Yūrakuchō - Modelling Central Tokyo

by Joseph Bays

About Me

Hello, my name is Joe, I live in the UK where I am building an exhibition layout set in heart of Tokyo. I am a school teacher, I mostly teach children between the ages of 4-7, therefore I am keen to include an educational element to what I am building. Modelling is my way to relax and I really enjoy the process of scaling down structures.

My Inspiration

I have been fortunate enough to travel to Japan and this layout is my attempt to record the experience. Before my trip Japanese trains were just something I saw in pictures and videos. Experiencing them in real life they became something more visceral, from their creaking and squealing sounds to the rolling and yawing you feel as they weave through junctions and tight curves. One of the most memorable experience was stepping onto the platform of Tokyo Station for the first time. It is hard to describe the amount of activity. There was movement in every direction with endless trains and people coming and going, nobody was rushing or pushing and everyone just knew where they were going. Everyone but me!

My first experience of commuting around Tokyo was on the Yamanote Line. The only way I can describe that journey is to say that I can't remember ever seeing a seat. This is by no means a criticism, there was plenty to see out the window. An endless expanse of buildings, lights, advertisements and narrow bustling streets, all continually interrupted by an unfathomable amount of trains passing you on adjacent lines.

About My Layout

  A picture I took of the view from the station, in October 2019, looking towards Shimbashi (Click on image to enlarge)

Great so I am making a model of Tokyo Station then?! Well no, with 22 platforms, around 40 crossovers and at least two levels of underground platforms I quickly shied away from that one. Instead I moved my attention half a mile (0.8km) south to Yūrakuchō the next stop on the Yamanote line. A simple yet attractive station, positioned in the middle of a swan neck curve. It features two island platforms, sat above red brick arches, that also serves the Keihin-Tohoku Line. Parallel tracks for the Tōkaidō Main Line and Tōkaidō Shinkansen complete the 8 track configuration.

I wanted to create a layout that was as faithful to the real life prototype as possible, including scratch building the front 6 tracks at 7.1mm to replicate the narrow gauge track used throughout much of Japan. From the get go I set myself two main challenges: Firstly I would try not change a single thing about the prototype when I scaled it down. Secondly I try not to rely on any prebuilt structures and hand build everything from scratch.

  Plan of the scenic section, from the viewers perspective. Station platforms can been seen top left. Bottom - Overall shape of the scenic section. Phase 1 in blue, Phase 2, with the station, in grey. (Click on image to enlarge)

Getting Started

Building from scratch is something I have had some experience with in the past but never on the scale of an entire layout. Looking at the project in its entirety it quickly became overwhelming. I decided to focus on one piece at a time, work out the kinks, then move on.

The first three years were mostly spent drawing up the baseboards on the computer. I used aerial images of the station scaled to 1:150 to create a model of the tracks along with surrounding streets and buildings. From there I played around with cutting the model in different ways until I found a size and shape I liked. The advantage was that I could make numerous changes without spending money on materials.

The Project Starts to Take Shape

I settled on building the layout in two phases, each around 12' long. They are designed so they can operate as two separate layouts or be combined to form one big layout for larger railway shows. Phase one is the simplest section, it has 8 tracks running over brick arches. Once this is complete I will start phase two which will include the station. The full project will represent a scale 1km (0.6 miles) of track.

  A view of the trackwork. Two N-Scale tracks (Tokaido Shinkansen) left, two handmade 7.1mm tracks (Tokaido Main Line) centre, laser cut sleepers (Keihin-Tohoku Line) waiting for rails on the right. (Click on image to enlarge)

The decision to scratch build as much as possible is really not for everyone. It has the advantage of reducing costs, for instance a pack of 10 thou styrene sheet cut to form bricks is cheaper than buying a brick textured styrene sheet. The major disadvantage is time. Every structure on the layout has to be researched, designed and its method of construction planned.

Discovering New Techniques

From the outset I was interested to see how much technology could help to save time and improve the quality of the finished product. For the most part I rely on three processes to speed up the build.


  A close up of the styrene brickwork on one of the arches. . (Click on image to enlarge)

The biggest time saver so far has been having access to a laser cutter. I use Illustrator to convert my designs into separate interlocking parts and sent them to a friend for cutting. The baseboards were cut from 2mm MDF (Medium Density Fibreboard) on the laser cutter, assembled like a jigsaw puzzle and glued. This allowed me to build each baseboard including the arches and track bed in under a day. The tolerances were also much finer that I could have achieved with my limited experience working with wood. Sleepers for the narrow gauge tracks are also made on the laser cutter from a 1mm thick sheet of HIP's (High Impact Polystyrene).

For cutting styrene sheet I use a Silhouette cutter, this is probably the most useful tool I own for scratch building. The difficult part was learning to draw up designs on their software but with a little practice I now use it to create most of structures and jigs needed on the layout. The cutting blade is adjustable so it can score the styrene or cut through it. Brick work for the arches is built up in layers of styrene and finished with bricks laid a course at a time from strips engraved with one of three patterns. In addition I used the cutter make quarter scale models of the layout from card to test various board designs before committing to the actual build.


  3D printed buildings for under the Shinkansen tracks, bridge supports are built into the structure on the left. (Click on image to enlarge)

I have been fascinated with 3D printing for sometime. I have owned a filament printer for several years. I use this to print supports and mounting points that are fitted inside the baseboard during construction. The printing time is very slow so I tend to use it sparingly. It does have the advantage of being able to create complex shapes accurately and with a little planning it can be building one part of the layout while I am working on another.

I have recently added a resin printer to the collection, as it offers a much finer resolution for detailed parts. I am still getting to grips with what it can do and how to use it. The first project has been to print a viaduct for the Shinkansen tracks. This section of track is inclined and curved and would have taken long time to make by hand. I had to break it down into 23 sections to fit on the printer. Printing three sections at a time I was able complete the meter long section in around a week.


  caption (Click on image to enlarge)

Finally I use etched metal to create fine and intricate details such as catenary portals and the maintenance cat walks running along the top of the arches. This allows for details as fine as 0.1mm with a crisp clean finish. I send the designs to a company to make the etches for me, this does mean that etching is the most expensive process on the layout. The price is determined by the size of metal sheet used not by the number of parts on a sheet. I try to maximise the amount of items I put on each sheet filling as many gaps as possible with small detailing parts such as manhole covers and track sensors to get the best value for money.

Gaining Confidence as a Modeller

When I started this project I had no plans for it to become what it has. It was originally going to be three small baseboards with 8 tracks and no station. I have discovered by giving it a go that I love the challenge designing and building a miniature world.

The construction has, of course, not been without its difficulties. I have had to learn from my mistakes however with each problem overcome I have gained confidence in my abilities and learnt new skills. I have better understanding of how to work with different materials and which are best suited for particular project. I have also developed a deeper appreciation of why and how things are made.

More discussion on this layout can be found in the topic on JNS Forum.


JRM on Twitter  JRM on Facebook

Detailed parts of Yūrakuchō on JNS Forum



all materials ©2005-2021 Japan Rail Modelers unless otherwise noted. All Rights Reserved