Frivolous Friday – The Cats of Asia

Cats are big in Japan. The Japanese people have kept cats as pets for over a thousand years. And some of our iconic cats hail from Japan. Hello Kitty, for example, and the waving cat—the one that beckons people into businesses. Some call it the good-luck cat. You’ve probably seen this ceramic cats for sale and promptly displayed in many businesses, in particular those within the Asian culture. The original white and red cat invites wealth, prosperity, good luck. But now there’s also red (to ward off illness), black (to protect from evil), and other colors. I have one of the originals—she’s waving and holding a gold coin. I bought it on my first trip to Hawaii years ago.

Yes, cats are popular in Japan. But did you know that a calico once saved a train? Evidently, the electric train servicing a small community from Wakayama City to Kishi Station—all of eight miles (14 kilometers), was failing. So some forward-thinking businessmen decided to hire Tama, a calico cat belonging to a local merchant, to lure passengers. And boy did it work.

They built the station to resemble a cat. (Check it out at the link provided.) The train is completely decorated with Tama’s image inside and out and so is the coffee and souvenir shop in the station.

As the story goes, the train station was closed for lack of passengers in 2004. It reopened in 2007 with Tama as stationmaster. She’s even been photographed wearing an engineer’s cap and badge and boy did she begin pulling in the crowds. People come from all over to ride the trains—yes, there are more than one now—the Strawberry Train, Tama Train, and Toy Train.

Tama died at the age of 16 in 2015, but her assistant Nitama is carrying on. So if you’re ever in Japan, don’t forget to buy a Hello Kitty, a Good-Luck Cat and take a ride on Tama’s famous train.

Yes, the Japanese love their cats, but in Korea, they’re mingling with animals of a wilder kind. Have you read about the raccoon café that opened in Seoul? Evidently those who were there for the winter Olympics enjoyed their coffee while hanging out with tame raccoons.

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