Jump to content
disturbman

Japanese Model Railroading - Basic guide for beginners

Recommended Posts

disturbman

When we once started this hobby we had many questions, some were basics and others weren't. I'm going to share some of our mutual knowledge to the first timers but I'd like you to to participate. So, if I made a mistake or you want to add something, feel free to speak up. I will then add, correct and mend the content of the following FAQ. Thanks.

 

-------

 

J-trains, which gauge?

In Japan, for obvious space problems, the most common railroad modeling gauge is the N gauge. There is here a lot of tecnicality which I won't cover. They are not so relevant for now. You can also find some HO, Z, T and other gauge products. HO being certainly the second most common gauge in Japan and as time passes more and more products are being released by the main manufacturers... HO still being a niche product this FAQ will mostly focuses on N gauge related issues. But if your interest is on other gauge, do bother to read the following lines. Some of the points covered could be of help.

 

What are the main japanese manufacturers?

It seems that Japan has a hell lot more railroad modelers than any other country in the world... some say 9 million people but it can be a little less. Anyway, to satiate such an hungry mob there is a wide array of manufacturers and products. Certainly the most welknown worldwide is Kato wich is also active in North American and European modeling (with RENFE and TGV sets) but there is also others like: Tomix, MicroAce and Greenmax. There is of course more but these are the biggest companies, if you are going to buy your first train you certainly are likely to land a Kato or a Tomix.

 

Which manufacturer is the best?

None of the above are better. They all have very good products and quality is more or less the same. Choosing between them is then more a question of taste than anything else. Some people prefers Kato and others Tomix or MicroAce. At the end it comes down to the model you want (they do'nt produce the same) and that you can easily find. Which brings us to our next question...

 

Where do I buy J-Trains?

With our modern age there is now many ways to buy trains coming from the side the world. You can first check your local hobby shop, they sometimes carry some random japanese products but the easiest way is definately to buy online. You have ebay where shops like PlazaJapan sells a good number of japanese items. Or you can buy directly in japanese e-store like Hobby Search or Hobby World. These three adresses certainly are the most popular among here. Mind you that you will have to add shipping and customs tax to the asked price.

 

What type of tracks do I need to run my J-Trains on?

Any type of tracks will work here. You can use Peco's, Fleischmann's, Minitrix's, Tomix's or Kato's tracks... Nobody cares and the trains will not mind at all. The tracks just need to be N gauge tracks. Nothing else maters. You are not obliged to import or found Kato's Unitrack or Tomix's Finetrack track systems. last bit of advice, J-Trains usually don't like much our westerner tight radius. Anything under 20cm radius will most likely not do and your Shinkansens, EMUs or DMUs might derail on those curves or turnouts.

 

Tomix's and Kato's track system are however very practical to use and are more than great for temporary layouts. They are sturdy and can be cliped together so your layout won't break or move when layed on a table top or on your floor. Once you try them, you can't never go back.

 

What type of controler and transfo do I need?

Once again, any type controller and transfo used usually for N gauge will work. You can even use 20 years old transfo and controlers if you like. The trains will run just fine. Just beware that your transformer doesn't deliver more than 12V DC since most of japanese N-gauge trains are rated to a maximum of 12V DC. Failing to comply to this simple rule will most likely mean that you will burn out the motor and all the lighting equipment of your train. You can however run train safely by not going over 12V, the potentiometer (and a voltmeter) will be here your friends.

 

You can also buy and import japanese controlers, but don't forget to use an universal plug if you live outside Japan or the US (if someone can give me here the name of the places where you can safely plug a kato or tomix transfo). You won't be able to stick those japanese plugs everywhere.

 

DC or DCC?

Not to say the least, Japan is not leading on the DCC front. All of the japanese models are plain old DC and only Kato is pushing toward DCC with its DCC friendly trains. Don't get to excited, this label only means that Kato has design some of its trains to easily accept a certain type of decoder. Those trains don't accept  6-pin NEM plug like European models do but a simple and functional decider. Anyway, except those trains you will have to create your own custom wire work. Open the frame, solder... And, in the worst case scenario, you will might even need to create the space where to fit your decoder. But don't worry, this doesn't happen very often. Just with some older trains and tight loc design. Nothing to be scared of. If you ever have any question regarding DCC and decoders, fire away on the dedicated forum: DCC and electrical.

