Kooky Japan story of the day: the cat that saved a railway station


Sometimes, especially when it comes to stories out of Japan, the blogger of "neat" things must keep it in his pants lest the sheer goofiness of the story push him over the edge. This may in fact be one of those stories, but dammit, I'm moving forward with it for all the Neatorama readers everywhere who derive great comfort from stories about the world's third largest economy making public transportation policy decisions because of the antics of a cat that "works" in this particular train station. Yes - the cat even has a specially tailored uniform. From Wired.com's article:
The highest-ranking female at the Wakayama Electric Railway Co. does nothing more than sit around looking cute, but no one minds because she's single-handedly caused ridership on the struggling transit system to jump more than 10 percent.

Make that single-pawedly.

The miracle worker that's turned the Japanese railway around is a nine-year-old cat. Her name is Tama, she wears a stationmaster cap and she has her own office. And she's responsible for one of the the greatest business turnarounds since Steve Jobs saved Apple.

"She never complains, even though passengers touch her all over the place," company spokesman Yoshiko Yamaki told the Associated Press. "She is an amazing cat. She has patience and charisma. She is the perfect stationmaster."

Before Tama came along, Wakamaya was losing 500 million yen ($4.7 million US) a year as passengers abandoned the Kishigawa line in western Japan. In an effort to staunch the red ink, railway officials all but shut down Kishigawa station.

But Tama stuck around, and the passengers returned.

It didn't happen overnight. Railway officials laid off the station's staff in April 2006, but Tama -- who's mother was a stray that lived at the station -- didn't leave. She became a popular fixture among riders, and railway officials formally named her "stationmaster" in January 2007.

Cats are considered good luck in Japan, and Tama's promotion made her a national sensation. Tourists flocked to the station to take pictures and buy souvenirs -- postcards, erasers, notebooks and pins. Ridership rose 17 percent in the month after her appointment, and rose another 10 percent the following year.

Thrilled by her performance, the railway promoted Tama to "super-stationmaster" in January, and she is "the only female in a managerial position."

"She now holds the fifth-highest position in the company," Yamaki told AFP. Tama got her own office -- a renovated ticket booth -- in April during a ceremony that the president of the railway and the mayor of Kinokawa attended. A local grocer looks after Tama, who's salary is paid in cat food, and she works from nine to five with Sundays off.

Tama is slated to appear in a documentary, being directed by Myriam Tonelotto, about amazing cats around the world.

I have unsubstantiated reports that they are also talking about bringing back the little birds that pick lottery ticket numbers for waiting passengers in return for a small fee, but the video clip I had was seized electronically by the dreaded Kempeitai animal exploitation division. If I suddenly fall off the radar, please tell my compatriots to look towards the land of the rising sun, for it is there where the next war for using domesticated animals to mock important municipal institutions and procedures must be fought - and won.

[Wired's Autopia via Salon.com]

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I prefer a cat making important decisions more than Ronald Reagan's astrologer. "Hmmm. Venus is in ascension, so you should keep that finger close to the button." I think kitty's greatest danger to Japan is cat dander allergies, although I hear lint roller sales are through the roof.
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