Since many years we liked to build a layout to be displayed in exhibitions. Many subjects were studied without any results since it was impossible to handle simultaneously a personal large layout and another layout to be exhibited. A small layout would have been too traditional unless an outstanding subject would have been found. I once thought about the Harz meter gauge railway in former East-Germany with its mixed operation of steam, diesel and railcars as well as freight operations with "Rollwagen" (transporter wagon). At that time, this network was not so well known as today and it would have been a curiosity in miniature. However, in 1993, at the age of 16, I discovered a completely unknown to me railway system which was the start of a revolution in my knowledge of the railway world:
My Father took me with him at the occasion of an inspection tour for his Company in 1993 and, since then, I went there back in 1995, 2000, 2004, 2006 and 2008. My father has already been there eight times. Being a country where people are travelling mostly by train, a very great variety of rolling stock is owned by the over 200 private companies and the regional entities issued from the former national network. A great part of these trains are reproduced in miniature by the largest toy producers or by smaller private firms for the more regional designs. Being a country where living space is very small, the most of the production is based on the N scale. However, the Japanese N scale is not exactly the same as in Europe or elsewhere in the World where this scale is the representation of 1 to 160 of a 1435 mm track on a 9 mm miniature track. While the standard gauge Shinkansen is naturally also represented in miniature at the scale of 1 to 160, the 3 ft 6 in cape gauge of the basic Japanese network is also represented with the 9 mm tracks and the rolling stock is represented to a scale of 1 to 150. This kind of compromise permits a certain harmony in the presentation of the various rolling stock. Should the exact scale be respected by the operators as it is called "proto" (in French) or "Pur" (in German), the track gauge should be 7,5 mm.
Choosing that subject as an exhibition layout is an ideal option as it is almost unknown and attracts many visitors who are curious to know more about this environment and strange rolling stock. This permits fruitful conversations during our presentations. Additionally, these models are much better rolling than our usual ones and cost only one third to half the prices of the European models.
The only problem is where to find these models. For those who have (or take) the chance of travelling to Japan, they will find over one thousand shops in all various cities of the country. There are also some rare shops in Germany, Great Britain, Australia and the States but their offer is limited and, most generally, do not provide accessories like tracks or buildings and landscape furniture. However, there are some Japanese companies offering Internet sales with a very large offer.
The main model railway producers have also their own Internet sites where you can observe their offers. Unfortunately some of these sites are only in Japanese. Here follow some of them witch we use on the layout:
About Our Layout Now
Our track system consists of a mix of Tomix commercial tracks for the depot and the elevated station and Peco flexible tracks for the line, the street tracks and the rear storage area.
The Tennoden Line
This tramway line is certainly the main characteristic of the layout. It starts from the depot situated at the far left hand side of the system and makes a complete loop through the city before returning to the depot via the rear hidden service area.
Leaving the loop alongside of the depot for an anti clockwise trip, the streetcar makes a sharp curve before passing the broad river on a typical Japanese beam bridge without grid and entering a tunnel. The river itself is also typically Japanese with only few water and many stones in the middle. The other side of the tunnel is already on the middle module where the line is serving a small fishing harbour and a few houses at the stop called Minato. The next step is a gentle ride alongside the beach with a nice hilly background topped by a medieval castle and some traditional minkas. Jumping onto the next module to enter in the city, the streetcar will pass in front of the Tennoji temple (the one who gave his name to the city and the entire layout) before riding along a residential ward. The next stop will be Tennoji ekimae, in front of the elevated stub station of the suburban railway company. After riding in a commercial street with shops, offices and an hotel, the streetcar reaches the Tennoji Minami Guchi stop behind the JR railway station. At the end of the station, the tramway line crosses the JR tracks and drive under the elevated suburban line to reach again the middle module. From now on, the line stays in the hidden part at the rear of the layout and, after passing trough the service area and stand by yard, comes back again in the light at the other side of the depot where the streetcar meets the one ready to start his trip in the reverse direction. The signal my be turned down!!!