Employees of the Wakayama Electric Railway in Japan gathered on Sunday to mourn the loss of their beloved colleague Tama, who had served as stationmaster at the Kishi station in western Japan since 2007. Now, the passing of a local railway employee isn’t normally newsworthy, but this was no ordinary stationmaster. Not only did Tama have thousands of fans, she also happened to be a calico cat:
Tama, who had turned 16 in April, died of a heart failure on June 22. During Sunday’s Shinto-style funeral at the station where she served, Tama became a goddess. The Shinto religion, indigenous to Japan and practiced by many Japanese, has a variety of gods including animals.
In one of several portraits decorating the altar, Tama posed in a stationmaster’s hat and a dark blue cape. Sake, as well as watermelon, apples, cabbage and other fruits and vegetables were presented to the cat. A stand outside the station was heaped with bouquets, canned tuna and other gifts left by thousands of Tama fans who came to pray from around the country.
The company’s president Mitsunobu Kojima gave a heartfelt speech at the funeral, in which he noted that Tama had saved the local Kishigawa Line from bankruptcy and contributed an estimated 1.1 billion yen ($8.9 million) to the local economy. According to the Japan Times, her presence at the station boosted ridership on the troubled railway by the hundreds of thousands:
Her cuteness and the novelty of a cat stationmaster turned the money-losing Kishigawa Line into a popular sightseeing spot. The number of passengers on the line jumped to 2.27 million in fiscal 2014 from 1.92 million in fiscal 2005. Photos of Tama and other merchandise also sold well, leading to her appointment to acting president of Wakayama Electric Railway in January 2013.
Tama will be succeeded by apprentice stationmaster Nitama, also a calico.