Japan’s many iron horses may no longer be fronted with cow-catchers, but a different sort of critter awaits those who visit some very special train stations far off the beaten track. “Tickets please!,” shout the animal stationmasters of Japan… or at least they would, if they could talk.
We’ll lead off with Tama, the cat with a hat who started a trend that’s got legs – four of them, in most cases. Tama is an 11-year old, formerly stray tortoiseshell calico cat from the central Japanese town of Kinokawa.
In April of 2006, an automated system put in place by the Wakayama Electric Railway to save costs saw all of the stations along the Kishigawa Line changed from being manned to unmanned… but not, it seems, un-catted. Railway officials had been selecting local business owners to be honorary stationmasters and local grocer Toshiko Koyama got the nod for Kishi Station in Kinokawa. These same officials noticed that among the stray cats Koyama was feeding at the station, Tama was becoming quite popular with both locals and passengers. In January of 2007, Tama was officially named the stationmaster at Kishi Station and a meteoric rise to national celebrity was about to begin.
(images via: Maison)
Wakayama Electric Railway covers the costs of Tama’s cute cat-sized stationmaster hat and signs off on a monthly ration of cat food. WER’s ROI is impressive: ridership has increased by about 10 percent annually and a whopping 1.1 billion yen (over $10 million) was injected into the local economy in 2007 alone. Tama’s reward? In January of 2010 she was given an office (actually a disused ticket booth) with a litterbox along with two feline assistants (not sure what the “assistants” assist with, other than fundraising). Tama is now the world’s only feline corporate executive and the Wakayama Electric Railway’s highest-ranking female exec. Nice.
In Japan, there’s no such thing as “too much of a good thing.” In early 2009 the “Tama Densha” (a train painted up in Tama graphics) began running on the Kishigawa Line in a bid to attract even more cat-crazy tourists – and their wallets – and in July of 2010, Kishi Station re-opened after renovations gave it a new face… a cat’s face. What’s next, a Tama Nekobus to shuttle passengers to and from the nearest hotel?
Naturally, many of Japan’s other financially-challenged railway companies have made note of the Tama phenomenon and have made efforts to jump on the bandwagon. Some have their own cat stationmasters (two fiercely competitive ones shown above); some try to promote some of their regional sights, sounds and, er, cuisines through their choice of stationmaster species.
What’s more fun than a barrel of monkeys? Nehime and Rakan, the two baby monkeys who have been named stationmasters at Kasai’s Hojo-cho station in Japan’s Hyoto prefecture. The monkeys were donated by a local resident, who was concerned about the railway line’s decreasing ridership and deteriorating finances. Sound familiar? Check out Nehime and Rakan in this video:
(image via: Menn no Hosomichi)
Hojo Railway Company thought appointing monkeys as stationmasters would help attract both attention and riders to the line’s first biodiesel-fueled train. No word if the biodiesel was made from discarded banana peels. The monkeys were only seven months and three months old when appointed to be stationmasters so their on-the-job performance and work ethics may improve as time goes by. Or not – instead of serving you lunch they may resort to throwing their poop. All aboard!!
Japan has at least two stationmaster dogs, with the latest being a shaggy off-white Akita named Wasao. Already somewhat of an animal celebrity in Japan for his “busa-kawa” (ugly-cute) characteristics, Wasao was the ideal choice to be Tourism Stationmaster of Ajigasawa station in far-northern Aomori prefecture. Get that? TOURISM Stationmaster… they aren’t big on subtlety up in Aomori.
Wasao may have gotten off to a running start as an animal stationmaster but now… wee paws for stationmaster identification! The paws in question belonged to Maron (“Chestnut”), a pint-sized Yorkshire Terrier with a nattily-tailored uniform and impressive whiskers rivaling those of illustrious Victorian scoundrel Sir Harry Paget Flashman (VC, KCB, KCIE et al).
(image via: Let’s Japan)
At the risk of mixing metaphors, Maron ruled the roost at Oku-Nakayama Kogen Station in Ichinohemachi on the Iwate Ginga Railway Line from September of 2000 until August 29th, 2009 when he sadly passed away from bronchitis – view pics of his funeral here. Maron will be sadly missed as he always performed his stationmaster duties with dogged determination.
