Station Master Tama, the calico cat who saved the Wakayama Electric Railway company by looking just so adorable in her little station master hat, has died. She was 16, which is a good run for a cat.
Tama was born in the small town of Kinokawa in the Japanese prefecture of Wakayama, one of a litter of stray cats that hung out near the Kishi Station on the Wakayama line. Tama and her siblings lived off of scraps donated by compassionate commuters until 2006, when budget cuts at the railway forced Kishi Station to lay off its human employees. Local businessman Toshiko Koyama, who had adopted Tama several years before, was elected volunteer station master and began bringing the cat with him on his duties. Tama was so popular that she was officially named Station Master of Kishi Station in 2007, a position that consisted mainly of just sitting there and looking cute as passengers passed by on their way to work. She was paid in cat food.
That’s not unusual for Japan, where cute mascots are used to sell everything. (Seriously, everything.) The thing about Station Master Tama is that people went out of their way to go see her. A lot of people, actually—according to the BBC, tourism related to Station Master Tama has brought in an estimated 1.1 billion yen (around $9 million) to the local economy, single-handedly solving the railway’s financial problems. This resulted in her promotion, first to Super Station Master, then to Operating Officer of Wakayama Electric, making her not only the first cat, but also the only female to serve in a management position at the railway company.
Now, in death, Tama has been promoted once more, receiving the title of “Honorable Eternal Stationmaster” at a Shinto funeral held at the station over the weekend. That same ceremony, which was attended by an estimated 3,000 people, also enshrined Tama as a goddess, in keeping with traditional reverence for animal deities. Wakayama Electric president Mitsunobu Kojima expressed his gratitude to Tama for helping save the company, saying, “[S]he really was doing her job. [Tama] really emerged like a savior, a goddess. It was truly an honor to have been able to work with her.” Tama’s apprentice, another calico cat named Nitama, has taken over as the new feline Station Master.
Incidentally, this author once made a two-hour train journey to go see Station Master Tama when she was working in Japan back in 2010. Rest in peace, Tama-chan.