A money-losing Japanese train company has found the purr-fect pet mascot to draw crowds and bring back business — tabby Tama.
All the 9-year-old female cat does is sit by the entrance of Kishi Station in western Japan, wearing a black uniform cap and posing for photos for the tourists who are now flocking in droves from across the nation.
Tama has been doing such a good job of raising revenue for the troubled Kishikawa train line that she was recently promoted to "super-station-master."
‘Patience and charisma’
"She never complains, even though passengers touch her all over the place. She is an amazing cat. She has patience and charisma," Wakayama Electric Railway Co. spokeswoman Yoshiko Yamaki told The Associated Press Monday. "She is the perfect station master."
Appointing a cat to turn around fortunes makes cultural sense in Japan, where cats are considered good luck and are believed to bring in business.
People are snatching up novelty goods — postcards, erasers, notebooks and pins — decorated with Tama's photos. There's even a special 1,365 yen ($13) book of photos of Tama called, "Diary of Tama, the Station Master."
Tama had been on the brink of losing her place to live, with the nearby store where she was raised being torn down. Now, the station is home.
Kishi Station started running without any workers in April 2006 as part of cost cuts.
Bonus pay comes in edible form
The Kishikawa line had been losing $4.9 million a year as passenger numbers fell steadily to as low as about 5,000 a day, or some 1.9 million a year.
After Tama's appointment last year passengers have been gradually returning, recently rising 10 percent to about 2.1 million a year.
In December Tama was rewarded with bonus pay — all in cat food.