Today I want to introduce a special spot in Japan that is a must-visit for cat lovers!
Of course, there’s Cat Island, but have you heard of the only cat station master in Japan?
The Super Station Master Tama is a cat!
In Japan even cats can become a station master it seems! Don’t worry! This is not very common. In fact, you’ll only find the fluffy staff member at JR Kishi Station, Kinokawa in Wakayama Prefecture (map).
How a cat became a station master:
Japan has a prefecture popularity list and a few years ago Wakayama was pretty much at the bottom of the list. This is something I can’t really understand. I’ve been to all 47 Japanese prefectures and I like Wakayama Prefecture. Apart from Shirahama and Kumano Kodo it also has the great Mt. Koya to offer! You should definitely visit!
The area around Kishi Station didn’t get any visitors. The trains on the Kishigawa Line were often empty. In 2004 the station was almost shut down because of the lack of customers.
Mr. Toshiko Koyama who managed the station as an inofficial station master is the owner of a grocery store next to Kishi Station. He took care of Tama. In 2007 it was decided on a whim to introduce Tama as the station master.
Tama attracted a lot of attention. More and more people came to see her. She’s the only cat, but also the only female in such a position within the Japan Railway Company!
After being featured in the media her popularity quickly grew more and more. In a very short time Tama rescued not only the station, but has also contributed a few billion yen to the local economy.
Tama is a true Maneki Neko as she is attracting customers. In 2010 she was promoted to be an “operating officer“. She has an assistant called “Chibi” which is – of course – also a cat!
Update (06/2015): On June 22, 2015 Tama passed away at the age of 16. It’s a great age for a cat, but still very sad. R.I.P Tama!
Don’t worry, there will be a successor, so it’s still worth visiting. From now on it’ll be Stationmaster Nitama!
Here’s another video in Japanese in case you can’t get enough of Tama.
How to get to the Station Master Tama
From JR Wakayama Station (~ 90min. from Osaka) it’s very easy to get to the train that will bring you to JR Kishi Station. Just follow Tama’s
Tama is a calico cat (mikeneko, 三毛猫). Among all the cats, mikeneko is considered to bring you the best of luck in Japan.
So, it’s no wonder that Tama is so popular. There’s also a lot of cute cartoons and merchandising of Tama. You can’t deny that Super Station Master Tama (スーパー駅長たま, supa ekichou tama) is extremely cute.
The train ride from JR Wakayama Station to Kishi Station using Wakayama Electric Railway takes about half an hour.
Right after getting off the train a big banner will greet you: “We love TAMA”
Even the clock has a cute cartoon version of Tama.
As you can see I visited in the afternoon as I spent the morning in Wakayama City to see Wakayama Castle. I’ll write about that another time.
In the small station building there are a LOT of photos of Tama. Even the train schedule is surrounded by cute photos of her.
As a cat lover I couldn’t get enough of her. She looks so cute with her official conductor hat!
When I visited she wasn’t on duty. Or maybe she was, but she fell asleep in her office!
“Hey, don’t sleep during working hours!!”, I wanted to scream. But the sleeping Tama is cute as well, so I left her alone.
Next to the small station building is a “souvenir shop” where you can buy a lot of Tama merchandising!
In the photo above you see what I bought. I just couldn’t resist! My biggest treasure is the photo book of Tama and her assistant.
I asked the people working there about Tama and they told me that Tama wears her uniform only for “official” photo shoots, e.g. when the media comes.
I was a bit disappointed, but also glad to hear that. I bet it’s a lot of stress for Tama to have those “official press conferences”. It’s good to see that most of the time she can live just like a normal cat. After all she’s so precious that they will do everything to keep her healthy.
JR Kishi Station is very small and shaped like a cat’s face! After Tama became so popular and attracted tourists they had enough money to rebuild the station in August 2010.
Isn’t this the cutest train station you’ve ever seen?
Don’t get confused by the name. The station itself is the actual museum. You don’t have to pay an entrance fee or anything. And apart from Tama and all the cute photos, the clock and a few other items, there’s nothing else to see. But that’s more than enough for me and for other cat lovers!
As I still had some time left, I decided to stroll around and see what else there was to see. I ran yet into another cat!
There’s not that much to see, but the area is really beautiful and if you come in spring (February – May) you can go strawberry picking!
The region is known for its delicious strawberries. That’s also why ….
… there’s a strawberry train!!! Strawberries are printed not only outside, but also inside the train. It’s such a cute and unique train!
As strawberry season was over, all I could get was some super delicious strawberry ice cream. Of course the cup featured another cute cartoon Tama.
Besides the strawberry train there’s also the “Omocha Train” (toy train) and of course the “Tama Train” (たま電車). If you’re lucky you can ride either of them when traveling between JR Wakayama and JR Kishi Stations.
Here’s more information about all three trains, timetables, local sightseeing spots and of course about Tama (II).
What do you think? Is it worth a visit?
I’d say it’s definitely worth a visit if you’re a cat lover or if you’re nearby anyways. It’s also one of these “only in Japan” experiences, so you shouldn’t miss it!
Have you met Tama? Or the successor Nitama?