Stationmaster Cat – world’s most celebrated ‘working cat’

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.

Tama after being knighted
Tama wearing the clothes of a knight! “Wakayama de Knight” on January 4, 2009. Photo: Wikipedia Commons
Tama's shrine
Tama’s shrine. She passed on June 22 2015, at the age of 16. Photo: Flickr photographer: ‘Rain Rabbit’.

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.

RELATED: Remembering Humphrey, working cat at No. 10 Downing Street

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:

  1. she improved profits for the railway company
  2. she did it by doing almost nothing but through her presence and massive publicity
  3. she enlisted the help of other cats thereby helping her fellow brethren
  4. she “made it big” from the ground up, starting as a stray cat
  5. she entertained travellers etc.
  6. Tama had a human assistant working for her to guide visitors to see her
  7. she probably limited her audience to a few minutes; she had become so much demand
  8. she introduced a very successful marketing strategy in which toys and other products were sold to boost profit
  9. she sent out kisses to her fans by forming a heart shape when she puts her front legs together.


Url in Video (2)
by pocarisweater

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.

History

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.

Stationmaster cat Tama
Stationmaster cat Tama. Photo: Wikipedia Commons.

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.

Kishi station with a cat's face
Kishi station with a cat’s face. Photo: Wikipedia Commons.

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.

RELATED: Four “Career Cats” are living the good life as working cats on a 7-acre homestead

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.

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Being sensitive to the connection that cats have to their home range

This is a video which shows us how a workplace employee (or business owner, not sure which) was delightfully sensitive to the connection that a stray cat had to his ‘home range’. All species of cat have a home range, which is the place they consider their home and which varies tremendously in size depending on the species. For stray cats it might be 5 acres and for snow leopards it might be 500 square kilometres! There are some articles on the home range at the base of the page.

It is like he wanted our help
‘It is like he wanted our help’. Paul a stray cat makes friends with workers at an outside facility and makes it his home with human cooperation. Screenshot.

A stray cat that they named Paul hovered around this workplace which is largely outside. It looks semi-industrial. An ideal place for a stray to make a home.

The employee become connected to the cat. They made friends and a deep bond was created as you can tell from the video. This is a really nice bloke. He is very sensitive to Paul’s needs. Even to the point where he lets Paul retain his workplace as his home. He wanted to take him to his home but he felt that Paul was unhappy there so he took him back and made a little den for him.

Note: This is a video from another website. Sometimes they are deleted at source which stops them working on this site. If that has happened, I apologise but I have no control over it.


Comment: the reason why Paul was out of sorts at this guy’s home was because he was wrenched from his home range. He would have got used to his new home range – the man’s home – in due course. There is an argument that it might have been better if he persisted until Paul had settled in his new place.

But it worked out well because the workers love Paul to be around, brightening up the workplace as cats (or dogs) always do. They invariably add to the ambience of a workplace. You see it all the time. Companion animals in workplaces make people smile. The workers are happier and they work better. Paul is basically a working cat as he cheers up the employees. The Apple corporation allows dogs into a part of the mega-office block. The realise their value to productivity.

The moral that we take from Paul’s story is to be sensitive to a cat’s needs by respecting the cat. We don’t force our will on domestic and feral cats. We respect their desires and what motivates them and work these into our lives. It is the only way to humanely and decently interact with cats and indeed any companion animal.

There is a rather extreme argument that states that when a cat owner moves home, they should allow the purchaser of their home to adopt their cat! In this way the cat remains in his ‘home’ – home range. The problem is that they’ll have to get used to a new human companion. What’s worse for the cat: a new home range or new companion?

SOME MORE ON THE HOME RANGE:

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University of Verona allows employees to bring their pets to work after lockdown

I don’t have the full story of this because of various reasons but it caught my eye as something that was incredibly gentle and sensitive to cat and dog welfare but also impractical.

University of Verona
University of Verona. I looks like a great place for “pets”. Photo: the university.

In Italy they have ended their lockdown. The University of Verona, in the north of the country, decided that as cats and dogs have spent an exceptional amount of time with their human companions over the 3 months of lockdown it would be unfair on the animals to suddenly remove their caretakers from their lives. So employees can bring them to work for a while. I don’t know for how long this policy will last. And I doubt whether it will work.

If every employee brings their cats and dogs to work it certainly won’t work. It sounds as if it would be mayhem. Perhaps I am missing some important details. It is a very sensitive policy, however. Nowadays it is more or less accepted that “pets” (which usually means dogs only for practical reasons) boosts productivity at work.

Despite that acceptance very few businesses allow it on a permanent basis. The difficulties are with practical issues like pooping and peeing and the general husbandry of the animals. Who is going to do it? There are ramifications. The impracticalities are magnified for domestic cats simply because they are less domesticated to put it bluntly. They won’t stay put and behave.

