In 2006, the Wakayama Electric Railway destaffed all stations on the Kishigawa Line to cut costs. Instead, local townsfolk were chosen to be the "stationmaster". The stationmaster of Kinokawa, a local businessman, had been feeding local stray cats for some time, and the railway corporation executives got a neat idea - why not make one of these cats the stationmaster? The primary duty was greeting passengers, anyway, and a cat could do that!
In January, 2007, Tama, an eight year old calico cat, was named the stationmaster of Kinokawa Station.
She was given a salary in cat food, and grew to be a local superstar, directly contributing to increased tourism in the region and use of the train line in general. She was promoted to Super Station Master in 2008, gaining an office with a litter box, and also becoming the only female in the company to hold a managerial position. In 2010, she was promoted to Operating Officer, making her the first cat to be an executive in a railway company. She later became vice-president of the firm, and was granted the title 'Honorable Eternal Stationmaster'.
The Kinokawa Station was rebuilt to resemble a cat's face; a special Tama Train runs the line with cartoon depictions of her.
A few days ago, on the 22nd, Tama died at the age of sixteen. Three thousand people attended her funeral, and she was interred at a local Shinto shrine, making her a kami
- loosely (and somewhat inaccurately) translated as "deity", but closer to spirit in this context.
Her role as stationmaster of Kinokawa Station will be taken over by her successor, a cat named - appropriately - Nitama.