Today we are back in Japan (great place to be, right? *wink*) and with one of the most unique 1-day getaways you could do from Osaka: Kishi station, better known as Tama station. A cat-shaped station that has a real cat as the station master. Isn’t this info enough to pay it a visit? Well, there is more to know!
Do you know the history of Kishi station? This station serves the rural town of Kishigawa, that although it’s a producer of strawberries, it didn’t have enough commuters to justify the cost of the train line & station and it was on the verge of bankruptcy. Here’s when in 2007 the genius minds of the private Wakayama Electrical Railway company went to the rescue. At that time the station master (whom also owned a grocery store in the town, as he was only part-time working) had his cat, called Tama, wandering around from his house, the grocery store and the station, and the owner fondly called her the “station master”. That was the spark of the idea that saved the town. The company decided to remodel the station to resemble a cat face (in a very subtle tasty manner if I may add!) and appointed Tama as the official super station master. Not only that, but they fully rounded the railway experience for visitors by commissioning special themed trains designs to a famous train designer called Eji Mitooka, an industrial designer (and illustrator) responsible also of some of the Shinkansen (Bullet trains) models.
With all that, the station was saved! Come with us to see the station, cat and the trains we rode!
Kishi station is only reachable by the Wakayama Electrical Railway company themed trains that leave from Wakayama, and it takes a short 30 minute ride. We travelled to Wakayama from Osaka with our JR Pass and took around 45 minutes with two trains:
- Osaka Namba to Tennoji: JR Yamatoji Line Rapid Service for Takada
- Change in Tennoji to Wakayama: Ltd. Exp Kuroshio 3
- Now take the Wakayama Electrical Railway themed train to Kishi
We went back to Osaka, but you can also plan it wisely if you are visiting Wakayama and end your day directly on your final destination, or maybe visit Nara during the afternoon if you haven’t!
Types of train
There are several special themed trains that will take you from Wakayama to Kishi Station (a.k.a Tama station) in the same day, so if you plan it beforehand you’ll be able to ride 2 different ones. Take into account that not all of them are available everyday, for instance on the day we were visiting the Tama train wasn’t working (scheduled maintenance day!). We weren’t able to change the day, but if you are more flexible with your dates take a look at the timetables here and you’ll be able to ride your favorites.
- Tamaden, or the train of Tama the cat
- Ichigo or the strawberry train. The town of Kishi has lots of strawberry greenhouses so it makes sense to make it a homage!
- Omoden or the train of toys, with Gacha machines inside!
- Umeboshi or the train of plums, again like the strawberries, the region of Wakayama (where Kishi is located) is famous for being the biggest producer of plums of the country.
Which one would you choose? We rode the Omoden on our way to Kishi and the Umeboshi when going back.
Fun factHave you notice that most of the trains name end with “Den”? That’s because Densha means train in Japanese, and its quite common in the language to condense words like “Omocha” and “Densha” ending with a Omoden. This is something we have learnt in our Japanese classes, as you can see I’m pretty happy with our progress!
The Omoden train decoration is based on a “children’s toys” theme. Some parts of the train have wooden finishes and shelves with vintage toys and train related modern toys. It is also remarkable the use of the primary colors, which could make you think about a kindergarten, and there are even gacha machines inside one of the train wagons!
Tama station delivered!
The station itself is gorgeous (thatched roof, glassware,…) but then you also have the train station master (*wink*) chambers where you are able to have a sort of Meet&Greet with Nitama, the current station master. Tama, the original station master, sadly passed away in 2015 and Nitama took over from there. Fear not! Nitama is not caged, it is not noticeable in the pictures, but there’s actually a structure of shelves to jump around and also go to other internal parts of the station, she only prefers to be there because she has this comfortable heated pillow!
Also, there’s a cute themed café and a merchandising shop to buy some Tama & Nitama related items. The illustrations of the cats are so kawaii that I wanted everything, and it was all very reasonable priced! (more than I expected!) We ended up buying this cute tin from the picture that has some yummy sweets, another tin box with cookies, a pouch, stickers, a notes book and a pin. But just yesterday Dani told me that he regretted not buying the t-shirt as well, so if you plan to go to the station, could you bring us a cute “omiyage”? (souvenir) ha! .
When we arrived to the station the most surreal thing happened! We were taking photos outside the station, when a lady from the Tourist Center (yes, the awesome house with the eyes!) approached to ask our nationality. When we answered that we came from Barcelona in Spain she was super impressed because we were visiting from so far away (her words!) and let us know that she thought we were the first ones, marked our nationality in a sheet, and then asked us to join them in a traditional story telling upstairs. We were then joined by several locals and other visitors and the amusing story telling began, it included songs from Kiki Delivery Service played with a flute, and a wood kids theater with interchangeable drawings of the different tale scenes.
All the people was very interested to learn why we were visiting Japan and Kishi in particular, and we even talked with a local that spoke a perfect Spanish because he had been living a few months more than 40 years ago, wow! I wish I could speak Japanese at his Spanish level and after 40 years without practicing.
Before leaving they requested a group photo with the Spanish people (again their words! how cute). Check below the result, isn’t it adorable?
The Umeboshi train main characteristic is the use of noble materials like wooden painted roofs, bamboo blinds and paper screens. The plum flower is very tastefully displayed in the roof, curtains and seats upholstery. This train was so beautiful! I prefer this approach rather than being straightforward on theme.
We first saw Tama station thanks to my friend Fee, so make sure to visit her post too if you want to see more cute photos of this picturesque place, she makes such a nice work to show you all the details of the station.
Have you been to Tama before? Would you be up to such a different type of getaways during a travel? I think overall, this was one of my most fond memories of this travel, 100% Japan experience in the best possible way.