I didn't think it was possible, but it turns out there is a place in Japan that rivals the city of Obama for its ability to reinvent itself as a quirky tourist town.
Welcome to Wakayama where a cat named Tama has been named stationmaster of the local railway station. The cat has an office, wears a uniform and greets commuters as they come in and out of the station during rush hour.
Apparently, the cat has become so popular that the railway had to hire a human employee to assist the feline stationmaster.
A Japanese TV show did an in-depth report on the cat and the train station. The story is in Japanese but I've posted an English summary below (credit goes to James at Japan Probe for the translation).
1. Tama's popularity made it necessary for the railway to appoint a human employee to assistant the stationmaster. The assistant, Mr. Nishiyama, helps guide visitors to Tama.
2. The railway has been around for about 90 years, but changing times almost caused the railway to disappear in 2004. However, thanks to the efforts of local citizens, the railway relaunched itself under new management in 2006 as the Wakayama Electric Railway.
3. In January of 2007, the president of the railway decided that Tama, a cat belonging to a shopkeeper at an unmanned station on the line, would be named stationmaster.
4. Stationmaster Tama begins every day with a stretch on the floor of his master's shop. He then puts on his stationmaster cap and greets customers as they leave and enter the station during the morning rush hour. His master sometimes helps him wave to train passengers.
5. Much of Tama's day is spent entertaining fans who have come to catch a glimpse of the famous stationmaster. A shop at the station sells a variety of Tama-branded souvenir goods, including buttons, snacks, and a special photo book.
6. When Tama puts his front legs together, the patterns on his fur form a heart shape. It is said that it is good luck for couples to visit Tama and be shown the heart mark.
7. Stationmaster Tama sometimes gives radio interviews and attends local events as a VIP.
The Japan Times reports that the cat has drawn in thousands of tourists from across the country and has boosted the local economy by 1.1 billion yen. Tama's popularity is being credited with singlehandedly saving the railway.
This spring, the Wakayama Electric Railway will honour Tama with his own special train. It's not a special train for cats. It's a special train for humans. It's a regular train but with Tama's image plastered on each of the cars.
I'm totally catching the next train to Wakayama!