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Japan eyes tourist boost with Google-style street view... for cats

[TOKYO] Tourism bosses in a Japanese prefecture have come up with what they hope will draw more feline-loving visitors: a Google-style street view for cats.

Billed as a world's first, officials this week launched an online map that explores the streets of port city Onomichi from the purr-spective of a four-pawed visitor.

"We decided to focus on cats because they know everything about the city, including the back streets," a tourism spokesman for western Hiroshima prefecture told AFP.

He added that the city of about 150,000 people is known for its many felines and has a street known as "cat lane".

The map is based on the perspective of Lala, a fluffy kitty with emerald-coloured eyes, who lives with a local hair salon owner.

So far the map covers just two streets but plans to expand its reach are in the works using a camera attached to a stick that hovers 20cm above the ground.

Viewers can trace what Lala - appointed the head of the prefecture's "back street tourism" division - sees from her low-level perspective.

The unlikely feline-focused tourism bid is not Japan's first.

Provincial Wakayama prefecture drew thousands of tourists to its regional train station where a cat served as nominal stationmaster.

Tortoiseshell-coloured Tama was credited with single-pawedly saving the provincial Kishigawa Line after being appointed as master of the tiny Kishi station.

With the regional railway losing money, the station lost its last human employee in April 2006, passing on the mantle to Tama, who delighted in strolling around her own office wearing the formal uniform cap of Wakayama Electric Railway.

After Tama's death in June, a new cat took over the position.