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Jimbo

Why is Japanese N scale so hard to find in the US?

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Jimbo

why is it so hard to find  Japanese n scale items in the US ??  Ive seen a lot of cool  layout building items, from Tomix etc etc  but it seems one can only order them from Japan??  You know fencing, embankments, an such, all very cool, but shipping is killer!! an slow too! one would think there would be someone in the states that was a distributor for these items?? Or is it just a hazard of doing Japanese n scale?? If its a hazard then I guess that's what sets apart from the rest!!  Thanks  

Edited by Kiha66
Edited topic title for clarity.

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bill937ca

Modeltrainstuff.com  aka MB Klein (a long time downtown Baltimore model train shop) does Tomix, Tomytec and Kato, but the selection is usually not as good as from Japan.

 

https://www.modeltrainstuff.com/tomix-tomytec/

 

https://www.modeltrainstuff.com/brands/Kato.html

 

Some Tomytec items are imported by Walthers but are usually twice as expensive as buying from the usual Japanese sources.

 

 

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cteno4

Jimbo,

 

I think there just isn’t enough interest here. There was a dedicated importer in St Louis for many years (Mokei imports) that brought over a lot of Japanese stuff and was the us distributor for Unofficial us distributor of greenmax and Tomix structures and such and a smattering of trains you could order thru your local hobby shops from him and later directly. Many local stores actually stocked greenmax and Tomix structures and details as they were decent priced. Sadly he retired and could not sell the business (it turned its profits on his personal contacts and wife who spoke fluent Japanese that would not transfer).

 

KatoUSA brings over some kato Japan trains and structures, but it’s spotty. This is where Klein’s gets theirs, usually a small pulse every couple of years that hang around then usually end up discounted some to clear out and another pulse later. we also had a new importer a few years ago, but he sadly passed away suddenly and that sank the business. Tomix tried exporting thru walthers but that has appeared to be a disaster, doubling the price as bill noted and usually required special order thru LHS to Walthers as many shops were not into stocking Tomix stuff (not their market) and that took as long as SAL from japan. Only good thing that it did was shoot some good business to the LHS, but you had to be prepared to pay twice the price for the item to do that. walther’s was the one making all the money. I would rather support the LHS by buying styrene, paints, scenery materials there are a reasonable higher price to get them business and help that inventory turn over (and thus them keeping that stuff well stocked).

 

Importing is a very hard business. A few of us ran the numbers for an import business a number of years back and it’s pretty marginal for the potential market here in the US. Previous importers have also had some built in Japanese contacts to help reduce the offshore costs that you incur in exporting. The small stuff is hard as it’s just inventory hell and low profit to work on small orders.

 

It’s not really a hazard as buying from japan is as easy as from any online place here in the states. If you ship SAL it’s about the same shipping as priority mail and only take 2 weeks, so fine as long as you are not impatient or in a rush. SAL has been really really good to me in California and DC with hundreds of packages over the last couple decades from japan and none lost and only one got soaked and a couple of crunched packages but nothing really damaged! I never do the tracking as I’m so self insured it’s really not going to be worth the investment. 
 

Keeping ahead on ordering stuff with SAL on projects so you can have something to work on while the shipping for the next project happens helps. Also stocking up on a pile of the small, inexpensive stuff helps as if you toss it in a larger order the postage is essentially free. SAL on a few small detail items can be just 380 yen ($3.50) which you usually don’t get now with our domestic shipping here as most places now just do priority mail and it starts much higher. Both of these have helped me in the hobby over the years to always have something I can be working on and not fussing over waiting for stuff then. As with most things these days we are use to the just in time purchasing model even to the home environment, but at points it starts really costing a lot 
 

Prices in japan are good, exchange rate excellent, and there are some very quality places to work with. Some like Modeltrainplus have a single owner that you can form a more personal relation ship with as a customer which is nice. Yes you can’t just go to the LHS for stuff, but in many places now there is no more LHS, so that point is pretty moot these days many places. Even Kleins just shut down their store front and is all Internet now.

