It sounds like the result of a brainstorming session of elementary school girls, but the idea to make a cat the train’s stationmaster proved to be the saving grace of the Kishi Station, located in Kinokawa, 30 minutes from Wakayama City in southeast Japan. A calico cat named Tama has spawned a whole tourism industry in the rural town.
The 14 kilometer train ride from Wakayama City to Kishi Station was so lightly traveled that Nankai Electric Railway had to close shop in 2004 due to financial difficulties. Wakayama Electric Railway took over running the Kishigawa line and in 2007, someone had the brilliant idea to “appoint” a stray cat that was adopted by the station manager as their stationmaster. Tama had been a resident of the train station since 1999 and so it wasn’t that big of a stretch for her. She had to wear a complete uniform, with the stationmaster cap and badge, and pretty soon, people were piling into Kishi station just to see the adorable mascot. Her office is a converted ticket booth and she also receives a salary, an unlimited supply of cat food, which, if you’re a cat, is pretty much heavenly.
With Tama pulling in the crowds, the train line was able to stay in operation, and pretty soon, it opened up other business opportunities in the station. There is now a Tama-themed cafe and a souvenir shop where you can buy cutesy stuff with Tama designs, including Kishi Station uniforms. Even the station takes after Tama with its cat-shaped building. Tama now even has an apprentice, Nitama, who shoulders some of her “responsibilities” like napping and looking adorable for pictures. Tama has become not just a mascot for the station, but for the entire area as well. And people who visit the station eventually find out that there are other things to do in town, like fruit picking and touring local shrines. Wakayama Electric Railway now has three cute train themes: Strawberry Train, Toy Train and of course, the Tama Train.
[ via CNN ]