Tama Is Finally Able to Escape the Merciless Clutches of Her Simon Legree Overlords at the Wakayama Electric Railway but Doing So Has Cost Her Everything That She Ever Had, Including Her Life
|Beautiful Tama Weighted Down with Her Worthless Cap and Medallion|
"Tama war sehr milde und wurde selten böse, obwohl sie mit ihrer Untergebenen Nitama streng war."
-- Mitsunobu Kojima of the Wakayama Electric Railway
The most distressing aspect of being a cat writer is that sooner or later one is forced into authoring the obituaries of all those wonderful felines whose lives and exploits one had chronicled only a few years earlier. Moreover, the timeline that separates these two labors of love is often so brief as to hardly make either exercise seem worthwhile.
That is because there simply is not any way of getting around the stubborn reality that just as roses are always accompanied by thorns, the easy living of summer gives way to the hard grind of winter, and the vigor of youth is destined to be supplanted by the frailty of old age, death too is an inescapable part of life. It thus was with those dark thoughts in mind that the news of the death on June 22nd of Japan's famous railroad cat, Tama, was received, mourned, and finally grudgingly accepted as an irreversible fait accompli. (See Cat Defender post of June 2, 2008 entitled "Ridership Soars as Tama Takes Over as Stationmaster on Money-Losing Commuter Train.")
The official word is that she died from a myocardial infarction at an undisclosed animal hospital located somewhere in Wakayama Prefecture in the Kansai region of south-central Honshu Island. She apparently had entered the facility suffering from a sinus infection but neither the duration of her stay nor the treatment that she received have been divulged.
A far more likely scenario is that she was deliberately killed off with a deadly jab of sodium pentobarbital and her death later dishonestly attributed to a heart attack. That is because common colds generally are not known to stop hearts from beating but the same most definitely cannot be said for the ingestion of powerful and deadly drugs.
Secondly, there are not too many people in this world who are willing to go to the extra trouble and expense of medicating an elderly and sick cat. As a consequence, killing off those suffering from something as inconsequential as a common cold has become the de rigueur for both cheap and lazy owners as well as unscrupulous veterinarians in hot pursuit of an easy and quick buck. (See Cat Defender posts of October 18, 2014 and May 28, 2015 entitled, respectively, "Hamish McHamish's Derelict Owner Reenters His Life after Fourteen Years of Abject Neglect only to Have Him Killed Off after He Contracts a Preeminently Treatable Common Cold" and "Abandoned, Homeless on the Street, Expelled by the Ingrates at Manchester International Airport, and Finally Whacked by Her Last Guardian, So Ran the Course of Ollie's Sad and Turbulent Life.")
In Tama's case, it has not been disclosed who made the decision to end her life. It could have been either officials at her employer, the Wakayama Electric Railway (WER), or her nominal owner, Toshiko Koyama.
|Tama at Her Sixteenth Birthday Celebration Back in April|
For whatever it is worth, The Guardian of London reported on June 29th that she was being cared for by Koyama at the time of her death. (See "Tama the Cat: Three-Thousand Attend Elaborate Funeral for Japan's Feline Stationmaster.")
If she indeed was killed off, that constituted an ignoble and utterly outrageous end for the sixteen-year-old Horatio Alger of the feline world who rose from homelessness and abject poverty to achieve worldwide stardom as the top cat at WER's Kishi Station in the rural city of Kinokawa. Her death also once again poignantly demonstrates the utter worthlessness of both fame and legions of fans when it comes to safeguarding the life of a cat.
None of that is by any means meant to imply that there had not been subtle, telltale indications in the past that Tama was on her way out. Most notably was the appointment of another tortoiseshell named Nitama (Tama the Second in Japanese) as her apprentice and acting stationmaster on January 5, 2012.
Along about that time Tama's workload was significantly reduced. For instance, upon becoming stationmaster she was given the back-breaking schedule of working 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. six days a week. In particular, her duties consisted of being cooped up all day long in a tiny ticket booth where she was expected to not only greet commuters and tourists alike but also to pose for photographs with them as well.
"She never complains, even though passengers touch her all over the place. She is an amazing cat," Yoshiko Yamaki, a spokesman for WER, told the China Daily on May 26, 2008. (See "Cat as Station Chief Brings Passengers Back.") "She has patience and charisma. She is the perfect stationmaster."
