The First Cat Station Master in Japan
If you have a problem while visiting Kishi Station in Wakayama, you can talk to the station master but communication would be difficult. Not because of a language barrier but because the station master is a cat. For around 14 years, there has been a cat station master at Kishi Station, with a cat by the name of Tama being the first.
Tama was a stray calico cat who lived near Kishi station and was fed by passengers and the unofficial station master. In 2007, Wakayama Electric railway was having financial problems so it was forced to get rid of all of its staff on the Kishigawa Line which includes Kishi station. Tama was appointed as the station master in hopes of increasing ridership and bringing publicity to the train line. Tama`s job was to greet the passengers and had her own office to do so. She even dressed the part , she had a gold tag with her name and position, and a custom hat. She even had a special summer hat to keep cool on hot summer days. Not only need she increase passengers to the line but also significantly contributed to the local economy about 1.1 billion yen as many people would come to the area just to see the station master cat. She was rewarded for her hard work with all the delicious she could eat She was promoted to Super Station Master in 2008 and got her own office. She was knighted and appointed as a Knight of Wakayama for her work in tourism. Tama wasn’t done climbing the corporate ladder and was promoted to being an executive of Wakayama Electric railway with her staff of Chibi(her sister) and Miiko (her mother) The third highest rank in the company(imagine having a cat being your boss). Finally, Her work was so beneficial to revitalizing the railway that she was Honorary President of Wakayama Electric Rail for life in 2013.
Tama passed away in 2015 at the age of 16 but she has not been forgotten. The station has been renovated to resemble a cat and there are three cat-themed trains. There is also a cat-themed cafe named for her and a souvenir shop selling goods with her image. She is so beloved that I live in Okayama which is several prefectures away yet there is a Tama bus that is themed around her. A cartoon version of her is plastered all over the exterior and there are paw print buttons that meow when you press them to get off at the next stop. I am always happy when I can ride this adorable cat bus and despite having done it countless times, It still brings me so much joy to press the little paw print buttons and hear the meow.
Current Cat Station Master
Today, her position of station master has been taken over by her apprentice, Nitama(second tama ). A third cat called Sun-tama-tama was sent to Okayama(location of headquarters of Wakayama Eletric railway) to train as a station master and someday take the mantle of Kishi`s stationmaster. But the public relation official who was caring for her refused to give her back and now Sun-tama-tama a pun on san tama(third tama) and was appointed as station master of a station in Okayama. Yontama(fourth tama) was instead made Nitama apprentice. Hilariously, there is an interview process and training to be a cat station master. The three requirements are to be good with people, willing to wear a hat and have a good work ethic. Finding a cat that is both friendly with people and a hard worker must be a next to impossible task.
Kishi Station is about two hours from Osaka. From Wakayama Station to Kishi Station takes 30 minutes on the Wakayama Dentetsu-Kishigawa Line.
Hours: The cats work from Friday–Tuesday (10am–4pm) and are off on Wednesdays and Thursdays.