The feline railway employee credited with boosting Japan’s tourism economy passed away on Monday.
Tama, the “station master cat” whose honorary post at the Kishi Station in Wakayma, Japan, drew tens of thousands of tourists each year to the area, has gone off to that great big Japanese train station in the sky. She died on Monday at the age of 16, after over eight years on the job.
Though Tama was fast-tracked for promotion—rising from “station master” to "super station master" in just a year, after providing an estimated Y1.1 billion ($10.8 million) boost to the region, and eventually being named “deputy president” of the station in 2013—her duties stayed roughly the same: lying around all day and having her picture taken with tourists. She wore a little hat, and was paid in fish.
“We are proud to have worked with Tama, who appeared in this world as a savior for Wakayama Electric Railway as well as regional train lines throughout the nation,” Mitsunobu Kojima, president of train company, said in a statement. He added that Tama, who has inspired the appointment of feline station masters through Japan, had posthumously been granted the title of “eternal station master emeritus.”
Like many members of Japan’s aging workforce, Tama continued working into old age, but had her hours cut back in lieu of retirement. By February of last year, a three-year-old calico “junior station master” named Nitama was filling in for Tama three days a week.
In 2009, the Wakayama Electric Railway introduced a train painted with cartoon depictions of Tama, with interior photo booths that allowed for the printing of Tama-themed pictures. In August of 2010, the station building at Kishi was rebuilt with a new structure vaguely resembling a cat's face.
Tama was born in the city of Kinokawa, and raised with a group of strays who lived near the station who were often fed by passengers, as well as by Toshiko Koyama, the informal station manager at the time. Koyama later adopted Tama, and when he was named official station master, he brought her into the organization with him, though train company president Mistunobu Kojima, a noted dog lover, takes credit for the hire.
Kyodo News reports that Tama has been been recovering from rhinitis since May, and is believed to have “died of acute heart failure.” A funeral will be held for her at the Kishi station on Sunday.