• Kyodo


Wakayama Electric Railway Co., which recently mourned the death of its popular feline “stationmaster,” has appointed another cat as her successor, hoping the tradition will continue to attract passengers.

The railway, which credited Tama with rescuing it from financial difficulties, issued a letter of appointment Tuesday for Nitama (Tama the Second), a 5-year-old female, to become the master of Kishi Station in Kinokawa, Wakayama Prefecture.

Like her predecessor, who died in June, Nitama is a calico.

The railway also unveiled Tama Shrine, a Shinto shrine that enshrines Tama as a deity protecting the once money-losing Kishigawa Line.

“I hope (Nitama) will contribute to boosting local sightseeing and other businesses,” said Mitsunobu Kojima, president of the railway.

At the funeral for Tama, who died at the age of 16, Kojima said she was a “savior” for not only his company but also for many other small railway operators in rural areas struggling financially.

Nitama had been Tama’s subordinate since January 2012, when she was appointed acting stationmaster.

Wearing a stationmaster’s cap as she was held in the arms of the president, Nitama “offered prayers” to the shrine and “reported” her promotion to Tama’s soul, now known as “Tama Daimyojin,” while numerous fans looked on.

Yukako Nakahashi, a 42-year-old office worker from Saitama Prefecture, said Nitama “looked more dignified than when I saw her a few years ago, and she seems to have got more used to her job.”

The shrine, located on a platform at the station, is equipped with two small bronze statues of Tama with beckoning paws — one for drawing passengers and another for money. In Japan, a beckoning cat figure, called a maneki-neko, is traditionally placed in restaurants and shops as a good luck charm.

The Kishigawa Line had been losing passengers and was on the edge of shutting down before Tama became the master of Kishi Station in January 2007.

Her cuteness and the novelty of a cat stationmaster attracted tourists from around Japan and overseas, and the success sparked a trend of appointing rabbits, cats, dogs and other animals as stationmasters among local railways across Japan.

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