 

However, Japanese manufacturers have developped some DC technology like constant lighting so the light kit can be on all the time.

 

-------

 

Congratulation, you can now run japanese if you like.

 

Enjoy.

  • Like 5

Share this post


Link to post
Martijn Meerts

Just like to add something.

 

While all track systems as such will work, many Japanese trains won't be able to handle the sharpest curves/turnouts commonly used in European N-scale modeling.

 

Also, Kato's "DCC friendly" trains are only DCC friendly if you want to use Kato's own decoders. They don't use a 6-pin NEM plug like European models do.

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
David

Also, Kato's "DCC friendly" trains are only DCC friendly if you want to use Kato's own decoders. They don't use a 6-pin NEM plug like European models do.

 

Technically Kato's language is correct - "DCC Friendly" is less then "DCC Ready" or "DCC Plug and Play". While DCC Ready and Plug and Play both indicate the locomotive has the standard plug to attach a standard decoder (plug and play meaning it doesn't even require disassembly), DCC Friendly simply means that the design is such that a decoder can be soldered in without a custom wire work (everything is isolated so you just need to get the correct contacts soldered together) and that there is space inside to place it without needing a hacksaw or milling machine to cut down the frame.

 

In Kato's case they do have drop in decoders, but since they aren't standard decoders (they're specialized so you don't need to buy 3x $30 decoders for every train) Kato correctly calls it Friendly instead of Plug and Play or Ready.

Share this post


Link to post
bill937ca

Many Japanese models list the gauge as 9mm.  N gauge is sometimes referred as nine gauge in Japanese web sites and documents.

Share this post


Link to post
CaptOblivious

Most japanese n-gauge trains are rated to a maximum of 12V DC, which rules out many older and HO-gauge 16V transformers.

Share this post


Link to post
Guest ___

Most japanese n-gauge trains are rated to a maximum of 12V DC, which rules out many older and HO-gauge 16V transformers.

 

Of course Tech II, Tech III and Tech IV controllers by MRC are very popular for J-train layouts.

Share this post


Link to post
CaptOblivious

(BTW, this is an awesome start, Disturbman!)

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
disturbman

Most japanese n-gauge trains are rated to a maximum of 12V DC, which rules out many older and HO-gauge 16V transformers.

 

What will it do to your train if you use such transfos? I'm running mine with an old Fleischmann rated to a max of 14V. I never use it to its maximum output but I'd like to know the risks involved. I'm guessing frying a motor... anything else?

 

Thanks for the feedback guys. I'll be editing the FAQ later on.

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
CaptOblivious

Most japanese n-gauge trains are rated to a maximum of 12V DC, which rules out many older and HO-gauge 16V transformers.

 

What will it do to your train if you use such transfos? I'm running mine with an old Fleischmann rated to a max of 14V. I never use it to its maximum output but I'd like to know the risks involved. I'm guessing frying a motor... anything else?

 

Thanks for the feedback guys. I'll be editing the FAQ later on.

 

Also frying the lights: bulbs will burn out quicker, and LEDs will have shorter lives if they regularly receive a greater-than-spec voltage.

Share this post


Link to post
Guest ___

Don got in before I could post, so I had to rewrite my response here.

 

Has any of us actually hooked a multimeter up to the feeders and read what is really being delivered? Just becasue the pack has a max rating of 14VDC, doesn't mean that is what is actually being delivered to the tracks either. Manufacturing process variables, wiring distance, gauge, and quality could reveal true power delivery to the tracks of being less than 14VDC.

Share this post


Link to post
disturbman

Good point Aaron. I need to invest in some Multimeter.

 

---

 

I did correct and add some things to the FAQ. Please, feel free to comment and correct if needed. Thanks a lot guys.

