Roaming the Kishi train station in a dapper stationmaster’s cap, an 8-year-old calico cat named Tama performs the stationmaster’s duties on the Wakayama Electric Railways Kishigawa Line which runs between cities of Wakayama and Kinokawa.
Tourists flock by the thousands to see Yama, boosting the small city’s finances by 1.1 billion yen in 2007.
With 55,000 more people having used the Kishigawa Line than would normally be expected, Tama is being credited with a contribution to the local economy calculated to have reached as much as 1.1 billion yen (10.44 million dollars) in 2007 alone, according to a study announced last week.
Katsuhiro Miyamoto, a professor at Kansai University’s School of Accountancy, said picture books and other merchandise featuring the feline stationmaster also produced significant economic effects.
A television appearance and other publicity surrounding Tama — who receives cat food in lieu of a salary — was worth 280 million yen, according to Miyamoto.
The former stray rose to national stardom in January 2007 when the railway company formally appointed her* as “stationmaster”. The station was formerly unmanned and losing money, but Tama turned things around. Tama later got her own spacious 1.8-square-meter office in the station (formerly the ticket window), fully equipped with a ventilation fan and a toilet.
Tama’s popularity eventually required that they hire an assistant (Mr. Nishiyama) for her. Mr Nishiyama helps guide visitors to Yama.
Here’s Tama in Action:
When Tama puts her front legs together, the patterns on her fur form a heart shape. It is said that it is good luck for couples to visit Tama and be shown the heart.
* Some stories referred to Tama as male, some as female. So my guess is that “Tama” is the Japanese equivalent of “Pat.”