Houston Denshaku @ Houston Japan Festival 2014
by A. VanElswyk and D. Soledad
April 12th and 13th marked the first public exhibition of Houston Denshaku, at the Houston Japan Festival in Hermann Park. The tent space for our layout was personally sponsored by Kosuke Ishikawa of the Japan-America Society’s Houston Chapter. Judging from the crowd reaction, one would have to consider the exhibition to be a success.
Choosing to model Japan makes assembling an on-the-fly layout considerably easier. Small houses and micro-apartments lead many Japanese to temporary, floor-based train setups, as opposed to the garage and spare-room empires favored by US modelers. Both major track systems – Kato’s Unitrack and Tomix’s Fine Track – snap together, and model houses and other structures come with molded plastic bases that make setup and rearranging easy.
The Denshaku layout was assembled from track, buildings, and rolling stock pooled by members. Our booth was adorned with posters of Japanese trains and maps of the rail systems of Houston, Dallas, and Tokyo respectively. One idea which we cribbed from one of the UK clubs was to display a list of the trains that were running, along with a blurb describing what train it was and where it ran. Adults enjoyed learning more about Japanese railways, while children mostly saw it as a sort of matching game – “this train is that train!”
Best Laid Plans
Operating a layout for the public posed numerous challenges. On arriving at the festival grounds, we found that we had only one table instead of two. The track plan was instantly obsolesced. Worse, much of the large-radius track we had brought wouldn’t fit on such a narrow table. But VanElswyk lives near the festival site, and by 11:30 we had trains running, although we didn’t stop moving track around until mid-afternoon. For Sunday, we altered the track plan somewhat and used craft paper to lay out a small village with roads, farms, and the like.
Children-caused derailments were another issue. Soledad’s E4 Shinkansen became the sacrificial train, running the outer loop for almost all of both days – and plummeting a couple dozen times. Track maintenance also proved an issue, as we were set up just downwind of the barbeque pit. The Tomix track cleaning car proved quite useful in this regard.
While Houston Denshaku was primarily there to share our interest in Japanese trains with fellow Houstonians, we found ourselves wearing many hats as the festival went on. The layout attracted all types; some were completely unfamiliar with Japanese trains and Shinkansen, others reminisced about riding Japanese trains, and many were looking forward to the Texas Central high-speed rail which would bring Shinkansen technology to the Dallas-Houston corridor. We fielded many questions on train specifications, railway modeling, tourism in Japan, Houston's own transit system and much more. The layout and many posters displayed surely caught the imagination of kids and adults alike.
For future setups, we are looking into a module-based layout for ease of setup and teardown. We may also include more media to show to passing guests, such as larger line maps and possibly even bring a TV showing zenmen tenbou (train cab view) videos. Crowd favorites, such as the mountaintop Buddhist temple, or back road drift racers, will be sure to return.
In exchange for sponsoring us, Kosuke had asked that we display our trains at a couple other Japan-America Society related events beyond the Japan Festival. For future layout displays, we will bring our own tables, and may try for some form of modular layout setup.