This year the Japan Rail Modelers was again honored to be invited to show our layout at the National Cherry Blossom Festival Sakura Matsuri Street Festival in Washington, DC. Presented by the Japan-America Society of Washington, the festival is the largest one-day Japanese cultural event outside Japan. This year's beautiful sunny weather brought out an estimated crowd of 160,000 visitors!
This year we displayed the new JRM sectional layout that we debuted in January at the B&O RR Museum's Festival of Trains. This year we arrived at 12th and Pennsylvania (They kept us at the same location as last year) at 8am for setup. Our 10'x30' tent was again located between a Japanese wood worker and the JR-Tokai booth. JR Tokai is representing all the JR Group companies in DC for train technology export. This year they had a wonderful 1/20th scale model of an N700 end car as well as static models of the test Magnetic Levitation trains JR has been experimenting with.
Setup took us about 2 hours with the new sectional layout and went very smoothly. The part that took the most time was deciding where to exactly locate the layout within the tent (the new layout is a bit longer than the old one) and leveling the layout. Streets are anything but level (for drainage), atd we usually set up on relatively flat floors in buildings! We are also still getting used to setting up the new layout so its getting faster and faster each time! Since the tent is only visible from one long side we decided to show the container yard side to the public as there is more scenery there and we need to have easy access to points on the Viaduct Station side to run shinkansens in and out of the yard. The crowds are so thick at the festival we didn't want our operators constantly obstructing the public's view. Since the public could only view the Viaduct station side of the layout from the "back", we added a temporary 6" wide addition to the back side of the station to create a small strip of city buildings and a street loaded with vehicles.
The weather was perfect, mid 50s for setup at about 8am and then mid to high 60s later in the day with lots of sunshine and a light breeze, but not enough to knock anything over! The crowds were pretty constant with an estimated 160,000 attending the event. This year ANA and the Japanese Tourism Bureau were not doing give-a-ways so the block did not get jammed up due to lines. It was a lot easier to walk on the block we were on than last year when it became very, very crowded at times. The festival organizers did a wonderful job with the festival as everything went off without a hitch.
The new layout was very well received and cameras were again out in force. Just about everyone (including all the kids) has a digital camera with them these days and those that didn't were using cell phones -- in one case a guy was using his ibook to take videos of the layout! We again had crowds many people deep for most of the festival and folks lingered for long periods and asked lots of questions. Our biggest honor was when we were informed that in a survey conducted after the festival by the Japan-America Society, the event's sponsor, more visitors said they remembered the Japan Rail Modelers display than any other activity or exhibit at the festival! It's amazing when you figure there were 6 square blocks of exhibits, food stalls, sales booths, and performances we were competing with for eyeballs!
We still have a lot of scenery and tweaking to do on the new layout, but it's coming along nicely and definitely is easier to set up! We now have boxes for each module that nest together with a lid on top that can just be strapped into blocks for transport and storage. The boxes were made with a very generous height to start out with, but we may go back and cut them down to a lower height later and just remove any tall buildings for transport. This should make transport and storage even easier. The new layout took about as much transport space as the old one, but we still had quite a few boxes of stuff that will go away as those elements get moved onto the modules.
We were filmed by several news crews and Curt was interviewed by Indonesian TV at one point! Matthew's wife plays the Koto and performs with the Washington Toho Koto Society (the group performed at the festival) and we also got her to set up and play for a while behind the layout.
I think our success was well summed up when Matthew was up front asking kids if they liked trains and got the answer "NOW I DO!" -- that was the best compliment we could ever get!.