Atlantic Cities

Brilliant Transportation Gimmick of the Day: A Cat Station Master

Brilliant Transportation Gimmick of the Day: A Cat Station Master
Wakayama City

The stationmaster at Japan's Kishi train station probably won't be able to help you find the platform, or check your luggage, or rush for a transfer. She'd make a good companion though, as long as you're not more of a dog person.

Since 2007, a calico cat named Tama has served as Super Station Master at the small station in Kinokawa City in Wakayama Prefecture. A decade earlier, the small local train line had been hemorrhaging $4.7 million a year. Though a merger forced the Wakayama Electric Railway to reduce staff at the stations along the route, Tama, a stray cat adopted by a local storekeeper, stuck around. And once they named her the official station master in 2007, things turned around quickly. Her first year on the job saw a 10 percent increase in ridership, and, according to one study, an extra 1.1 billion yen ($10.4 million) came into the once-failing system.

Now, Tama's helped bring international media attention to Kishi train station, which has become a national tourism destination. The system now has special cat-themed train cars, a Tama cafe and a souvenir shop selling everything from stuffed animals to a full set of dining room furniture. According to the blog Spoon & Tamago, Tama's annual salary is paid out in a year's supply of cat food, which is an awful lot like a subsistence wage, especially given the huge profits she's helped rake in. At least she gets a snazzy uniform and a window-filled office in a converted ticket booth.

See more photos of the big cat in charge, and the empire of swag she's spawned, below:


Photo courtesy Wakayama Tourism Federation.

The Tama Cafe serves frozen yogurt and other Tama themed snacks. Photo courtesy Flickr user woofiegrrl.

Souvenirs in the Tama shop. Photo courtesy Flickr user woofiegrrl.

Interior of the train. Photo courtesy Flickr user scjody.

Top image courtesy Wakayama City Tourist Association.

Stephanie Garlock is a fellow at The Atlantic Cities. All posts »

Join the Discussion