Kanjiyama - An N gauge Japanese Terminus Layout

by Nick Harling (all photos copyright Nick Harling)

Kanjiyama is my second Japanese layout, following on from our club’s exhibition layout Yamanouchi Oshika – also featured on this site. Although set in more or less the same area (Yamanashi prefecture), I wanted to depict another side to the busier urban main line activity captured in Yamanouchi Oshika. I also wanted to create another fictional location based in reality; or at least plausibility.



Work began on the layout in March 2010, when I took delivery of two baseboards measuring 8’ by 1’6” – giving a total layout size of 8’ by 1’6”. I knew from the beginning that would be a terminus as the boards were too narrow for a return loop; however the location and era were undecided. Basing the layout in JR East territory was simply down to practicality – Yamanouchi Oshika had a couple of JR East DMUs operating on it and it made sense to use these on the new layout.

The plan was designed to be simple, but interesting to operate. Quickly the layout became a junction station, linking the JR East line with a third-sector branch line – chosen as I also had a small selection of earlier JNR units, which were too old to operate in the timescale I had in mind.


Many Japanese-based layout in the UK make use of the Kato Unitrack system. It does have its advantages, particularly with the points; however you are limited to radii available in the Kato range. There are also challenges with the track crossing the baseboard joins, the flexitrack being more forgiving for this. Trackwork is PECO code 80, a deliberate choice to try to emphasise the narrowness of the 3’6” Japanese ‘standard gauge’. In addition to crossing the board joints, the advantage I find with PECO flexitrack over the Kato Unitrack is the ability to create more realistic curves.

One drawback I encountered early on using PECO track was the height difference when using Kato platform kits (which feature on Kanjiyama). The Kato platforms are designed with be compatible with the Unitrack, which sits on quite a high ballast shoulder. The PECO track is much lower, resulting in the trains being too low against the platform. For many UK layouts, track is laid onto a cork strip to create a ballast shoulder and to quieten the running. I trialled the same method, to find the cork was the correct thickness to compensate for the height difference between the track and platform tops.


The layout is operated in DC, as opposed to DCC (Digital control), with power being provided through two Gaugemaster units. Owing to the nature of much Japanese modelling, with many models being set up temporarily as opposed to more permanent layouts, there is less call for digital control.

The control panel is a separate unit which fits to the back of the layout. Both the points and sections are controlled by switches arranged on a schematic diagram of the track plan. Connections to the layout from the panel, and between the boards, are via ribbon cables. Points are controlled through SEEP point motors.


Once the track was laid and the electrics completed, the scenic work began. The track is on the baseboard, so the scenery is either on the level or above track level. The most common design for a layout is for the tracks to run from the storage yards (or fiddle yard) to the visible section of the layout by way of a tunnel, and Kanjiyama uses this design. The raised landscaping is created from a light wooden frame and dense insulating foam.

Much use has been made of commercially available products for the structures on Kanjiyama. The buildings come from a range of manufacturers including Kato, Tomytec, and Sankei. One or two items needed to be scratch built, including both tunnel mouths; nothing commercially available would fit into the space available. Also homemade (more a collection of bits and pieces modified and hacked about), was the diesel fuelling point in the yard.


Being set in the countryside, Kaniyama needed a lot of trees. Trees and bushes feature heavily on the layout; from small orchard to the front in full spring-time bloom, to the woodland on the hill above the tunnels. Ornamental trees and bushes abound in the town, whilst silver birch and beech trees line the road. In all, Kanjiyama has in excess of 100 trees, mostly either from Woodland Scenics or the 4D Workshop; a model makers and art supply shop near where I work.

When Kanjiyama was nearing the end of its construction I started to look seriously at backscenes. Finding suitable Japanese backscenes was a difficult task, with nothing commercially available; unlike for the UK, US and Continental Europe. I decided to raid the internet, looking particularly at mountainous landscapes. With Kanjiyama being set in the Japanese Alps, I had a lot of options, and I finally came across a scene of the Austrian Alps without too many structures to suggest the actual location. The solution was quite simple; the image was copied onto a spreadsheet, which allowed me to resize it to fit onto A4 sheets of card. These were trimmed and fitted together onto a sheet of hardboard, which was fitted to the back of the layout.