With the elevation of Nitama, Tama's days were reduced to three per week and her hours cut to between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. (See CNN, May 24, 2013, "The Cat That Saved a Japanese Train Station.")
It is difficult to know exactly what to make of those changes. On the one hand, Tama's health could have been already in decline or, on the other hand, perhaps WER simply was hedging its bets in preparation for such an eventuality.
|Mourners Drop Off Flowers and Pray at Tama's Funeral on June 28th|
Either way, there cannot be any denying that as the years wore on the public came to see less and less of her even though she was well enough in order to join officials from WER and about three-hundred of her faithful friends in order to celebrate her sixteenth birthday on April 29th. If there was anything ailing her on that occasion, railroad officials certainly kept it under their caps.
"Thanks to Tama-chan, the Kishigawa Line became known not only in Japan but also in the world," company president Mitsunobu Kojima told those in attendance according to the May 1st edition of The Asahi Shimbun of Tokyo. (See "Cat Stationmaster Turns Sweet Sixteen.") "I believe she will live to (be) twenty in cats years and one-hundred in human years."
His sentiments were echoed by ten-year-old Azumi Konishi of Naka-Kishi Elementary School in Kinokawa. "She is so cute when she lies down and rolls on her back," she told The Asahi Shimbun. "I want her to stay healthy for a long time."
That was not to be, however. All that is known for sure is that sometime between her birthday and the arrival of the month of June she became ill. It has not been even revealed when she last worked at Kishi.
If officials of WER are to be believed, she was still up and about as late as June 21st. "When we visited her with the company president the day before she died, she stood up and meowed as if she was begging him to hold her," Yamaki told The Guardian.
Kojima then reportedly told her to get well soon so that WER could celebrate her tenth anniversary (in January of 2017) as stationmaster. (See The Telegraph of London, June 28, 2015, "Cat Stationmaster Tama Mourned in Japan and Elevated as Goddess.")
Since commemorating her upcoming decade of service to the railroad was now totally out of the question, WER chose instead to celebrate her life by staging a Shinto-type funeral for her at Kishi Station on June 28th. The ceremony was held outside the converted ticket booth where Tama slaved away for free for so many years and was attended by three-thousand of her faithful fans.
|A Terrified Nitama and Mitsunobu Kojima at Tama's Shrine in August|
In addition to her remains, the makeshift altar featured portraits of her and ceramic dolls. Sake, watermelon, apples, cabbages, and other fruits and vegetables were donated for her use in the next world. A memorial set up outside the station likewise was piled high with bouquets of flowers, canned tuna, and other assorted gifts.
Oddly enough, neither the Japanese nor the Western media have made any mention of what ultimately was done with her remains. Considering the deleterious consequences that the June heat can have upon the remains of a cat, Tama's corpse likely was refrigerated after her death if it, and not just an empty box, was indeed present at the ceremony.
Even if the genuine article was in attendance, it thereafter likely was either burned or tossed out in the trash. If so, she thus was denied even a proper burial and a final resting place.
"We believe that Tama was divinely born to this world as the savior of our local railway," is how Kojima chose to eulogize her according to the June 29th edition of The Asahi Shimbun. (See "Three-Thousand Mourners Pay Final Respects to Cat Stationmaster Tama.") "We are proud that we were able to work with her for nine (sic) years."
Regrettably, he did not have the bon sens to stop there but instead went on to beseech her to continue to protect local public transportation all around the world. Following his lead, twenty-three-year-old transplanted German Anna Masslau, who is attending classes at Mie University in Tsu, one-hundred-seventy-five kilometers northwest of Kinokawa, could not resist the overpowering temptation to heap on yet still more of his outrageous self-serving balderdash.
"I ended up not being able to see her, but I am sure that Tama is still working as the stationmaster in heaven," she mindlessly declared to The Asahi Shimbun. "I want to meet her there."
