It’s one of the most closely guarded succession plans outside of North Korea: Who will replace Tama?
Japan’s cute cat stationmaster passed away earlier this year, leaving a kitty-shaped hole in the country’s heart and its 27,000 kilometer-long railway network.
Now, after a wait of 50 days – the traditional mourning period according to Japanese Shinto beliefs – there’s a new cat in charge.
Nitama, Tama’s old assistant stationmaster, has assumed the position, beating several other cat candidates to run Kishi train station in Wakayama Prefecture’s rural Kinokawa neighborhood .
The announcement came in a personal and moving statement from Wakayama Electric Railway president Mitsunobu Kojima in which he revealed he’d refrained from appointing a successor while still praying for Tama.
Nitama: Impressive resume
Following in Tama’s pawprints is a tall order.
Kishi’s late stationmaster is credited with saving a dying train line on behalf of local residents.
To ensure her success, Nitama has graduated from Cat Stationmaster Training School.
It’s not the toughest of schools, but cats must demonstrate a relaxed attitude to working with people and a willingness to wear a hat, according to the railway company.
Nitama “doesn’t dislike wearing a hat,” according Hitofumi Ino, spokesperson of the Ryobi Group, which oversees the railway.
Though it may be sacrilege to say so, Ino also reveals that Nitama has a reputation as a “beauty cat” compared with Tama.
Not that Nitama has been promoted just on account of her looks.
The five-year-old served time as stationmaster at Idakiso Station, further along the same track, before becoming the deputy at Kishi in 2012.
“The reason I appointed Nitama as a successor to Tama is that she had teaching experience from Tama directly,” says Mitsunobu. “Tama was very mild and she seldom got angry, though she was strict with her subordinate Nitama.”
Nitama was born in Okayama City, about 250 kilometers from Wakayama.
She was found under a car on a rainy day before being adopted by Okayama Electric Tramway.
READ: Tama the cat, Japan’s cutest stationmaster, has died
Tama Shrine and monument
Appointing a promising new stationmaster doesn’t mean that Tama will be forgotten.
After Tama’s funeral on June 28 – attended by 3,000 mourners – Wakayama rail president Kojima and other company executives went to the Kishi River, where Tama was born and raised, to look for materials to build a monument for the deceased cat.
“We found the suitable stone for a pedestal and a monument,” says the company’s president. “I wrote on the stone and left the stonemason to carve my letters.”
The monument, featuring a bronze statue of Tama, was built beside an existing cat shrine, located beside the tree “where Tama used to see cherry blossoms and can see the Kishi Station and trains.”
Tama is credited with bringing in 1.1 billion yen ($9.2 million) in her first year and increasing passenger numbers by 17% during her tenure.
Want to know more about Japan’s beloved cat stationmaster?
We visited Tama in 2013 – read our story here: The cat that saved a Japanese train station.