Story Kitties and Strawberries on the Kishigawa Line By JNTO On August 2021
Riding the Wakayama Electric Railway
Wakayama Electric Railway is a private rail operator that runs just one train line: the 14.3km-long Kishigawa Line, which connects Wakayama City to Kishi Station in Kinokawa. While the train runs leisurely through 14 stations across beautiful rural farmland and towns, there are two things that make the journey special. First, the Kishigawa Line runs unique themed trains, and second – but most importantly – the final stop at Kishi Station is home to a unique stationmaster: the cute Nitama.
Kishi Station’s kitties
Kishi Station is a popular tourist attraction because of Nitama, the stationmaster who is actually an adorable calico cat! You can see Nitama at the station, either sitting proudly with his tiny stationmaster hat on, or even curled up asleep in his bed.
Nitama is actually the second cat to take the post, after the pioneer feline stationmaster, Tama-chan, passed away in 2015 and a shrine has since been built for her at the station. Prior to becoming Kishi Station’s stationmaster, Nitama was posted at nearby Idakiso Station before being promoted and moved to Kishi Station after Tama-chan passed.
Like any station worker, Nitama has working hours (from 10am to 4pm) and his off days are Wednesdays and Thursdays. However, another feline station master makes an appearance during Nitama’s off days: Yontama, a trainee stationmaster who is normally stationed at Idakiso Station. This means you can see a calico cat no matter which day you visit!
While visitors are happy just to catch a glimpse of Nitama or Yontama, Kishi Station itself is also photogenic, designed to look like the face of a cat, decorated with a traditional cypress-bark thatched roof and stained-glass windows. In addition, you can purchase plenty of cat-related merchandise – like the popular Tama & Nitama drop candy – from the station shop, and even stop by for tea time at the Tama Cafe which features sweets made with local Wakayama produce like oranges and strawberries.
Themed train rides
In addition to cats, Wakayama Electric Railway also has unique themed trains that run along its line. There are four themed trains, each distinctly designed by famed Japanese industrial designer Eiji Mitooka, both inside and outside the carriages. All the trains boast liberal use of natural wood to create that nostalgic feeling.
It goes without saying that one of the unique themed trains is dedicated to the kitty stationmaster Tama. The “Tamaden” features 101 Tama-chan cartoon caricatures on the exterior, while the interior boasts even more cat-themed motifs on the walls and upholstery. There is also a small library of cat-themed books where passengers can freely borrow books to read from, as well as a children's area so kids can entertain themselves.
Kinokawa is one of the country's leading strawberry production areas, and many farms are open to the public in spring for strawberry-picking. This is why Kishi Station plays The Beatles song, "Strawberry Fields Forever", whenever trains arrive and depart. Not surprisingly, one of Wakayama’s themed trains is called the “Ichigo EC” (Strawberry Train) which the interior feels like a country kitchen, complete with a wooden cupboard and strawberry-themed upholstered wooden seats.
Another fruit-themed train is the “Umeboshi Densha”, which is a tribute to plums since Wakayama Prefecture is the largest producer in Japan. The red exterior of the train is inspired by the dried plums, while the interior is decorated with Japanese-style paper screens and bamboo blinds.
By far the most unique themed train is the “Omoden” which is dedicated to omocha, or toys. This colourful toy-themed train houses a number of capsule toy vending machines, as well as a showcase of popular toys – from plastic models to action figures – in the wooden display case. Unfortunately, the Omoden will end its services in September 2021, but will be relaunched as a new themed train called the Tama Densha Museum, so stay tuned for its debut in the winter of 2021!
How to ride the train
Since all the train stations along the Kishigawa Line are unmanned and trains are operated without conductors, it is easiest to buy your tickets or passes before getting on the train. You can purchase them from JR Wakayama Station, Kishi Station or Idakiso Station. If you board from other stations, pick up a numbered ticket when getting on and pay the train conductor at the front door when you get off the train.
Wakayama Electric Railway
Access: JR Wakayama Station, Platform 9
Fare: 400 yen/adult (one-way between Wakayama and Kishi) or 800 yen/adult (one-day pass)
Opening Hours: Kishi Station Tama Cafe: 10am to 4pm, Idakiso Station: 9am to 5:30pm
Official Website: WAKAYAMA ELECTRIC RAILWAY Top (wakayama-dentetsu.co.jp)