Fourteen-year-old high school school student Daisuke Hosokawa from Wakayama was not quite so easily deceived by all the pomp and ceremony. "I feel something is missing when I see the place where Tama used to be is empty," he observed to The Asahi Shimbun.
|Miiko, Tama's Mother, Died in 2009|
Yoshinobu Nisaka, the governor of Wakayama Prefecture, likewise had the decency to keep his condolences simple. "Tama won a great popularity at home and abroad as a superstar of tourism," he told The Telegraph earlier on June 26th. (See "Japan Mourns Death of Tama, the Train Stationmaster Cat.") "At the news of her loss, I express my deep sorrow and great gratitude."
Following the customary fifty days of mourning, Tama was appointed "Honorable Eternal Stationmaster" and declared a goddess on August 11th. A shrine featuring two miniature bronze statues of her and located on the train platform also was unveiled on that solemn occasion.
As it always is the case with the Nipponese, financial considerations were of the utmost importance even at this the most sacred of all Shinto rites. Most noticeably, both statues depict Tama with beckoning paws, one for inveigling riders and the other for relieving them of their yen.
The enshrinement of Tama also served as the occasion for the official elevation of five-year-old Nitama as her successor. That occurred when she, dressed in a stationmaster's cap and held aloft by Kojima, offered make-believe prayers to the shrine and "reported" her promotion to Tama's soul (Tama Daimyojin).
More than anything else she looked petrified at being so rudely bandied about and shamelessly exploited but none of that in any way deterred Kojima from continuing to chase yen. "I hope (Nitama) will continue boosting local sightseeing and other businesses," he is reported as stating according to the August 11th edition of The Japan Times of Tokyo. (See "Railway Names Tama the Cat's Replacement as Stationmaster.")
As that utterly sickening example of what he and his subordinates have in store for her demonstrated, all that interests Kojima is the amount of money that Nitama can bring in to WER's coffers. Moreover, he appears from all outward indications to be totally incapable of ever seeing her as a live, sentient being endowed with a life, needs, and rights of her own.
Adding to that utterly deplorable situation, almost nothing has been publicly divulged about her. It accordingly is not even known where she came from, who owns her, and where she spends her nights and days off.
|Chibi. Where Is She Now?|
Furthermore, it is feared that now with Tama gone her workload will be increased from weekends to possibly six or seven days a week. Imprisoned in a tiny ticket booth in order to be pawed by the vulgar hoi polloi is not much of a life for a cat but that is, apparently, all that she ever has known since age one.
Nitama "looked more dignified than when I saw her a few years ago, and she seems to have got (sic) more used to her job," forty-two-year-old gratte-papier Yukado Nakahashi of Saitama Prefecture observed to The Japan Times. Whereas that possibly could be the case, it also is true that there is a fine line between connaître les ficelles and being resigned to a cruel and inescapable fate.
It thus seems clear that despite their numerous theological disagreements that Orientals and Occidentals alike are united in fervently believing that no hard-working cat is to be allowed so much as a moment's respite in either this or their make-believe worlds of tomorrow. Whether acting alone or in concert, both capitalists and the adherents of organized religion are not only insufferable but hellbent upon annihilating all of creation.
Despite the halcyon picture painted by WER and the capitalist media, Tama's life was hardly a bowl of cherries either before or after her meteoric rise to international fanfare. In fact, given the shameless manner in which everyone who either walked in or out of her life exploited her to the hilt, her life never really did ever belong to her.
As far as it is known, she entered this world on April 29, 1999 when she and three other kittens were born to a scarcely seven-month-old homeless cat named Miiko in an employees' locker room at Kishi Station. The first years of her life surely must have exceedingly difficult in that she was forced to forge a meager existence while living outdoors with her mother, siblings and other cats from the neighborhood.
She occasionally was fed by commuters but other than that she, from all accounts, was pretty much on her own without the benefits of shelters, veterinary care, and protection against her species' myriad of avowed enemies. Whereas Kinokawa is far from being the coldest place on earth, average nighttime lows from December through March are in the mid to upper thirties Fahrenheit and that certainly made being out of doors very uncomfortable for her. The city's rainy summers doubtlessly were not any picnic either.
In 2004, she, her mother, and a younger sister named Chibi were taken in by Koyama who at that time owned and operated a grocery story located near Kishi Station. Her deprivations did not end there, however, because he cruelly confined her and her family to an unheated shed on his property.
|Tama's Prison for Eight and One-Half Years|
In a harbinger of events to come, his decision was not motivated by compassion but rather avarice. In particular, he exploited Tama, Miiko, and Chibi in order to entice customers into his store.
