Cat-cum-tourism Ambassador is the Toast of a Kyushu City

KIRISHIMA, JAPAN – “I am a cat. I look like a raccoon dog. I’ve no idea where I was born. All I remember is that I was meowing at an old station where, for the first time, a human being named me Raccoon doggish Nyantaro, and appointed me as tourism ambassador.”This is not a story by “I Am a Cat” by the author Natsume Soseki (1867-1916), but a tale based on very true events.

Nyantaro managed to take up residence at the JR Kareigawa Station building, Kagoshima Prefecture’s oldest wooden train station structure in this city’s Kareigawa district, last fall. Delighting tourists and locals with his extremely friendly nature, he quickly became the toast of the town.His place in the townsfolk’s hearts was assured back in May when a group working to revitalize the district appointed him as tourism ambassador for the local community in the hope that the cat just might spread word of the area’s charm through his interactions with visitors and the feelings of comfort that he brings them.

It was Nyantaro’s “godmother,” Yumiko Yamaki of the group, who first noticed that he looks like a raccoon dog and gave him his name. Yamaki, who is chairperson of the Kareigawa revitalization committee, stated that the cat, which is believed to be 4 to 5 years old, appeared at the end of November of 2015.

Traces on his right ear suggest that he has indeed been neutered, and along with the fact that he is an eager eater of cat food, Nyantaro is presumed to have originally been someone’s house cat.

He came to accumulate household goods from local residents, who also do their best feed and take care of him.

“We thought he would leave soon, but eventually he came to settle down here. He seemed to take a fancy to the station,” stated Yamaki.

“Now, he has become our ‘Manekineko,’ a beckoning cat, bringing us good luck,” she added as she smiled in delight.

Constructed back in 1903, Kareigawa Station was designated as a registered tangible cultural property in 2006 by the central government.

Despite being completely unstaffed, the station is a favorite with railway fans in part because “Hayato no Kaze,” an express tourist train, passes through it.

Nyantaro relaxes on a stone monument at his appointment ceremony near JR Kareigawa Station in Kirishima, Kagoshima Prefecture, on May 5. (Tadao Okubo)

Nyantaro relaxes on a stone monument at his appointment ceremony near JR Kareigawa Station in Kirishima, Kagoshima Prefecture, on May 5. (Tadao Okubo)

Nyantaro turned up at Kareigawa Station just as the need to improve its image became apparent after the Kyushu Railway Co. (JR Kyushu) announced that the luxury sleeper train Nanatsuboshi (Seven Stars) would be changing its train route along the East China Sea to exclude Kareigawa Station.

Nyantaro’s appointment ceremony was held back on May 5 at the station.

“Meow, Meow, Meow, Meow! We are pleased to appoint you as tourism ambassador to Kareigawa,” stated Yuta Matsushita, a sixth-grader, and Yuno Kawaguchi, a fourth-grader, both of who attend Nakafukura Elementary School, reading aloud in “cat language.”

Yamaki received the commission on behalf of Nyantaro, who just so happened to be in the middle of a meal.

“I would like to express my sincere congratulations on your appointment,” stated Hidehiro Tokito, a guest and city assembly member, as he delivered an address to celebrate the appointment of the new tourism ambassador.

However, Nyantaro just looked the other way.

“Well, Nyantaro-san, you are the one that I congratulate. It was you …,” Tokito said smiling through gritted teeth.

JR Kyushu presented a cat house that has a garden to the new tourism ambassador.

Upon entering his new home, a tired Nyantaro took a contented catnap.