Locals heartbroken after sudden death of Kyushu’s Stationmaster Nya.

Oita Prefecture’s Taketa isn’t the biggest town, with a population of only about 23,000 people. Still, even in a small community, the role of stationmaster is a prestigious position, and at Bungo Taketa Station, that position was held by a cat.

Technically, brown tabby Nya’s position was listed as “cat stationmaster,” and there was also a human stationmaster on staff. But since April of 2018, the kitty has been called “Staitonmaster Nya,” with rail operator JR Kyushu officially recognizing her status.

As to how Nya got her position, her connection to the station goes back some 10 years, when workers noticed the stray cat had taken to spending its nights on the premises. Rather than chase Nya off, they gave her a place to relax and sleep, and she could be seen greeting travelers or strolling the streets around the station, which JR Kyushu referred to as her “patrolling the neighborhood.” Eventually she got to be so well-known, and well-liked, that she was promoted to stationmaster.

Sadly, it seems that while out for a walk on Tuesday night, Stationmaster Nya was struck by a car and suffered fatal injuries. A funeral service was held at the station the next morning, with a Buddhist priest setting up an altar and chanting prayers. Due to the continuing pandemic, attendance was limited to workers from the rail company and local tourism office (where Nya also held the position of honorary branch manager), but a temporary memorial table has been installed at the station, and the management is considering a more permanent monument to Stationmaster Nya.

Nya’s exact age was unknown, on account of her being a stray, but she was estimated to have been around 13, a fairly advanced age for a cat of her breed. All the same, the suddenness of her passing has deeply saddened her many fans. Tadamasa Hino, a JR Kyushu employee who just took over as Bungo Taketa’s human stationmaster in April, lamented “I was hoping to learn many things from my stationmaster senpai.”

It’s estimated that as many as 7,000 people a year came to Bungo Taketa Station for the express purpose of seeing Stationmaster Nya, but the town’s grief is deeper than the loss of some tourism revenue. “I looked forward to seeing her every morning” said a local resident while shedding tears. In train-reliant Japan, many people have an emotional attachment to their station and their routines when using them, as it’s essentially a symbol of their community. With Stationmaster Nya’s position being a symbolic one, the trains will keep on running as reliably as they ever did, but for a lot of passengers, something very important is going to be missing.

Sources: Asahi Shimbun Digital, Oita Godo Shimbun
Top image: Wikipedia/STA3816
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