Share this post


Link to post
Lawrence

As a newbie to all things Japanese, I have found a fantastic amount of help and inspiration from all of you on here.  You may recall I mentioned finding it difficult to find out even the most basic of history and information on Japanese railways, and, not wishing to continually impose on members, I eventually found http://www.jrtr.net/start.html certainly a place I would suggest all other newbies visit (if only to maintain the sanity of folks on here)

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Bernard

Lawrence - Nice find. As for asking questions and sharing experiences that is what the forum is all about. There are times I see a Newbie question and it's answered by a technique that I might not have known about and told myself, "Next time I'm going to try that method." So ask away!

Share this post


Link to post
Guest ___

Lawrence - Nice find. As for asking questions and sharing experiences that is what the forum is all about. There are times I see a Newbie question and it's answered by a technique that I might not have known about and told myself, "Next time I'm going to try that method." So ask away!

 

Exactly. Even not for nu-B's, but those coming over from other aspects of model railroading, HO, O27 and so forth, there's a lot of new things to learn with N that just never applied with the larger domestic scales.

Share this post


Link to post
Mudkip Orange

Over thanksgiving we had dinner at a relative's house who has a pretty substantial N-scale layout (four independent mainlines with reversing loops, yards, etc) made entirely with Atlas sectional track (!). I tried running my E531s but they derailed on virtually every 9 3/4" radius curve.

 

It was weird, because at home I run my E531s on R249 (same thing) without a hitch. I have two theories:

 

(1) Angle. None of my track is glued down, so if the train hits a point in the track that isn't joined together perfectly, it can push the track out slightly as needed. This guy was glued down, and when combined with the tendency for people to "force" Atlas sectional track together, I'm guessing the combination was too much.

 

(2) Ballast. I think the deep flanges on my E531 might've hit the guy's ballast

 

I never actually ran electrified Mudkip Dentetsu 1.0 (with Atlas 11") so I don't actually know if it runs, but I'm definitely avoiding Atlas 9 3/4" at every point now and in the future.

Share this post


Link to post
harukablue

With HO 1/80 models they dont like tight curves at all, they just stall or dont have enough articulation mostly my EF locos the same goes for points (switches) with large open frogs, my Kato DE10 doesnt like Rocoline track, i use Shinohara code 70 and have very few problems.

 

Lew

Share this post


Link to post
bill937ca

Recently I came across my machine translated copy of  a Japanese language guide to starting in nine gauge.  It includes 18 parts: Introduction, Basic Set, Electricity flows to the rails, structure of the locomotive, preparation for train set, which rail system is good, couplers, preparing the train set, commissioning, installation of the number plate, structures, use of the point, track plan that uses the point, making the layout, adding geographical features, adding grades and turntables.

 

http://www5a.biglobe.ne.jp/~toyoyasu/nbgn_1.htm#

 

As is on the web site with detailed information on steam engines, the how to guide focuses on steam engines too. But as the article points out other locomotives and trains are basically the same.

 

And here is the steam engine guide.

 

http://www5a.biglobe.ne.jp/~toyoyasu/index.htm

Share this post


Link to post
Lawrence

Can I ask about wheel profiles with modern Japanese models.  On some of my older American N Scale stock, the wheel flanges are way out of scale (commonly known as pizza cutters) and there is no way they could run on code 55 track, so how about the Kato and Tomix stuff? I know I can combine code 80 & 55 with a little shimming but will the wheel flanges clear the sleeper shoes?

 

This is all railzillas' fault  :grin and he has got me thinking about using double slips or double crossovers to save space and give more flexibility, but they seem to be code 55 bits (wont be going down the Kato track route you see)

Share this post


Link to post
Mudkip Orange

so how about the Kato and Tomix stuff?

 

All of the major Japanese manufacturers still produce models with pizza cutters. Much moreso then their NA counterparts.

 

If you absolutely crave code 55 then go with Peco; it's actually code 80 rail sunk further into the ties, so it's more forgiving then something like say Atlas 55.

 

But really if you can stomach it just stick with Code 80.