Cats, and tortoiseshell like Tama in particular, are believed by the Japanese to bring good luck and that accounts for their popularity with temple monks, the captains of ships and, above all, the mercantile class. This phenomenon is best exemplified by the ceramic maneki-nekos that are found outside of shops, restaurants, gambling dens, and now at Tama's own shrine. (See The Economist, July 4, 2015, "The Cat's Miaow.")
It also was the Japanese who inaugurated the Katzen-Café craze that now has spread all over the world. One opened in London last year and another one débuted recently in Aachen. (See Cat Defender post of June 5, 2008 entitled "Teahouse Cats Are Given Shelter and Work but Precious Little Job Security and No Legal Protections" plus the Aachener-Zeitung, September 9, 2015, "Katzen-Café: Sechzehn kleine Pfoten garantieren für entspannten Tag.")
Their moist recent foray into the naked exploitation of cats for the sake of turning a lousy buck has been the establishment of a google-style street view of cats in the port city of Onomichi in Hiroshima Prefecture. (See The Japan Times, September 4, 2015, " Hiroshima Eyes Tourist Boost with Cat's-Eye View of City Streets.")
All the while that Tama and her relatives were struggling to eke out some sort of existence on the streets, the Kishigawa Line, which extends a little more than fourteen kilometers from Kinokawa to Wakayama, was drowning in a sea of red ink. For instance by 2005, daily ridership had plummeted to five-thousand which added up to an annual total of only 1.9 million loyal customers.
That in turn translated into an annual budget deficit of US$4.7 million. As a consequence, Nankai Electric Railway went bankrupt and WER assumed control of the money-losing commuter train.
In a last-ditch effort to stay financially afloat, WER fired all the conductors and stationmasters at the line's fourteen stations and that was when Koyama entered the picture. Assigned to look after the Kishi Station, he brought Tama inside and it was not long before he and railroad officials hit upon the brilliant idea of extending the concept of maneki-nekos to include real cats as well.
|The Tama Train Is Still Operating, Sans Its Namesake|
As the result of that brainstorm, Tama was appointed stationmaster at Kishi in January of 2007 and the publicity generated by her appointment sparked and immediate seventeen per cent increase in ridership that very month as compared with the same period of a year earlier. All totaled, she is credited with boosting ridership by fifty-five-thousand and pumping an additional US$8.7 million into the moribund local economy.
By June of 2008 ridership had increased by ten per cent and that stellar achievement earned Tama a promotion to Super Stationmaster. With that elevation came a medallion inscribed with her title to go along with the custom-made stationmaster's cap and badge that she had received earlier.
She also was given an office in the form of a renovated ticket booth and that not only allowed her to occasionally get away from people but it also provided her with some direly needed privacy. "She declines to relieve herself when passengers are looking," Yamaki disclosed to the China Daily in the article cited supra. "We set the toilet where passengers can't see."
As the years rolled by more and more honors accrued to Tama. For instance, in 2010 she was named Operating Officer of WER and in 2013 she was appointed to the position of Deputy President. "... she was really doing her job," Kojima candidly acknowledged to The Telegraph in the June 28th article cited supra.
The statistics certainly bear out that assessment of her value to the railroad. For example, by 2014 ridership had increased to 2.27 million and three-hundred-thousand tourists, primarily Taiwanese and Hongkongese, visited Kinokawa.
Fully cognizant that they had a sure-fire moneymaker on their hands, officials at WER were not about to content themselves with merely what they were able to rake in at the fare box. Rather, they promptly embarked upon a frenzied marketing blitz designed to put Tama's face on seemingly every piece of merchandise imaginable.
As a result, Tama-themed stuffed animals, T-shirts, dining room furniture, pens, notebooks, erasers, staplers, Kishi Station uniforms, key rings, tote bags, and assorted figurines are now not only an integral part of the Japanese retail landscape but they also can be purchased abroad as well as on the Internet. In the spring of 2009, WER introduced the Tama Densha, a special train with her image plastered on the seats as well as its exterior, and it is still operating today as, hopefully, a permanent memorial to her.
