Kishigawa Line is a railway line under Wakayama Electric Railway in Wakayama, Japan. Departing from platform 9 in Wakayama Station, the train serves trips to 14 stations, that ends up in Kishi Station, Kinokawa, in 30 minutes.
By the way, what does a cat have to do with a railway line?
The lack of passengers and financial problems in mid 2000 threatened Kishigawa Line to its permanent closure due to bankcruptcy. The locals urged Mitsunobu Kojima, the president of Wakayama Electric Railway at that time, to revive the railway line.
One day, a grocery store owner near Kishi Station begged the railway company to take care of a cat called Tama. Okay, that may sounded odd, but Tama wasn’t just any other cat.
He’s a calico cat that the store owner took care of. Tama often waited in the neighbourhood of Kishi Station and had paid attention many train passengers and inhabitants in town since the end of 90’s because of its tameness and cute-looking for pictures. He was later nicknamed “Kishi station master”.
After meeting Tama in his own eyes, Kojima was touched and finally agreed to adopt him.
TAMA, KISHIGAWA LINE ICON
To boost an image, Kojima created a branding for Kishigawa Line by making Tama as an icon. Accessorized with a conductor’s hat, he officially turned his beloved cat into “Kishi Station Master” in 2007. It was the first time in Japanese history to have a cat as a station master.
Apart from that, Tama appeared in multiple publications, social media, greeted passengers and became a model. Tama even had his own office in the form of a modified ticket counter.
Kojima’s efforts finally paid off. The amount of passengers increased about 55,000 people, who were mostly very enthusiastic to meet the cute and cuddly Tama. The ticket sales was not only enough to finance Tama’s food all year long, but also to boost the economic growth in Wakayama.
After Tama’s passing in 2015 in the age of 16, his position is replaced by another calico cat named Nitama or Tama 2, who is in charge in Kishi Station. There’s also Yontama or Tama 4 in Idakiso Station.
THE FOUR-THEMED TRAIN
The trains operating in Kishigawa Line are very easy to recognize because of their attractive design created by Eiji Mitooka. Basically, they have 4 different themes, such as strawberry (Ichigo Densa), toys (Omoden), plum pickles (Umeboshi Densha) and last but not least, Tama Den, which is no other than Tama cat theme. This train even has “ears” too in its front look.
You’ll never know what day and time the particular theme will appear right before your eyes. You may get Tama theme if you are lucky.
IDAKISO STATION: YONTAMA’S OFFICE AND TEMPLE
Idakiso station is one of the busiest station because it’s where super station master room aka Yontama’s “office” is located. Yontama’s room is a modified ticket counter, completed with a bed, litter tray and cat ladder.
Yontama is in service from 10 am to 4 pm, except Monday and Friday. Suppose you don’t see Yontama, perhaps he’s in deep sleep. I found him under the ladder, curling his body while sleeping. He didn’t notice me watching him.
Visitors are not allowed to knock the glass and take pictures without permission or carelessly while the cat is resting to avoid disturbance and stress.
Don’t come the station just to see the feline stationmaster. Leave the station and visit beautiful Shinto temples, such as Itakiso, Ashigami and Kimiidera, which are reachable on foot. Nonetheless, suppose you don’t want to walk too far, the closest temple is Itakiso Temple that takes 7 minutes walking distance.
Trust me, walking to Itakiso temple is a fun and relaxing activity since trees, gardens, classic Japanese houses will greet you along the way. Moreover, the street is wide with less cars passing by and its surroundings is very quiet.
KISHI STATION: TAMA MUSEUM AND CAFE
The final stop of Kishigawa Line is Kishi Station. The station houses Tama Museum and Tama Cafe. Also designed by Eiji Mitooka, pay attention to some unique details of the building, from a cat head-shaped roof with ears in both edges to 2 oval-shaped windows resembling cat’s eyes.
And that’s not all, folks. You will also find cat-themed chairs inside the cafe, accentuated with the silhouette of a cat’s head, ears, cat whiskers illustration and a bell, associated with a pet’s (cat) accessories. Tama Cafe offers light bites, such as cakes, crepes, ice cream, french fries and drinks, from coffee, matcha latte to hot chocolate.
Tama Museum is where you can see memorabilia of Tama and get some lovely Tama merchandise in the souvenir shop. Mugs, t-shirts, notebooks, towels, key chains, posters and fridge magnets are among others.
One thing for sure. You are able to meet the station master Yontama every day, except on his day offs on Wednesdays and Thursdays.
Kishigawa Line ticket is available in Wakayama Station. I recommended you to take a day ticket as a tourist since it’s valid for unlimited return trips and you can stop in any station you like within 24 hours. It costs 800 Yen ($ 7.50) for adults, 400 yen ($ 3.80) for kids.
Please note that Kishigawa Line is not part of JR Pass you’ve already bought in your country of origin. So, you have to get it separately. Just to be clear, all JR passes are only sold overseas, destined for foreign tourists to explore Japan in more affordable rate. However, Kishigawa Railway Line tickets are only obtainable in Wakayama, Japan.
I have to admit that Japanese people are great at developing a tourist destination in inspiring and unthinkable way. The story behind Kishigawa Line proves that a cat doesn’t only have 9 lives, but also able to save people from bankruptcy and revive tourism in unconventional way.