Cat that brought trade to struggling railroad line inducted into Wakayama Hall of Fame
The Japan Times WAKAYAMA – A cat that was “promoted” to stationmaster by a railway company and used to reverse a neglected railroad’s fortunes has become the first inductee to Wakayama Prefecture’s Hall of Fame.
The gimmick involving the cat, named Tama, drew throngs of tourists to the prefecture. The cat has now died.
A copper relief of Tama measuring 35 cm by 45 cm was unveiled at a ceremony at Wakayama Prefectural Library.
The Wakayama Hall of Fame was established by the prefectural government this month to honor people and animals who have played prominent roles in publicizing the prefecture.
The female calico cat was named stationmaster of Kishi Station on Wakayama Electric Railway Co.’s Kishigawa Line in 2007. The cat’s image subsequently was used in promotional activities to draw trade to the line.
Tama was later promoted to “executive officer” and “acting president” of Wakayama Electric Railway. She died of heart failure last June at the age of 16.
Tama originally belonged to the owner of a store near the station in the city of Kinokawa.
Among participants at the relief-unveiling ceremony were Wakayama Gov. Yoshinobu Nisaka and Wakayama Electric Railway President Mitsunobu Kojima.
“Tama shored up the Kishigawa Line . . . and promoted Wakayama all over the world,” Nisaka said.
“A short while ago, I heard Tama’s voice. She said, ‘I feel embarrassed, but I’m happy (for the Hall of Fame listing),’ ” said Kojima.
660News JIJI Feb 17, 2016
People pray in front of an altar especially set up for a funeral of Tama, a cat stationmaster, in Kinokawa City, Wakayama Prefecture, western Japan, Sunday, June 28, 2015. Tama the stationmaster, Japan's feline star of a struggling local railway, was mourned by company officials and fans and elevated into a goddess Sunday. Tama, sitting at the ticket gate welcoming and seeing off passengers, quickly attracted tourists and became world-famous, contributing to the railway company and local economy. Tama died of a heart failure on June 22. (Chika Oshima/Kyodo News via AP) JAPAN OUT, MANDATORY CREDIT
TOKYO (AP) — Tama the stationmaster, Japan's feline star of a struggling local railway, was mourned by company officials and fans and elevated into a goddess at a funeral Sunday.
The calico cat was appointed stationmaster at the Kishi station in western Japan in 2007. Donning her custom-made stationmaster's cap, Tama quietly sat at the ticket gate welcoming and seeing off passengers. The cat quickly attracted tourists and became world-famous, contributing to the railway company and local economy.
Tama, who had turned 16 in April, died of a heart failure on June 22. During Sunday's Shinto-style funeral at the station where she served, Tama became a goddess. The Shinto religion, indigenous to Japan and practiced by many Japanese, has a variety of gods including animals.
In one of several portraits decorating the altar, Tama posed in a stationmaster's hat and a dark blue cape. Sake, as well as watermelon, apples, cabbage and other fruits and vegetables were presented to the cat. A stand outside the station was heaped with bouquets, canned tuna and other gifts left by thousands of Tama fans who came to pray from around the country.
Wakayama Electric Railway President Mitsunobu Kojima thanked the cat for her achievement, and said Tama will be enshrined at a nearby cat shrine in August.
Before Tama's arrival, the local Kishigawa Line was near-bankrupt; and the station was unmanned as it had lost its last staff.
A girl lays bouquets of flowers at an altar especially set up for a funeral of Tama
Kojima said appointing Tama as stationmaster was initially an excuse to keep the cat at the station.
"But she was really doing her job," he said. The rest was a miracle, and his company's success story also gave hope for dozens of other struggling tiny local train lines, he said.
"Tama-chan really emerged like a savior, a goddess. It was truly my honor to have been able to work with her," Kojima said in his speech.
During her tenure, Tama had contributed an estimated 1.1 billion yen ($8.9 million) to the local economy, Kojima said.
Kojima said that when he visited Tama at an animal hospital the day before she died, the cat woke up and reached out to him with her paws, as if asking for a hug, and looked straight into his eyes. He said he told Tama to get well so they can celebrate the cat's upcoming 10th anniversary as a stationmaster, and said the cat responded with a "meow."
Tama is a popular name for cats in Japan, where they are considered spiritual animals. The word could translate as treasure, ball or spirit.
The cat had climbed the corporate ladder from stationmaster to "ultra-stationmaster" and vice president of the company before receiving the additional title Sunday of "honorable eternal stationmaster."
Tama will be succeeded by another calico cat, Nitama, now an apprentice stationmaster.