Joining Japan’s aging workforce is a diligent worker who continues to attract tourists from other countries in her role as a station master, while counting the years herself. It’s a cute, 15 year old cat named Tama. Assigned at the Kishi station in Wakayama Prefecture, the western part of Japan, Tama has been with the station for seven years already.
As stationmaster, Tama is expected to clock in hours having her picture taken with tourists. Tens of thousands of tourists, mostly from Hong Kong and Taiwan, visit the small train station to take a ride, and most especially see Tama. In fact, records from the Wakayama Electric Railway show that tourists from the two countries have increased to 240% in the past months. The rural town has been hit with a declining population, but those visiting the area have helped turned it around. During the last Lunar New Year holiday season, hundreds of tourists came to the area for many days. Thanks to Tama, who was appointed in 2007, the train station continues to attract passengers to avoid further sinking into ruin.
Tama was recognized with a special award in 2008 by the prefectural government for her contribution to the region’s economy. An estimated 1.1 billion yen (about US$10.7 million) was raked in that year, thanks to her. “Tama has stimulated the region and I’m happy to see many tourists leaving in smiles after watching her,” said train staff Maki Miyashita. In fact, Tama was named deputy president in 2013 as part of her career growth. Mitsunobu Kojima, president of the company, takes the credit for Tama. Hiring Tama came to him when he first laid eyes on the cat and thought how it would be very cost-efficient to do so. A college student from Hong Kong who came to the station to see Tama said, “The idea is clever, as the cat has become the symbol of the railway, attracting many tourists.” Currently, a different 3 year old Nitama, is being groomed as a “junior station master” in preparation for Tama’s retirement.
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