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Tama was born in Kinokawa, Wakayama , and was raised with a group of stray cats that used to live close to Kishi Station. They were regularly fed by passengers and by Toshiko Koyama, the informal station manager at the time.
The station was near closure in because of financial problems on the rail line. Around this time, Koyama adopted Tama. Eventually the decision to close the station was withdrawn after the citizens demanded it to stay open.
Station masters were selected from employees of local businesses near each station, and Koyama was officially chosen as the station manager. In January 5, , railway officials decided to officially award Tama the title of station master.
In lieu of an annual salary, the railway provided Tama with a year's worth of cat food and a gold name tag for her collar with her name and position. The position also came with a station master's hat which had to be specially designed and made to fit Tama, and took more than six months to complete. A study estimated that the publicity surrounding Tama has contributed 1. Nekonomics refers to the positive economic impact of having a cat mascot. On January 5, , Tama was promoted to "super station master" in a ceremony attended by the president of the company, the mayor, and approximately spectators.
As a result of her promotion, she was "the only female in a managerial position" in the company. Her gold name tag was modified to a gold tag with a blue background with an added "S" for "super. On October 28, , Tama was knighted and awarded the title of Wakayama de Knight a pun on "It's got to be Wakayama" in Japanese by the prefectural governor, Yoshinobu Nishizaka, for her work in promoting local tourism. In January , railway officials promoted Tama to the post of "Operating Officer" in recognition of her contribution to expanding the customer base.