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

12 Responses

  1. Reena Allen says:

    That train is amazing!

  2. Sheryl says:

    holy crap that’s amazing and well worth the trouble of flying to Japan! That car is SO beautiful – and that man was destined to be a train designer. The beautiful wooden handles might be my favorite part (after the kitties painted on the outside, of course) and the children’s area is nicer than most libraries! Just stunning! So glad you got to see this, thanks for sharing.

    • Emily says:

      Yeah, the wood was gorgeous. How long would it be before somebody tried to steal all that beautiful stuff, if that train were here though?

  3. Sheryl says:

    I know. It’s so sad that it’s that way. It makes me think of that expression “This is why we can’t have nice things” – most people don’t respect other people or objects. I can’t fathom how much $$$ the MTA would save if passengers didn’t do things like litter, graffiti, scratchiti and all the other vandalism that costs the MTA millions to clean up and repair. People aren’t taught to treat things with respect. They’re vile and the punishments aren’t harsh enough.

    • Emily says:

      Lol, exactly. “This is why we can’t have nice things.” I really have a love/hate relationship with graffiti though… the majority of it I see around and on the trains and stuff is horrendous. But when sitting on the train there are so many times we go past a place covered in graffiti that I think is beautiful, or absolutely brilliant. If I could, that would be another subject I’d love to go and photograph. But knowing my luck I’d only manage to get my ass arrested.

  4. Sheryl says:

    Actually I love a lot of graffiti and photograph it too. But I know that ‘scratchiti’ is super expensive to replace the glass or whatever they do. And the acts of just pure vandalism – breaking stuff for no reason – that’s the kind of stuff that agencies are forced to spend money on and the senselessness of it is what bothers me. If people acted civilized, there would be no need for that. And we could have clean, well functioning equipment as a result and $$ could go where it’s actually needed. But that will never happen. (Some) people are animals, though less trainable than their animal counterparts.

    • Emily says:

      Like Santa Claus Man, that was probably the guy that kicked in all the glass panels at my station around Christmas-time. He’s always drunk and loitering around the station. His house is right next to it, a two family place. The other family’s side is immaculate. His has peeling paint, and every single piece of glass at one time or another was kicked or punched in, and the gaping hole is covered up with plastic. Though perhaps the glass breakage was a coincidence.

      I think in general though, most people, whether they realize it or not, end up having to pay for other peoples’ stupidity.

  5. Cheryl says:

    That was a fabulous post, you gain knowledge of new stuff each day.

  6. Gina Anderson says:

    Very cool, is this the kitty cat now wearing a Metro North tie?

    • Emily says:

      Oh lookie who is commenting on my blog now :D
      I did give your tie, and the hat I made, but whether she ever wore it I do not know. Supposedly they were being delivered to the railroad office, along with my site’s “business” card. I got the cat’s business card in return. A cat with a business card, LOL.

  7. Josh Sheim says:

    That was a wonderful read, I just subscribed to your feed.

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