Popular Akita Wasao gets new contract as canine stationmaster in Aomori

Kyodo

Fans of the Akita dog Wasao will be in for a treat for another year as the canine, which gained nationwide fame with its unique looks, was reappointed Sunday as “tourism stationmaster” in a town in Aomori Prefecture.

The big white furry dog with squinty eyes is widely called busa kawaii, a slang phrase combining the Japanese words busaiku (ugly) with kawaii (cute). The canine became an online sensation through blog articles and eventually rose to TV stardom.

Wasao was cleared to work for another year at JR Ajigasawa Station in the town of Ajigasawa until March 31. In promoting the town, Wasao will be joined by “wife” Tsubaki, the deputy stationmaster, and daughter Chome, a trainee.

Wasao has held the post of tourism train stationmaster since 2011. He was appointed special ambassador for World Heritage-related activities the same year.

The popular canine, estimated to be about 11 years old, also has a movie titled after him. The 2011 film is about his past as an abandoned pet taken in by a woman who runs a broiled-squid shop.

Wasao is just one of many other animals to be named stationmasters in other parts of the country to bolster tourism. The most popular was arguably Tama the cat, who transformed a money-losing train line into a popular sightseeing spot. The cat’s death in 2015 saddened legions of fans.

Takeshi Kudo, head of a project that supports Wasao’s activities, received the dog’s letter of appointment on Sunday in lieu of its owner, Setsuko Kikuya, who died last year.

Kudo said Wasao and his family are sure to liven up the mood of the town.

After the appointment ceremony, they all gathered to welcome an incoming train.

One eager fan who came from Hanamaki, Iwate Prefecture, just to see the dog was 9-year-old fourth-grader June Hirano.

“I’m glad he is in good shape,” she said.

The town’s tourism association says around 120,000 people visit annually thanks to Wasao, who welcomes passengers at the station and participates in events.