Cuteness for the day: Stationmaster Tama and the deer of Nara

It is about time that I get the remainder of my travel photos up, and of course today’s weather cancelled work, so it is the perfect time to get off my butt and do it. I do have a little bit of an excuse with my Japan photos – as I thought I had lost them. When I take photos I have an elaborate sort of organization that all of the pictures have to go through. Ah, my OCD tendencies. Anyways, the horrible photos are deleted, and only the most horrible – anything that is out of focus or something like that. Photos I don’t like go into a folder called rejected, and the rest of them I crop and color correct and do whatever else I need to do. Now I had done this with most of the Japan photos, and put them on a flash drive. But the flash drive died, and I sent it out for data recovery. When it came back, there were no Japan photos. I still had the original unedited files, but that annoyed me… I didn’t want to go through my whole procedure again. And so they sat idle on my harddrive for months. Only recently (after my one laptop crashed and I purchased a new one) I discovered that I had in fact backed up the edited versions of the files on my external harddrive. Now I have no excuse to go through them and finally put them online.

One of the subjects I did manage to get up a while ago were the photos and video of the Tama Densha train. That would be the train that was modeled after the famous Stationmaster Cat, Tama. But I never mentioned my visit across various prefectures to get to see this little feline. I had hoped to get some special treatment, even got a Japanese coworker to call and attempt to arrange it for me, but unfortunately their reply was that the railroad had no one available that spoke English to meet with me. So I, like everyone else, saw little Tama inside her temporary cage, as Kishi station at the time was under construction. The new station, which is complete with a cat-faced roof, has since opened. I am also pretty sure that Tama has received a promotion to vice-president of the railroad company.

The Wakayama Electric Railway itself is pretty small. I didn’t realize that the Kishigawa Line, the one that went from Wakayama city to the final station of Kishi, was the company’s only line. Although I am sure that there are plenty of people that might use the short, 9 mile line for commuting, it mostly has reinvented itself as a tourist line… which of course happened by accident after they assigned a little cat to become a stationmaster. The company only has six sets of two EMU railcars, three sets of which are themed: there is the Tama train, a strawberry-themed train, and a toy-themed train. The trains only have an engineer and no conductors, run on narrow gauge rails, and are powered by overhead catenary. But I can assure you that most people riding that train could care less about that – they just want to see the cat!

  
   
  
   
 
  
  
  
 

Being the person I am, and going to just about anywhere cute animals may be, I also visited the city of Nara. I write about plenty of history on this site, but it feels slightly amusing for me to say that Nara was Japan’s capital in the year 710 (sometimes American history just feels like a children’s-sized book). According to mythology, the god Takemikazuchi arrived to protect the capital on the back of a white deer. The deer there have been regarded as almost sacred, and you’ll find them rather tame and wandering all over in the vicinity of Nara Park. Vendors sell little crackers to feed the deer… and yes, some of the deer even have polite Japanese manners and bow to you.

  
   
    
   
  
  

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The Coolest (or at least the Cutest) Train Car in the World: Wakayama Electric Railway’s Tama Densha Cat Train

One of my more crazy missions when I was in Japan was to see the feline Station Master Cat, Tama. Everybody pretty much loves Tama. When Wakayama Electric Railway was on the verge of bankruptcy, Station Master positions were eliminated, and the stations left unmanned. The decision to make a stray calico cat the honorary Station Master may have been the best decision the company ever made. Tama gained quite a following of fans. Many folks began taking the train: to see her! A study by Osaka University was conducted, which found that Tama brought at least one billion Japanese Yen into the local economy… or around 10.8 million US Dollars. The Wakayama Electric Railway is now thriving, and in her honor a special train car was designed. It is called the Tama Densha. Densha is a Japanese word for train.










The Tama Densha operates on Wakayama Electric Railway’s Kishigawa Line, running from Wakayama Station to Kishi Station over a track of 8.89 miles. It is a narrow gauge railway, powered by overhead catenary. The train car was designed by Eiji Mitooka (picture at left), an Industrial Designer and Illustrator from Okayama, Japan. He has designed many trains in Japan, including the 800 Series Shinkansen. Mitooka is the Design Advisor for Japan Rail (JR) in Kyushu. The train car is a 2270 Series EMU, originally in service on the Nankai Electric Railway, which underwent an overhaul, interior redesign and exterior repaint in 2009. The cost of the whole redesign cost about 35 million yen, or around 380 thousand US dollars.


Concept sketches for the Tama Densha, by Eiji Mitooka

In order to lure tourists, many local railways have resorted to decorating train cars. When designing cars Mitooka especially considers children, and whether they would enjoy seeing and riding the train. As a child himself, he always drew the trains the passed by his home, and dreamed of being a train designer. Considering the number of trains he’s designed, it seems Mitooka has achieved that dream, and has become quite famous at it. While waiting for the train to Kishi, I rode on one of the normal undecorated trains (in addition to the Tama Densha, there is also the Omoden, or Toy Train, as well as a Strawberry-themed train, all were designed by Mitooka). Several children were in front of me in line to buy tickets, and we left them behind on the platform as the train departed. They wanted to ride the Tama Densha, and waited for the next train. I suppose that is evidence that Mitooka has also succeeded in the part of getting children to enjoy trains. Most children tend not to be patient… yet here they were, waiting to ride a special train!

When riding the Tama Densha on the way back to Wakayama, I figured out why the children wanted to ride it so much. The absolutely gorgeous train is completed with a library full of children’s books and manga. The whole train is truly unique, seats take the form of benches, cat backed chairs, and plush sofas. Cat and calico patterns cover the seats, walls, and curtains. The sideways seat arrangement, with various rings in which extra passengers can hold on, is subway-style and typical of Japanese trains that run short distances. Most surfaces, from the grasp rings to the floor, is made of wood. Not only does it look classy, it creates a warm and welcoming environment for passengers. For the youngest passengers, the also train includes a circular playpen, next to the cage that was created for Tama when she rides.

A short video tour of the Tama Densha can be viewed below. Note that most of the footage was taken at Kishi Station, which is undergoing construction. So if you hear construction equipment in the background, that would be why.

Anyways, that tour was an absolute joy to ride. I was a bit bummed that Tama pretty much slept the whole time I was there, but riding this train certainly made up for it. If I didn’t have places to be, I certainly would have rode that train back and forth up the Kishigawa Line. I just wish we had something like this back in the states!!

Sources for information about Mitooka: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7

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