This is not say that some cats wouldn’t be just fine. They would have the right character and age. But mixing a lot of cats and dogs at work just does not make sense. I am sure that I have missed something important about this policy change which must be temporary.

Working cats

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Should businesses allow their employees to take time off to grieve the death of their cat or dog?

A recent story by Elisa, prompts me to write this article. In that story a young female employee at a fast food chain insisted on taking a day off on the death of her beloved dog and she was sacked because she couldn’t find a replacement.

A cat rests between computers at Ferray Corporation, Tokyo, Japan
Photo: Aflo/REX/Shutterstock (8852241k)
A cat rests between computers at Ferray Corporation, Tokyo, Japan. The importance of cats in the lives of employees is highlighted by this policy which supports the argument to give leave on the passing of a cat or dog.

I have thought about the question and come to the conclusion that employers should allow a short period of time for employees to grieve on the passing of their cat or dog. The main reason for this decision is that if you don’t allow it employees may well be turned off and treat the company as a hostile place to work.

Why should they do this? The answer is simple: because employees nearly always treat their cat or dog as a family member. In fact, their companion animal may be more important than a human member of the family e.g. their mother, father or siblings. Therefore the passing of a companion animal may have a greater impact emotionally than the passing of a human family member. It means a lot to a person and a business should be sensitive towards this emotion. Companies should be compassionate towards their employees both for the point of view of decency and productivity.

If an employee is determined to take a day off or more (but limited to perhaps three days) then they will take that time off whether they’re allowed to or not. They’ll phone in and say they’re sick and use that as a reason. So the employer might as well demonstrate to the employee that they are a good business to work for and give them the time off anyway.

Many firms actually do this and are sympathetic towards companion animals. Many companies nowadays allow employees to bring their dogs and even cats onto work premises. For example, Google and Amazon are filled with dogs apparently. A Tokyo-based IT firm, Ferray, “doubles as a home for its staff’s cats” according to a BBC article.

There are practical reasons too. Many cat and dog owners will want to arrange an individual crematiion and that requires a hands on approach. You have to be at the crematorium to ensure that it is done to order. It takes time; a day should be allocated for it.

There is no doubt that there is a greater flexibility in allowing companion animals onto work premises because they can improve productivity. There is also greater awareness of the equality between companion animal and humans in terms of their rights. The rights aren’t yet equal but society grants animals greater rights nowadays than before.

If a decision is made to grant say a maximum of three days leave on the passing of a pet then the decision is made based on the emotional state of the employee. As the emotional state of the employee is no different on the loss of a family member compared to the loss of a companion animal than the bases for the decision to grant leave is the same and it should be granted but limited.

The limitation should be with respect to cats and dogs only and to a three-day maximum leave. The policy should be also be limited to cats and dogs to avoid abuses by employees e.g. “My goldfish passed and I am distraught”. And it should only apply to the death of a pet.

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Does your cat enhance or slow down home work productivity?

If you work at home, and a lot of us do at a computer, does your cat enhance your productivity or slow you down? Does he get in the way in the nicest possible way? Cats do get in the way of actually doing something on the computer because the domestic cat is in direct competition with the computer. Or the cat sees the computer as competition if you are working in bed and the computer is on your lap. It is either the cat or the computer on the lap.

Gabriel next to me while I write this post.
Gabriel next to me while I write this post.

Therefore The initial assessment is that domestic cats get in the way of productive work on a computer. But it need not be confined to the computer. It might be any form of home based work. The domestic cat does like a bit of attention and rightly so.

So, okay, we concede that our cat can get in the way. But that does not necessarily mean that work productivity is slowed. In fact, the opposite might be the case. Computer work is inherently bad for our health. The work is too static. We sit down too much. This is not good for our digestion. It not good for our muscles, bones and back. You can get a stiff neck and all manner of other ailments if you work at a computer too long in one position.

Gabriel won the competition between  himself and my computer.
Gabriel won the competition between himself and my computer.

This is where a little bit of cat disturbance goes a long way to improving productivity. He or she will force you to take a break. He’ll force you to see the light: the light of common sense to not become overly immersed in that damned computer and to realise there are other, more important aspects to your life than fiddling around on a computer, namely enjoying the beauty of a gentle companionship with another species of animal who is your friend and who is always there for you.

Your cat is a little bit of nature right there with you at all times; a reminder that we should connect with nature for the benefit of our soul and general health. Our cat is an antidote to technology. The word is being swamped by technology. The world is becoming too complicated. We are being run by geeks.

Such a beautifully straightforward relationship between cat and person; it must recharge the batteries, take us back to nature, renew us and make us more productive when we are drawn once again back to the damned computer. Our cat companion performs a valuable service when he gets in the way of our work at home. He reminds us that our life needs to be in balance and this means to connect with nature.


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