From her emerald eyes, to her orange and black marking, there’s no doubt that Tama was an adorable little feline under any circumstances. But her stationmaster’s cap, and unprecedented contribution to Wakayama Prefecture’s tourism industry, only made her more endearing in the eyes of those rural citizens. After a lavish Sunday funeral, she been elevated from a cute local icon to a Shinto deity.
When Tama was named the mascot and “stationmaster” of the struggling, somewhat remote Kishi train station in 2007, she became a sensation with locals. Word of her railway-themed hat—often placed askew on her fuzzy little head—and her placement in a converted ticket booth for all passers by to see, drew tourists from across, and outside of, the country. Kyodo News reports that the the once all-but-derailed Kishigawa Line saw a significant boost in passengers, from 1.92 million in 2005 to 2.27 million in 2014, a testament to Tama’s drawing powers, and one of the reasons for her promotion to the position of acting president of Wakayama Electric Railway in 2013. The article also noted the brisk sales of Tama merchandise at the Kishi station. A 2013 CNN article meanwhile, described how Tama attracted throngs of preteen visitors to the otherwise “unremarkable” station station on the outskirts of Wakayama. The article also notes that Tama was owned by a local shopkeeper who agreed to let her become the station’s mascot as part of the railway’s plan to draw more passengers and keep the station open for the prefecture’s sparse population.
The 16-year-old (about 80 in human years) calico died of sudden heart failure on June 22, according to a BBC story. That article went on to describe the ornate, Shinto-style funeral held in her honor, in which Tama was elevated to the status of a goddess (the story clarified: “The Shinto religion, practiced by many in Japan, has a variety of gods including animals”)—and which some 3,000 people attended.
The Japan Times reported that railway president Mitsunobu Kojima paid the ailing cat a visit on the eve of her death, during which Tama “stood up and let out a strong meow” (one of which T.S. Eliot’s Skimbleshanks might have approved).
After her death, Wakayama Governor Yoshinobu Nisaka released a statement in tribute of the feline, saying that she was a “superstar extremely popular in and out of Japan who contributed greatly to promoting tourism in our prefecture. I am filled with deep sorrow and appreciation.”
Image: The female cat Tama resides since 2007 as a “station manager” at the Kishi station in Kinokawa, Wakayama Prefecture (Japan)/Wikimedia Commons