Appropriately enough, John Lennon's classic about a home for homeless boys in Liverpool operated by the Salvation Army, "Strawberry Fields Forever," is played over the intercom as it and other trains arrive and depart from Kishi. (See Cat Defender post of December 5, 2005 entitled "Remembering John Lennon: A Great Songwriter and Brave Political Activist Who Also Loved Cats.")
|The Tama-Themed Exterior of Kishi Station|
A year later in August of 2010, Kishi Station was remodeled in order to resemble her face with dormer windows representing her eyes and her paw prints adorning the floor. Besides featuring a souvenir shop, the station also boasts a café where customers can purchase cupcakes with her face etched in the icing.
A volume of photographs entitled Dairy of Tama, the Stationmaster was published early on in her reign and later she was featured in travel books. Besides making numerous television appearances and having her own entry on Wikipedia, she was featured in Myriam Tonelotto's 2009 documentary about famous cats entitled "La Voie du Chat" ("Katzenlektionen" in Deutsch) as well as an episode of the Animal Planet Series, "Must Love Cats."
So, thanks to the insatiable greed of WER, Tama is destined to live on for a long time to come not only as a highly successful marketing gimmick but as the public face of the company. What already has been conveniently swept underneath the rug and is destined to remain hidden from public consumption is how outrageously she was abused and exploited by both Koyama and the railroad barons.
Besides Koyami's abject neglect of her during her early years, it never has been publicly disclosed how much he was paid for selling her into slavery to WER and thus robbing her of any opportunity to ever have had a life of her own. Secondly, although he supposedly had custody of her up until her death, absolutely nothing has been revealed about what type of existence she had outside of Kishi Station.
For instance, was she allowed to live indoors at his house or did he still cruelly confine her to his unheated shed? Also, was she ever allowed outside in order to get some fresh air, to soak up a few rays, to frolic in the green grass and, most important of all, to have some time to herself? It is not even known if he either spent any time with her or allowed her to have feline playmates of her own.
It is assumed that she was sterilized once she came to work at Kishi but before that she most likely gave birth to several litters of kittens. If so, whatever became of them and, even more importantly, are any of them still alive today?
Kittens not only look like their parents but often bear an eerie resemblance to them in their manners, temperament, and inclinations. With that being the case, there is not any legitimate need for either cloning or elaborate memorials because the deceased live on in the genes of their offspring. (See Cat Defender posts of October 16, 2006 and January 5, 2007 entitled, respectively, "Unable to Turn a Profit, California Cat-Cloning Company Goes Out of Business" and "World's First Cloned Cat, CC, Finally Gives Birth to Three Healthy Kittens at Age Five.")
|Nitama's Life Is in Mortal Danger as She Attempts to Fill Tama's Shoes|
Her mother, Miiko, died of an undisclosed cause on July 20, 2009 and it is not known what became of either her sister Chibi, who was born on May 12, 2000, or her other two siblings. Unless either one or more of her siblings or some of her kittens are still alive, Tama unfortunately did not leave behind any living relatives.
Additionally, since she was forced to work so intimately with the public on a daily basis it is pretty much a sure bet that she was cruelly declawed. She possibly may even have been defanged as well. It is, after all, a foregone conclusion that any entity as miserly as WER was not about to pay out damages to anyone who got fresh with Tama and as a result was justifiably rewarded with being either scratched or bitten.
Most perplexing of all is the matter of how that she, a former footloose stray, was transformed into a cat that was so docile that she not only would willingly consent to being cooped up all day in a tiny ticket booth but to simultaneously allow countless strangers to endlessly paw and harass her. The most likely explanation to that conundrum is that she was fed a daily cocktail of mood-altering drugs.
For example, both benzodiazepines (BZs), such as diazepam (Valium®) and alprazolam (Xanax®), as well as Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs), such as fluoxetine (Prozac®) and paroxetine (Paxil®), are commonly prescribed by quack veterinarians in order to treat fear, aggression, and other so-called behavioral problems in cats that, in reality, exist only in their owners' heads. It also is conceivable that either Koyama or officials at WER were lacing the milk that they gave her with alcohol since it affects the same parts of a cat's brain as do BZs.