Share this post


Link to post
Bernard

Can I ask about wheel profiles with modern Japanese models.  On some of my older American N Scale stock, the wheel flanges are way out of scale (commonly known as pizza cutters) and there is no way they could run on code 55 track, so how about the Kato and Tomix stuff? I know I can combine code 80 & 55 with a little shimming but will the wheel flanges clear the sleeper shoes?

 

This is all railzillas' fault  :grin and he has got me thinking about using double slips or double crossovers to save space and give more flexibility, but they seem to be code 55 bits (wont be going down the Kato track route you see)

 

I've used some Code 55 in one section of my layout and I've had no problems with running the new Tomix and Kato trains. http://www.jnsforum.com/index.php/topic,855.0.html

I've tried Atlas and Micro Engineering C55 flex track and there are pros & Cons with both, but most modelers prefer Micro Engineering (but this also depends on what part of the world you live in. Micro Engineering I believe is in CA, USA.

I does look great but ballasting, (bending Micro Engineering) and soldering on feeder wires is a little tricky.

Share this post


Link to post
Mudkip Orange

Atlas code 55 has "more prototypical" (for American railroads) tie color and spacing. Which means it's less accurate for a Britain/Japan/the Continent then just about any other make of flextrack.

Share this post


Link to post
Lawrence

Ok guys, many thanks, time for a rethink then  ???

Share this post


Link to post
Claude_Dreyfus

If it is any help, then we use a combination of code 55 and 80 on our layout. The 55 is round the front, and there are a number of points. So far I have had no problems with any of my Japanese stuff over these points, although I'm not too sure about the more complex double-slips and the like.

Share this post


Link to post
Bernard

Ok guys, many thanks, time for a rethink then  ???

Lawrence - What part of the world do you live in? I ask this because Peco flex track isn't hard to work with but I've only used code 80. I live in New York, USA and Peco track is hard to get and Peco code 55 is almost impossible. The spacing of the ties might be better suited for a Japanese RR and they make it also in concrete ties. Here is another thing to think about. If you are planning on using any Unitrack it will work with code 80 flex track since Unitrack is code 80. (It will also work with Peco code 55 because as earlier stated, it is actually code 80 but set deep into the ties.)

Share this post


Link to post
Hobby Dreamer

Would a FAQ on dimensions be useful? Not so much for every piece of track but as follows:

 

As a newbie there is not too much concern if one stays with one system of track such as Kato, Tomix etc. But mixing track companies, or codes or even going from rail track to the various new tram track and street templates causes me some confusion. When the new Unitram track was announced, for example, there was some concern that the template heights differed from the traditional Diotown system - I did not even know what that meant at the time! And still don't really. Or what can be done...

 

I seem to recall that there are "special" track pieces to go from Kato to Tomix track and there is an expandable piece of track to help when track planning or geometry goes awry.

 

But I am not sure what is involved when changing code from code 80 to 55, say. Do you need to shim the tracks? Or, what is needed to go from the new Tomix tram track to Kato Unitram track. Or from Unitram to Diotown? Or is the proposed Tomix bus/vehicle system compatible with their new tram track?

 

Not only do tracks differ in code but in the method of attachment, so is there a work-around?

 

Maybe a table of information could be useful listing the manufacturers, code(s), rail height (if needed), track attachment method (snap together or clips etc), other track-specific info maybe about the rail ties, or other issues that might be important.

 

A second table could list the track systems on the top and left hand side where the intersection of track types could list what is required, or issues/concerns. For example to go from Tomix to Kato one needs....

 

Finally, a quick note on how to read track dimensions from each company which might be useful especially for curves, turn-outs, curved turn-outs etc. Its a no-brainer for most because you have figured it out but there is a bit of a learning curve when entering this hobby.

 

I'd be happy to do the work.

 

Not only could this be a useful reference while building but also for planning. For example, one finds some Peco track on sale but by the time you figure out what you need someone else buys it!

 

Obviously it will take a lot of input from members

Share this post


Link to post

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now

×