Saturday, October 18, 2008
TAMA THE CAT
As the economic might of Japan faces up to the global banking crisis, a single cat has boosted the finances of a small Japanese city by millions of dollars, according to a study.
Tortoiseshell Tama is the "stationmaster" of the unmanned Kishi train station where she was born and raised on the provincial Kishigawa Line.
But it is not her labours on the platform which have seen the cash rolling in.
It is rather Tama's irresistible charm which has brought tourists flocking in their thousands to the western city of Kinokawa to see the feline worker patrolling in the uniform of her office - a Wakayama Electric Railway cap.
With 55,000 more people having used the Kishigawa Line than would normally be expected, Tama's contribution to the local economy is calculated to have reached as much as Y1.1 billion ($A13.5 million) in 2007 alone, according to a study announced last week.
Katsuhiro Miyamoto, a professor at Kansai University's School of Accountancy, said picture books and other merchandise featuring the feline stationmaster also produced significant economic effects.
A television appearance and other publicity surrounding Tama - who receives cat food in lieu of a salary - was worth Y280 million ($A3.4 million), according to Miyamoto.
Tama was born from a stray cat brought to the station by a cleaner and kept by Toshiko Koyama, a local who runs a grocery store next door.
The station went unmanned in April 2006 as the line was losing money. But Tama turned this around.
She rose to national stardom in January 2007 as the railway company formally appointed her as "stationmaster".