This is a revisit of Tama, the much-celebrated stationmaster cat who brought fame and profit to a failing railway line in Japan. She was a stray cat living near the station and was elevated to celebrity and the role of stationmaster. Her duties included greeting travellers and of course entertaining them. She became world-famous. The railway company were very appreciative of her role as a shrine was constructed on her passing which is next to the station.
Working cat – a brilliant mascot for a railway service
This paragraph was written in around 2008: The Stationmaster cat has taken on some new staff and they are cats (see the video)! I’d like to revisit the famous Japanese Stationmaster cat. Who said that cats can’t be working cats? Who thinks cats just sit around, sleeping, eating and hunting etc.? This stray tortoiseshell and white cat boosted passenger numbers by an estimated 17% in January and up by 10% over the previous 12 months (to March 2007), provided pleasure to thousands and made people smile. She is also the only female in a senior position working for this company. She was promoted to division chief-level.
Here she is on video:
For English speakers, I am sorry it is Japanese. But you can clearly get the drift and you will notice that Tama, the Stationmaster cat is a complete master because:
- she improved profits for the railway company
- she did it by doing almost nothing but through her presence and massive publicity
- she enlisted the help of other cats thereby helping her fellow brethren
- she “made it big” from the ground up, starting as a stray cat
- she entertained travellers etc.
- Tama had a human assistant working for her to guide visitors to see her
- she probably limited her audience to a few minutes; she had become so much demand
- she introduced a very successful marketing strategy in which toys and other products were sold to boost profit
- she sent out kisses to her fans by forming a heart shape when she puts her front legs together.
There were other benefits. The big question remains: why aren’t there more Stationmaster cats? I mean it works. And it needn’t be cats. It could be a Stationmaster dog, which might be even better. Or a ferret! I’ll tell you one thing; it would certainly brighten the lives of poor Brits going to work on crush hour trains on a dismal December day.
Note: there is some difficulty, for me, in identifying the stationmaster cats. There appears to be more than one and I don’t know whether there was a replacement for Tama that was made without notification. I say this because the pictures of Tama on Wikipedia appear to show a different cat to those in the video. I make this judgement on the difference in the coat markings. The differences are subtle but they are apparent on inspection.
The Stationmaster cat’s name was Tama. She lived between April 29, 1999-June 22, 2015. As she was a calico cat, she was female because all tortoiseshell cats and tortoiseshell-and-white cats are female except for the very rare male. She was the declared stationmaster at Kishi Station on the Kishigawa Line in Kinokawa, Wakayama Prefecture, Japan.
She was a stray cat living close to Kishi station being regularly fed by passengers and by the informal, human, station manager at the time: Toshiko Koyama.
This railway line was having problems making a profit and in April 2006, management removed railway staff to save costs. Koyama was appointed the stationmaster. He was the human stationmaster but on January 5, 2007 railway officials (I presume with the agreement of Koyama) appointed Tama as the stationmaster but with a special role: greet passengers.
Rather than being paid a salary she was provided with a year’s worth of cat food and a gold nametag on her collar. She was provided with a hat which apparently took six months to make. In hot weather she wore a different hat. Her gold nametag was stolen by visitor on October 10, 2007. The replacement was quickly made.
Her celebrity, as mentioned, resulted in an increase in passengers by 70% (believed to be January 2007 compared to January 2006). There was a 10% increase in paying customers in March 2007 compared to the previous year. Tama contributed ¥1.1 billion to the local economy.
In Japan cat mascot can have a positive economic impact. They give this phenomenon a name: Nekonomics.
In December 2007 Tama was the grand prize winner of the railway’s Top Station Runner Award. At the award ceremony Tama was fed by the president of the company a slice of crab meat and given a special cat toy.
On January 5, 2007 the president promoted Tama to super stationmaster in an award ceremony. There were 300 spectators. She became the only female in a senior managerial role. She was given an office. This was a converted ticket move containing a litter box. Her nametag was modified to include the letter “S” representing the word super.
She was ‘knighted’ on October 28, 2008. In another celebration of her contribution, in early 2009 the Wakayama Electric Railway introduced a new train called the ‘Tama Train’ which was customised with cartoon depictions of Tama.
She was promoted to Operating Officer in January 2010 she had two assistant, female stationmasters, both cats: her sister and her mother.
The station building at Kishi was rebuilt in August 2010 to look like a cat’s face. At that time there was a customised train and a customised railway station featuring her.
On January 5, 2013 she had been stationmaster for six years. She was given the title Honorary President of Wakayama Electric Rail for life. In October of that year her work hours were reduced because of her age. She would be on view at the station office between Tuesday and Friday representing a reduction of two days in her working week.
Tama died on June 22, 2015. She was 16 years of age. She died of heart failure at an animal hospital in Wakayama Prefecture. Thousands paid their respects. She was given a Shinto-style funeral at the station and was posthumously given the title Honorary Eternal Stationmaster.
She is in a shrine at a nearby Shinto cat shrine and is a spirit goddess Tama Daimyōjin. Her customised train was redecorated for mourning her passing.
There is a black and bronze statue of Tama located in a small Shinto shrine next to the station. Her name is written in calligraphy by Pres Kojima. The stone was carved by a stonemason.
In February 2016 she was the first inductee into the newly created Wakayama Hall of Fame. A bronze relief plaque depicting her life was unveiled on the second floor of the Wakayama Prefectural Library.
Every year on June 23 her passing is recognised and her successors Nitama (“Tama the Second”) and Yontama are carried to the shrine.
During her celebrated life, she was featured in a number of documentaries and television programmes including on Animal Planet and a French documentary about cats called La Voie du chat. She also appeared in a European-made documentary in German made by an Italian filmmaker and aired on European TV channel ARTE.