There are at least two goats performing stationmaster duties in Japan. A snow white goat named Koma (above) performs duties at Uzen-Komatsu station in Kawanishi, Yamagata Prefecture, while way down south in Fukuoka a brown & white goat named Taro greets visitors and guests at the Uminonakamichi station on the JR Kashii Line. Both stationmaster goats promise passengers excellent service or they’ll eat their hats… which they might just do anyway.
Taro’s not punching a passenger’s ticket (above), he’s partaking in a special slice of bread baked for the occasion of his promotion to stationmaster. Keep your real tickets far from Taro’s chomping choppers: “The goat ate my ticket” is not a valid excuse to ride the rails for free. Baaa, humbug!
OK, say you’re in charge of promoting the JR Unomachi Station in Seiyo, Ehime prefecture, which just happens to be the only railway station in Japan that contains the Chinese kanji character for “rabbit” in its name. And, the Year of the Rabbit is due to officially begin on February 3rd, 2011. And, you’ve got to choose an animal for the position of honorary stationmaster. What WILL you do? Answer after the jump.
No, they didn’t choose a fox or an anteater, and presumably the middle-management type at JR Shikoku kept his job by selecting an 8-month-old dwarf white rabbit named Tsubasa to be the stationmaster. Commenting on the appointment and what it means for Seiyo, a station official said “I hope we can promote our town so that it will make a big leap this year, like Tsubasa.” JR Shikoku isn’t the only railway with a rabbit stationmaster, by the way – some gimmicks are too good to ignore. Another white rabbit stationmaster is shown above, brought to you this time from Yamagata Railways – plush replicas available at the gift shop!
At some point, all the cool animals are going to be taken and you’re left with, say, a tortoise. Such is the case at JR Ibusuki Station in Ibusuki City, Kagoshima prefecture. Dubbed “Kotaro” and fitted with his own small stationmaster’s hat, the 25-year-old African Spurred tortoise weighs in at a hefty 41kg (90 lbs). Why is an African tortoise promoting a Japanese railway? JR Ibusuki isn’t saying, but my guess is they had a loco motive.
(images via: Minaibu5960)
Passengers traveling on the Ibusuki Makurazaki Line through Ibusuki Station can access the new Kyushu Shinkansen bullet train via Kagoshima-Chūō station… which is rather ironic considering the stationmaster of Ibusuki Station is a tortoise. Awkward.
If you think promoting your convenient and speedy train service with a tortoise is kinda dicey, things could be worse: on December 7th of 2010, Shishikui Station in Kaiyō, Tokushima Prefecture, appointed a pair of lobsters as their stationmasters. Seriously, lobsters. The Asa Kaigan Railway set up an aquarium in the station’s foyer and propped a stationmaster’s hat above the tank, since attaching cute little hats to the crustacean’s heads was impractical. C’mon guys, you want people to check out your station and ride your train? Get busy with the superglue!
(images via: S-Lucifer)
Shishikui Station set up a Lobster Stationmaster Fan Club in March of 2011, presumably to help boost one’s geek cred beyond the stratosphere. Visitors can also purchase limited edition commemorative ticket sets, stamps and colorful discs that look like coasters.
(image via: S-Lucifer)
Even the train is decorated with a Lobster Stationmaster graphic on the front. All well and good, but the Asa Kaigan Railway only has three stations so your ride will be short-lived… much like the lobsters which are Tokushima’s regional culinary specialty. Clear the track – and bring me more hot butter!
(images via: Aqua Catalyst)
A bonus to this list is popular penguin stationmaster Shima-chan, a 9-year-old female Humboldt Penguin who only “works” 30 days a year. Beat that, Batman! Shima-chan and friends take time off from their regular gig amusing visitors at Shima Marineland to amuse visitors riding the Kintetsu Railway’s Penguin Train through Shima City’s Kashikojima Station. Shima-chan doesn’t seem to mind the extra appearances, though the fact that railway authorities make her wear formal attire seems somewhat redundant. So long, and thanks for all the fish!
(image via: BleedingCool)
Well, what’s your choice for Japan’s next animal stationmaster? Don’t pick Godzilla: the big dude’s got a bad rep when it comes to trains… he flosses with them. More surrealistic possibilities (with real creatures) include Sumo-wrestlin’ Stag Beetles, Hot-tubbin’ Macaques and Food-stealin’ Tokyo Crows. Japan: keepin’ it surreal, one railway station at a time.ï»¿