schedules, which is not surprising because she is a cat.
Since 2007, a calico named Tama has served as Super Station Master of Kishi station in Kinokawa City – the last stop on the Wakayama Electric Railway.
A decade earlier, the small regional train line had been losing $4.7million a year, with trains almost always running empty.
But with the appointment of the furry station master, the town’s flagging fortunes experienced a remarkable turnaround, The Atlantic Cities reported.
The tiny, provincial municipality became an overnight tourist destination. Visitors from across the country have been flocking to the provincial town just to take a picture with Tama.
In the process, the railway system that at one time had been on the verge of bankruptcy got a $10.4million boost thanks to travelers eager to see the four-legged railway official.
Beside boosting ridership, Tama has inspired a whole line of cat-themed products, from T-shirts, stuffed animals and other souvenirs to a full set of dining room furniture emblazoned with the kitty’s likeness.
In 2009, the railway eager to cater to Tama’s fans unveiled a special cat-themed train featuring cartoon depictions of everyone’s favorite feline.
Money train: In 2009, the railway unveiled a special cat-themed train featuring cartoon depictions of Tama
The following year, the station building at Kishi was revamped with a new structure resembling a cat’s face.
According to the blog Spoon & Tamago, the 14-year-old four-legged station master receives her salary in cat food.
Her primary duty is to greet customers at the station. The position comes with a snazzy station master’s hat and an office with a litter box inside a converted ticket booth.
Tama comes from humble beginnings. She was born in Kinokawa and raised with a group of strays wandering around Kishi station.
In 2007, officials of the failing rail system caught wind of the cute calico hanging around a local grocery store and unexpectedly decided to name her Kishi’s new station master, hoping that the gimmick might help with the dire financial situation.
Needless to say, the plan worked like a charm.
In January 2010, railway officials promoted Tama to the post of Operating Officer, making her the first feline to become an executive of a railroad corporation.
Her staff consisted of two four-legged assistant stationmasters, Chibi and Miiko, but now only the former remains.
The whiskered celebrity appeared in a documentary about cats titled La Voie du chat in French and Katzenlektionen in German by Italian filmmaker Myriam Tonelotto.
Last January, the 14-year-old’s official apprentice, and a would-be successor named Nitama (second Tama), was revealed.