Printing Yourself A Japanese Z Gauge Layout

by Ian Lawrence

I had been modelling HOe for a few years but I felt this still required more space (and time) than I have available. After visiting Japan twice I thought maybe a Japanese theme might be interesting. I had a small space of 42x180cm in the living room available on top of a side table. I preferred this to hiding the layout away in the spare bedroom. I first looked at N gauge, but it would be limited what I could fit into the available space. Then I discovered Japanese Z gauge. It seems that this scale is growing in popularity in Japan. The available rolling stock is limited, but sufficient for my needs as I'm more of a builder than someone who collects and runs trains. And not altogether unimportant: my wife liked the idea of a Japanese castle at one end of the layout and a temple at the other end. Because it was my first small scale layout I settled on a simple track plan.

I started with a polystyrene base in which I cut the basic contours of the landscape. This base is basically self supporting but lays on a plywood shelf. I glued white card round the sides to make it suit the side table below it and make it look tidy in the living room. Then the fun part started. I was used to scratch building and it was just as well as there are no plastic Japanese building kits available and only a few laser cut card kits. I then discovered downloadable paper models, with could be scaled to 1:220 before printing. And I found I could use printed textures to create buildings and all sorts of items.

Available Rolling Stock

There is a fair amount of rollingstock available from Tenshodo, Rokuhan, Crown model, Prmloco and ProZ . You can buy a wide range of ballasted track from Rokuhan.

There are D51 en C62 steam engines, EF64, EF65 and EF81 electrics, DD51 diesel, class 113, 165, 209, 231 and 484 EMUs, Kiha 52 DMU and several types of freight wagons and passenger coaches.

Planned are also Kiha 40 and 183 DMU and EF66 electric. The newer models from Tenshodo and Rokuhan are great runners. They beat some HO gauge rolling stock for their low speed running abilities. Combined with the Rohukan points with electrified frogs they rarely stall.

Available laser Cut Card Kits

There is one main supplier, Sankei with a wide range of buildings and houses. A second supplier is also just setting up a line. Enough so your trains won't feel lonely, but maybe not enough to create more than a small town.


If you are located outside Japan the internet is the best place to buy the above. Check out seller “Plaza-Japan” on ebay and website “Hobby Search”. Also “Tenshodo” will ship abroad, but you will need google translate to navigate the site.

For general English language information about Japanese trains and modelling is the place to be.

Biggest Challenge

Cars, buses, vans are very hard to find in Z-scale, let alone typical Japanese outline ones. You will really have to search hard for small suppliers and make do with what is available. Often they will be 3D printed or resin models which you have to paint yourself and they will be either German or USA models. Carefully placed you will also be able to use some N-scale models of really small cars and vans. Sometimes you will find toys or “collectables” which are near Z-scale and can be used or adapted.

Downloadable Paper Models

Several websites offer free or paid for downloadable paper kits, which you can print on your home printer. The quality ranges from not really great to fantastic. Remember office buildings look similar all over the world, so with minor adjustments you can make many building fit in. Just look around. To quickly put some castles or temples on you layout that shout Japan look at Free of charge and relatively simple to build, remember to scale them down before printing. Probably top of the class for downloadable paper kits is, mostly UK outline, but some modern buildings can be adapted for use in Japan.

Scratch Building Structures

You might just about manage without scratch building, but if you are looking for a realistic layout then you should try to make some things yourself to fill in some gaps and to make small details like refuse bins, public toilets, lockers, bus shelters and vending machines.

If you're coming from a larger scale you will be looking at way to create actual textures in your walls and roofs. Because of the small scale however you will soon find that when viewed with the naked eye all the hard work doesn't look much different to simply printing a picture of the texture you need. Finding suitable textures isn't difficult, because it's Z-scale you don't need large high-res images.

Below are some photos which give an idea how you can use textures in your Z gauge layout.



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