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For a cat lover, it might seem like a fantasy to take a ride on a luxury railway decorated with images of cats. And then arriving at a train station resembling a cat! At this train station, a beloved cat stationmaster cat has a shrine to their memory, elevated to Shinto goddess status.

It might sound like something out of a fantastic Studio Ghibli Japanese animated movie, but this is a real place: The Kishigawa Electric Railway Line and Kishi Station near Osaka. The station is famous for its stationmaster cats, including Tama, who crossed the Rainbow Railway in the sky in 2015.

Tama on duty on November 11, 2007

Tama on duty on November 11, 2007 via Wikipedia

It’s a true story, but what the calico cat accomplished in her lifetime was nothing short of a dream!

Video by Animal Planet where host John Fulton meets Tama:

Tama, the First Stationmaster Cat in Japan

Tama, the famed Stationmaster Cat, has her own Wikipedia page: a calico queen who was once a stray living near the station. When the shop owner who was looking after her decided to move, they asked if the station would look after her. But there was a little problem.

At the time, the station president, Mitsunobu Kojima, considered himself a dog person. Still, when he met the cat in person, she quickly won him over. Despite never connecting with a feline before, he adored her. So much so that he officially named her the ‘Stationmaster of Kishi Station’ in 2007.

“The moment I saw her face, it just sprung to my mind, and I thought, ‘She should be the stationmaster!’  Kojima said. “The cat was originally owned by a store next to Kishi station, but on the day of the opening of Wakayama Electric Railway, she lost her home, and the owner asked us if the cat could stay in the station. This is how it all started.”

Mitsunobu Kojima with Tama via Keio University

Mitsunobu Kojima with Tama via Keio University

Cute Calico Tama Greets Travelers

Wearing a cute brimmed conductor hat, Tama was so popular she helped the rural mountainous station avoid closing when she started greeting visitors in 2007. It reminds us of Duke Ellington, the therapy cat who greets visitors at the San Francisco International Airport wearing a little pilot’s hat and wings. 

A portrait of Tama the Stationmaster cat, 2

A portrait of Tama the Stationmaster cat via YouTube

Like Duke, Tama loved being with people, purring, and even letting unfamiliar kids give her a tummy tickle, unusual for a cat, particularly one who was once stray. She became the mascot of the railway, appearing on the train in cartoons, in marketing, and in the media.

Tama wearing a decoration of "Wakayama de Knight" on January 4, 2009

Tama wearing a decoration of “Wakayama de Knight” on January 4, 2009, Wikipedia

When people enter the train stations, a recording of Tama’s meow plays. And in 2008, the governor of the prefecture knighted her for her pawsitive role in saving the station. She even got a promotion to ‘Super Station Manager’ with a special ‘office’ where she could be relatively undisturbed when she liked. (And she didn’t have to wear the hat.)

Tama in her special office at Kishi Station

Tama in her special office at Kishi Station via YouTube

Single Paw-dedly Saving the Railway 

Ameowzingly, she single-paw-dedly brought incredible prosperity to the station. Well, not all by herself, but she did a great deal to attract attention. We’ve seen other cats do it in Japan, like the cats at the Diorama Restaurant in Osaka, who delight visitors among the model trains running through the place. And we’ll never forget how John Meyer recently rang in the New Year with hope from a cat bar in Tokyo.

As cats often do, they attract a following, and people started coming just to meet Tama. Incredibly, surrounding shops and a café adopted a Tama theme. By 2009, a redesigned Kishi Station took on the look of a cat with glowing yellow ‘eyes’ for windows. 

“The station comes alive as a cat when the eyes light up. They say cats ward off evil and misfortune. Maybe the station does,” said Keiko Yamaki, an executive from the company that owns the railway.

Kishi Station in Japan at the Wakayama Electric Railway, cat theme, Tama

Kishi Station via YouTube

According to the BBC, her extraordinary popularity led to an almost $10 million (1.1 billion yen or £7.85 ) surge in the area’s economy. Astonishingly, there were over 300,000 more passengers in 2007 compared to the previous year in the rural, mountainous area.

Cute video by SHEBA about Tama:

A Shinto Goddess Cat!

After years of greeting happy railway visitors, the gorgeous stationmaster cat passed from heart failure at the local animal hospital. She was 16 years old in 2015. When the news came, thousands of mourners arrived to leave her flowers and cans of tuna.

A portrait of Tama the Stationmaster cat, 1

Shinto Goddess Shrine

By that time, she was a major celebri-cat on TV, in magazines, and in newspapers. And, to top everything, she was given a new honorary title and elevated to Shinto goddess status! A small shrine to Tama stands at Kishi station, honoring what the railway’s president said was the ‘spiritual healing’ she brought to them. Even after she departed, the station has remained a spiritual destination for those feeling down, he said.

“The ‘Honourable Eternal Station Master,’ as she is now called, was then memorialized with a phone box-sized shrine on Kishi’s platform, and in the Japanese Shinto religious tradition, she was elevated to the status of a goddess of the Wakayama Electric Railway,” the BBC wrote.

Shrine to Tama at the railway station at Kishi Station

The shrine for Tama

The Legacy of Tama the Goddess Cat Lives On

As with Dirt the Boss Shop Cat from the Nevada Northern Railway, Tama had a protege to carry on after her. Actually, she has several, although she was one-of-a-kind.

Tama on the website for the Wakayama Electric Railway

Tama II on the website for the Wakayama Electric Railway

Nitama, which means Tama II, and Yontama or Tama IV, carry on the calico kitty’s legacy. Meanwhile, Tama III became the ‘acting director’ of the Okaden Museum and an employee at the Okayama Electric Tramway.

Nitama (left) and Tama (right) at announcement of Nitama's apprenticeship, January 5, 2011, Wikipedia

Nitama (left) and Tama (right) at announcement of Nitama’s apprenticeship, January 5, 2011, Wikipedia

Although those who met her will never forget her, it’s great to meet her proteges and see her life still touches everything around Kishi Station.

Cartoon of Tama, Tama via Wikipedia, and a car from the Wakayama Electric Railway with Tama designs, Japan

Tama via Wikipedia

In August 2023, an artist who goes by Whizbang Meow shared to story of traveling to Japan to deliver a stunning painted portrait of the calico in person, sharing this cute video on Instagram.

Traveling out there to meet her predecessor, Ni Tama, and hand-deliver the portrait was one of the most unforgettable experiences of my life,” they shared

Video via Instagram/whizbangmeow

Video by AP News about Tama the Stationmaster Cat:

 

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