That was the dirty trick that Wilbur Willard played on a homeless black female named Lillian in Damon Runyon's short story of the same name which was first published in Collier's Weekly on February 1, 1930. A radio adaptation of it aired October 16, 1949 on the Damon Runyon Theatre and can still be heard today at Internet Archive and elsewhere online.
She additionally may have been starved into compliance given that such patented cruelty is an indispensable tactic for entertainers ranging from street performers to world-renowned traveling circuses who employ cats in their acts. That is about the only way that frightened felines can be inveigled into, inter alia, jumping from great heights into hoops of fire and riding tricycles.
The strong, but unsubstantiated, suspicion that either drugs or alcohol were used in order to control Tama is buttressed by the fact that in many photographs she appears to be almost catatonic, which is an highly unusual emotional state for any cat. Even Kojima himself has lauded her sedateness and good manners.
"Tama war sehr milde und wurde selten böse, obwohl sie mit ihrer Untergebenen Nitama streng war," he confided to Der Spiegel on August 27th. (See "Nachfolgerin für Katzen-Gottheit: Die Neue ist am Zug.")
If there is any validity to those suspicions, the drugs conceivably could have contributed to her death. The only thing known for certain is that neither Kojima nor Koyama ever will admit to plying Tama with drugs even if that were the case. A necropsy might be able to settle the issue one way or another but it is highly unlikely that her remains still exist in any form.
|Tama Is Finally at Rest but She Could Have Had So Much More Out of Life|
It also is utterly ludicrous for Kojima to imply that it was Tama, as opposed to himself and his subalterns, who made life difficult for Nitama. Furthermore, it certainly is not too late for some legitimate animal rights group, if one exists in the land of the rising sun, to subject her to a surprise, unannounced drug test. Such an undertaking just might possibly save her life.
Far from being a cause for celebration, Tama's life and death should be mourned by all those who truly cared about her. Whereas she so richly deserved a life that not only belonged to her but that was free of abuse, exploitation, and the normal run-of-the-mill deprivations that plague the lives of members of her species, all that she received instead were their polar opposites.
Deplorably, the same litany of abuses that she was forced to endure are now being heaped upon Nitama as well as the dozens of other cats, dogs, and rabbits that railroads all across Japan have shanghaied into serving as their unpaid mascots. Such cruelty and abuse once again demonstrates that when it comes to making money at the expense of the animals there simply are very few limits to either man's greed or his cruelty.
Besides, the packet that Tama made for WER did not in any way profit her because cats, to their eternal credit, do not have any use whatsoever for money. The same likewise is true for the multitude of honors, medals, and titles, that WER bestowed upon her.
If she had been given a choice in the matter, there can be little doubt that she would have much preferred to have been blessed with a permanent and secure home with a loving owner who doted on her as well as feline companions of her own choosing. One day filled with love, dignity, and freedom would have meant far more to her than a thousand years of bondage to the merciless bloodsuckers at WER.
Finally, in a forlorn cemetery located in the northern port city of Herakleion on the island of Crete lay the remains of Nikos Kazantzakis, the author of the 1946 novel, Zorba the Greek. That in and of itself is of little consequence as far as Tama is concerned but there is a rather poignant connection between the epitaph that is etched on his tombstone and her cruel fate. A German translation of the original Greek reads:
"Ich glaube nicht, ich hoffe nicht, ich fürchte nicht. Ich bin frei."
Lamentably, that oftentimes is the very best that cats such as her and men alike can ever expect to get out of a world where predatory capitalists and religious frauds, such as Kojima and Koyama, lord it over all of creation. Even so that is, as Tama knew only so painfully well, a terribly high price to pay for one's freedom.
Photos: China Daily (Tama in her regalia), Bunna Takizawa of The Asahi Shimbun (Tama's sixteenth birthday), Chika Oshima of the Associated Press and The Guardian (flowers for Tama), The Asahi Shimbun (Nitama at Tama's shrine), Tabobou of Wikipedia (Miiko and Chibi), Twilight2640 of Wikipedia (ticket booth), Wakayama City (train), hirorin0505 of Wikipedia (Kishi Station), Kyodo of The Japan Times (Nitama in front of a photograph of Tama), and Paul Richardson of the BBC (Tama relaxing).