WAKAYAMA (Kyodo) Tama the cat, the feline “stationmaster” of Kishi Station, an unmanned post on the Kishigawa Line in Wakayama Prefecture, has more than earned her keep. The mascot’s estimated economic impact on the area in a one-year period reached ¥1.1 billion, says professor Katsuhiro Miyamoto of Kansai University Graduate School.

Miyamoto on Friday released an estimate showing that, in the one-year period since January 2007, when Tama first began “working” for the station, the number of passengers on the Kishigawa Line rose by 55,000 and that corresponding freight revenue climbed ¥15 million.

Photo collections and related merchandise featuring Tama grossed ¥27 million, and she is also credited with boosting tourism in nearby Wakayama City.

Tama, a pet cat whose owner has a kiosk next to the station, is there from morning to dusk, Monday through Saturday, wearing her small stationmaster’s cap. Snug in her little shelter inside the stationmaster’s booth, her job is to come out and greet passengers.

The Kishigawa Line, run by Wakayama Electric Railway Co., was on the verge of bankruptcy before Tama came along. The line now enjoys a steady stream of tourists, who flock to the station from across the nation to catch a glimpse of the mascot.

“Having a cat as the stationmaster . . . that wacky idea really took off and has succeeded in revitalizing the area,” Miyamoto said.

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