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Waku-waku Wakayama: Riding Japan’s cutest cat train to meet the station meow-ster

Waku-waku Wakayama: Riding Japan’s cutest cat train to meet the station meow-ster

Would you take a 1.5-hour train in the Wakayama (和歌山) countryside just to see a cat? Many people would, and many have! In fact, it was thanks to a beloved cat, Tama, that one railway line was revitalised and saved from closure. The railway line was Wakayama Electric Railway’s Kishigawa Line (貴志川線), and in January 2007, Tama (たま), a female calico cat, became the station master of Kishi Station (貴志駅). 


Meet Tama, Japan’s cutest station master

Honorable Eternal Station Master Tama. (Image credit: Wikimedia Commons)


Tama’s charming purr-sonality propelled her popularity and drew fans and crowds from all over Japan, but in 2015 she passed away, and became an “Honorable Eternal Station Master”. Her role of station master at Kishi Station was assumed by another beautiful calico cat, Nitama (ニタマ literarally “Tama two”), for whom curious travellers and excited fans alike travel all the way to the quiet station in Wakayama Prefecture.


All aboard the Tama Densha train!

The Tama Densha at Wakayama Station. (Image credit: Carissa Loh)


As a tribute to Tama, Wakayama Electric Railway started operating the Tama Densha train (たま電車), an adorable train with an exterior decorated 101 drawings of Tama donning a station master’s hat in various poses. Affectionately called “Tamaden”, the train’s front even has ears and whiskers, how cute is that? As a self-professed noritetsu, I love riding special trains, and knew I had to make room in my trip to take a ride on this train and pay a visit to Nitama.


Let’s board the Tama Densha. (Image credit: Carissa Loh)


I bought the Kishigawa Line 1-Day Pass for ¥800, which costs about the same as a round-trip between Wakayama Station and Kishi Station, and started my journey on board the Tama Densha from Wakayama Station.


Tama decals all over the train. (Image credit: Carissa Loh)


Inside the train, there were even more darling drawings and decals of Tama adorning the windows and walls, and since it was the New Year’s period when I visited, there weren’t many other passengers, so I could take photos to my heart’s content.


Interior of the Tama Train. (Image credit: Carissa Loh)


The Tama Densha is made up of two carriages, and each one is furnished with wooden seats of varying designs of shades of orange, black, and white, and just oozed comfort and cosiness. The train was designed by Mitooka Eiji (水戸岡 鋭治), who has designed many memorable sightseeing trains such as the luxury cruise train Seven Stars in Kyushu, many of JR Kyushu’s D&S Trains, Kyoto Tango Railway’s sightseeing trains, and more.


Colourful seats on the Tama Train. (Image credit: Carissa Loh)


It was fun to see the different seat designs and their details, all of which paid tribute to the colourful and lovable Tama. Even the wood on the floors were in various shades of orange and black. There’s also a small library and play area on board; the train is loved by adults and children alike.


Hopping over to the Tama Densha Museum train

Which Tama train would you like to ride? (Image credit: Carissa Loh)


I took the train to Idakiso Station (伊太祁曽駅) hoping to get a glimpse of Yontama (よんたま literally “Tama four”)―the station master of Idakiso Station and substitute station master of Kishi Station when Nitama is on her days off―but unfortunately Yontama was on a day off and not around. I was also here for another reason: to take the next train, which was another special themed train, the Tama Densha Museum train (たま電車ミュージアム Tama Densha Myūjiamu)


All aboard the Tama Densha Museum train. (Image credit: Carissa Loh)


The Tama Densha Museum train was started in 2021 and features illustrations of Tama, Nitama, and Yontama all over the interior of the train.


Décor on the Tama Densha Museum Train. (Image credit: Carissa Loh)


The walls have images of Tama in famous paintings such as “Girl with a Pearl Earring” and “Mona Lisa”, while the floors and ceilings have photos of Tama and illustrations of Tama in various poses.


Seats on the Tama Densha Museum Train. (Image credit: Carissa Loh)


The interior of the train features wooden furnishings―including the floors, seats, and handles―and was also designed by Mitooka Eiji.


Colourful seats on the Tama Densha Museum train. (Image credit: Carissa Loh)


Compared to the cuteness of the Tamaden with its playful and charming illustrations of Tama, the Tama Densha Museum train was more like an art museum, with colourful patterns and framed illustrations adorning the interior.


Final destination: Kishi Station

Tama Shrine at the platform of Kishi Station. (Image credit: Carissa Loh)


After a short 10-minute ride from Idakiso Station, we reached Kishi Station, the end of the Kishigawa Line. Upon stepping out of the train, I instantly noticed something on the train station platform: a shrine. Dedicated to Tama, there were wooden wishing boards (絵馬 ema) and fortune slips (おみくじ omikuji) hung up. You could even get a goshuin (御朱印 calligraphy stamp from shrines or temples) from the Tama Shop inside the station.


¥100 for a fortune slip. (Image credit: Carissa Loh)


Fortune slips were ¥100, and I drew a decent lot. It was now time to meet Nitama, the star of Kishi Station. Prior to assuming the role of Kishi Station’s station master, Nitama was working at Idakiso Station. When Nitama came over to Kishi Station, her previous role at Idakiso Station went to Yontama.


Nitama, the current station master of Kishi Station. (Image credit: Carissa Loh)


Nitama is such a beauty, with fluffy fur and pale green eyes. She has a space to freely roam, and is separated from visitors by a glass window. Note that you are not allowed to tap the window or take flash photos. Niitama is on duty every day from Friday to Tuesday (10:00–16:00). Her off days are Wednesday and Thursday, during which Yontama will come over from Idakiso Station to greet visitors in her stead.


Tea break at the café. (Image credit: Carissa Loh)


There was a small café in Kishi Station, which was also decorated with Tama and cat motifs. I got the green tea latte, which came in a cup with cute Tama illustrations, and had a chocolate syrup paw print decorated on top of the milk foam. I also got the ice cream cookie sandwich―creamy vanilla ice cream sandwiched between two cookies: one with an illustration of Nitama, and one with an illustration of Tama.


Exterior of Kishi Station. (Image credit: Carissa Loh)


Don’t forget to take some time to step outside Kishi Station! You’ll see that the unique station building resembles a cat with its pointed ears and windows that resemble eyes. An illustrated board of Tama stands in front of the station entrance, and to the side is a gift shop where you can purchase a multitude of Tama-themed merchandise, the profits of which go towards supporting the railway line.


Grab a souvenir from the Tama Shop. (Image credit: Carissa Loh)


There are so many different types of souvenirs to choose from, ranging from calendars of Tama, Nitama, and Wakayama Electric Railway’s other feline staff, to model paper craft trains of the company’s specially designed trains, to stickers and other memorabilia decorated with cartoon images of Tama and friends. Get one as a souvenir for your friends who couldn’t come, or as a way to continue supporting Nitama and the Kishigawa Line!


See you again Tamaden, mata ne!

The Tamaden is a ride you’ll never forget. (Image credit: Carissa Loh)


Are you curious to see Nitama and ride the Tamaden or Tama Densha Museum trains? Wakayama is just slightly over an hour by train from Osaka, and the ride from Wakayama Station to Kishi Station takes just 30 minutes, making it a purr-fect day trip. You can check the timetables for the special themed trains on Wakayama Electric Railway’s website here.


Header image credit: Carissa Loh


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