[From August Issue 2011]
Tetsudou mokei are models that are made to resemble real trains as closely as possible. Many of these models run on electricity. They are popular with people around the globe and the Japanese are no exception. As there are a range of different ways to enjoy the hobby, there’s no stereotypical model train fan.
“Two prominent types of fans exist: Some enjoy the train carriages, and others enjoy the sight of trains running along tracks,” says FUJII Yoshihiko, Chairman of Japan Association of Model Railroaders (JAM). “Some carriage fans enjoy building the carriages themselves and others enjoy collecting carriages. Some people who enjoy the trains running along tracks enjoy making dioramas (miniature landscapes) or running the trains on train timetables.”
“However, these are mere preferences. Not all fans can be divided into categories such as ‘diorama makers’ and ‘carriage collectors’,” continues Fujii. “Most fans love to both watch the trains running and to create dioramas. I myself love to purchase carriages and to add parts to them. I also enjoy making dioramas.”
One of the ways Fujii enjoys his hobby is to take photos of the model trains. Depending on the lighting and diorama used for background, model train photography can express a variety of scenes: One can also recreate favorite locations, seasons, and eras. “Sometimes, landscapes can be expressed using photos or pictures. When you place photos and pictures near to a window under natural light, these landscapes look surprisingly realistic,” Fujii points out.
JAM has been hosting summer conventions since 2001. At the event, visitors can enjoy model trains using “modules.” In model train jargon, module means a miniature diorama built to a given scale. For example, if a group of model train fans agree on the size “60 centimeters x 80 centimeters,” each member brings their own module of the same dimensions. The modules are put together at a venue to form a large diorama on which trains can then run freely. The total size of the diorama may turn out to be an impressive 8 meters x 12 meters.
In Japan where space for housing is limited, it is not easy to create a large-scale diorama. That is why the “rental layout” business exists. Large dioramas, built in storage space, are rented out to customers by the hour. Since customers can use dioramas that will never fit in standard households, and show off their prized cars to other model train fans at the same time, it is a popular service.
There are other businesses making money from large scale dioramas. At the Akihabara Washington Hotel located in Akihabara, Tokyo, a large diaorama is located in a hotel room. The diorama measures 4 meters x 4 meters and its track length totals approximately 30 meters. There is also a paid train rental service for hotel guests.
IMON Yoshihiro has a flamboyant way of enjoying his hobby. Imon is the president of Imon Corporation, a company that owns electronics stores and other outlets. Imon is not only a model train fan, but also the president of Models IMON, a model train store.
“Approximately 20 years ago, I thought that ‘eventually furniture and electronics stores will become a difficult business.’ So I began to look for a business that had good future prospects. A model train shop storekeeper who I was close to told me that the model train business would not make a profit, but I was confident that I could succeed in the field,” says Imon. “Not only that, I would be able to make my mark on the history of Japanese model trains.”
Models IMON not only sells, but also manufactures model trains. “I have taken in a whole group of artists from manufacturers who shut up shop. It would be unfortunate to lose their skills,” reflects Imon. Imon’s diligence and strategy succeeded and Models IMON is now a profit making business.
“Up until today model train manufacturers have continued to create products in a way that suited their own convenience. They have not met the needs of model train fans,” Imon reasons. Fully utilizing his expertise as a model train fan, he created a new model train standard. “Creating new products for the future of the model train industry is my pride and joy,” beams Imon.
At the home of SUZUKI Noriko, three generations get a kick out of model trains. “I myself am not very knowledgeable about model trains. I actually prefer real trains, especially British ones: when I travel, I cannot help but look at them with affection,” says Noriko. “After my grandson Jin was born, at the age of around three he became interested in model trains. So I bought some for him.”
However, once she bought the model trains, the other family members also got caught up in the craze. Both Noriko’s son, Seiichi and her husband Morio got interested in model trains. “Seiichi is especially into them. He connected track after track and now it has grown into a 180 centimeter x 120 centimeter masterpiece,” says Noriko. Jin, who has turned six, fully understands how to properly use the tracks his Uncle Seiichi has laid. He sometimes attends model train events with his grandfather, Morio. But they each have their preferences: while Morio is attracted to locomotives, Jin’s favorite is the Hayabusa (the new bullet train that connects Tokyo and Aomori).
Seiichi modified one of his train collections and mounted lights on the inside. “I do not have a deep understanding of model trains, but I like doing this: When I run the cars in the dark, it is very beautiful, just like the scene from the movie ‘Spirited Away’ by MIYAZAKI Hayao,” smiles Noriko.
Some people say model trains are “complicated” or “only for enthusiasts,” but there are restaurants that use model trains to bring meals to the table and bars that keep “personalized cars” instead of “personalized bottles.” There is no limit to the ways in which model trains can be enjoyed, though some ways are simpler than others.
Text: SAZAKI Ryo