  To help blend the backscene more, I took a number of photographs of structures on the layout, ideally including road surfaces, and attached these to various points of the backscene.

So, now that the layout’s construction has been covered; time to take a short tour of Kanjiyama.

The first board has the fiddle yard behind the hillside, whilst to the front is a small stabling yard. Two sidings, one with refuelling facilities, serve the railcars and multiple units of the Kanjiyama line, whilst a third siding is for stabling either the JRF or Kanjiyama line locomotives between turns. In addition to the various portacabins and stores in the yard, there is also a small shrine for the railway staff.

The yard is accessed through a narrow cutting, separating the wooded hillside behind from an orchard at the front. The access line joins the Kanjiyama line as it emerges from the hillside via a simple concrete tunnel mouth. Concrete features heavily on Kanjiyama, with most of the steeper cutting walls and both tunnel mouths made to look like concrete; in keeping with the impression that the Japanese think nothing of using the material for almost every structural requirement, irrespective of how it looks in the landscape.
Board 2 has both the Kanjiyama and the JR East lines pass into the three-platform station, which is in the foreground of the layout. Part of the town of Kanjiyama climbs a low hill in the background. The station platforms and building is a standard Kato country station, which has been repainted. Kato, along with Tomytec and Sankei, provide the buildings in the town as well; all have been detailed and painted to varying degrees.

Kanjiyama is rural Japan; a small and reasonably remote town situated in the Japanese Alps. It suffers the same challenges as so many other rural communities in Japan; population decline, yet generates enough business to maintain a JR East branch line linking the area with Kofu on the Chuo Main line. Events from a generation previously have also left their mark on Kanjiyama, with a once busy JNR station now served by the fictional JR East Ashiyasu line and a third-sector line. Kanjiyama also became a terminus following the reorganisation and rationalisation that followed privatisation, when the line to Sakuma was closed.

1st April 1987 was a significant date for Japanese railways, as it marked the end of Japan National Railways (JNR) and the creation of the new privatised Japanese railway network we essentially see today. Passenger operations were split into six geographical companies, whilst freight operations were handled by one nation-wide company (JRF). This period saw a lot of reorganisation, as well as the reassessment of many smaller and more rural lines. Many were closed during this period, most never to reopen. Some lines were not totally closed, instead passing into new ownership away from the big national carriers; local authorities, city councils or a combination of public/private partnerships. These third-sector lines often made use of what second-hand rolling stock was available, operating on shoe-string budgets. Some were supplemented by freight operations, and despite this precarious state of affairs, many still operate today; some even thrive.

The branch line which heads away from Kanjiyama was transferred to third-sector operation in 1987, the move being planned for a little while and saving the line from being closed along with the Kanjiyama to Sakuma section.

The area where the layout is set is lightly populated and mountainous, making any railway construction complicated and expensive. It is doubtful the line ever made a profit in its entirety, and without the remaining freight traffic it is unlikely it would have survived. The freight traffic also accounts for the survival of the Kanjiyama line; which runs due north from Kanjiyama to a small town called Hirogawara, which also benefits from seasonal traffic to the ski resorts in the area.


Kanjiyama is a predominantly multiple unit operated layout; all passenger services are in the hands of DMUs. The JR East services are either in the hands of the KiHa110 units (Kato products, both single and twin-car), or the more recent E131 sets (Micro Ace). Being a third-sector line, the Kanjiyama has a wider variety of stock to choose from; however I have tried to stick with more plausible trains. This includes older designs, such as the KiHa 40, 53 and 58, as well as slightly more up-to-date units, such as the KiHa120.

The freight services are handled either by JRF DE10s or less frequently the DD51. These are operated into the third platform, used by the Kanjiyama line trains, before handing over to one of their locomotives. Currently I have a DD13 and DF50 (both Kato) which are used on the Kanjiyama line leg of the service, and these are stabled in the yard whilst the train is in JRF hands.

And the name? Some readers may well be aware of the Japanese learning short from Nihongo Quick Lesson, Kanjiyama Mime, performed on NHK World by Dr Takeo Fujikura. I liked the name, and having yama (mountain) in the title made it suitable for a layout set in the Japanese Alps!

More information on Kanjiyama can be found on Nick's Kanjiyama layout thread on JNS forum.


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