 

one issue can be returns a bit more of an issue, but the bang for the buck and quality of Japanese trains is really great reducing this risk a lot if you are buying new from a shop (buying used is going to be a total craps roll on what you get, so you have to go into that with low expectations). I have hundreds of Japanese trains and I only have a handful that had an issue when bought new and I was able to easily resolve myself. Because of the bang for the buck on japanese trains I am quite self insured now if I do get a lemon and can’t easily return it.
 

cheers,

 

jeff

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RogerK

Jimbo

 

That's just the way it is when you model something from another country.

 

As a newbie, Amazon Japan (amazon.co.jp) has become my primary sources for trains, some track and structures. Not every seller ships outside Japan, so I check the box for international shipping and usually specify amazon as the seller when searching. Prices are good and DHL shipping is fast and reasonably priced except for large packages. Total cost including shipping is shown before placing the order.

 

Hardest part is the lack of detail on the smaller items. Google translate helps some. I cross reference with other sellers and search on-line for more detail when I can.

 

I try to get bulky items, such as track sets, from modeltrainstuff or trainworld,' usually when they offer free shipping.

 

I also do live steam British narrow gauge trains outdoors and have the same problem. I prefer the Roundhouse Engineering (Doncaster, England) locomotives and there is only company in the US to order from and usually long wait times due to production schedules. Locomotives are built in batches and are usually sold out by the time they're built. I recently placed an order for a locomotive that will be built in January 2021. Fortunately, no deposit required and I can pay for it at any time prior to being built. 

 

Roger

 

 

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Jimbo

Thanks all  I guess when I see something that catch's my eyes then I should just go ahead an order an wait,,, there's always something else to work  on the layout anyways!!    Its like the hobby shop near me ,, they have nothing along the lines that I look for, an he is way over priced on most things,,   The arts an crafts store where I was getting little things no longer carries paint or brushes any more or even Elmer's glue in the big bottles!!   Its a challenge lol

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jozasa
4 hours ago, Jimbo said:

why is it so hard to find  Japanese n scale items in the US ??  Ive seen a lot of cool  layout building items, from Tomix etc etc  but it seems one can only order them from Japan??  You know fencing, embankments, an such, all very cool, but shipping is killer!! an slow too! one would think there would be someone in the states that was a distributor for these items?? Or is it just a hazard of doing Japanese n scale?? If its a hazard then I guess that's what sets apart from the rest!!  Thanks  


Well I live in Spain and it is also difficult to find japanese stuff here. But I get most of my Kato stuff from traintrax in the UK, Amazon Japan and sometimes plazajapan or hobbysearch

Edited by jozasa
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cteno4

It’s been sad fo watch the decline of the LHS over the last couple of decades, between internet, modern hobby sneering culture, and rising rents they have gotten clobbered. Sorry to hear your local one no longer inspires. Our local chain (like 5 stores) is mostly r/c now (what’s keeping many remaining ones open) with shrinking train and models sections. At least they still have ok prices on paints, styrene stock, and scenery materials so I buy most all of it from them. Tools are not really overpriced unfortunately.

 

i order from japan a couple times a month and just try to keep a shopping list to tack on things at little additional shipping.

 

amazon.co.jp is really starting to stock a lot at good prices. DHL shipping is reasonable and wicked fast. Also it’s 10% off the listed price as they include the 10% gst in the listed price but it’s removed at checkout. Like others have noted you need amazon or fullfilment by amazon to get the good dhl shipping price. Others won’t sell overseas or the shipping prices can be really high. I do worry about amazon squashing the small shops. So far I’ve held myself to using them for something I can get elsewhere or a couple of things that were so deeply discounted. It may come that amazon.co.jp may add on state sales tax. Ebay has started doing that in all sales.

 

jeff

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Jimbo

yes Jeff the shop here does mostly RC stuff an has even down sized that aspect too, they used to have one wall full of plastic model kits of all kinds, now not so much,, same with the trains,,, Sad but true,,,, On  a lighter note they do have  model railroad event here once a year,, Its always been on a Sat (which I was always working)  an they have a habit of posting the event two days before hand lol So the end of Jan or Feb you can bet I will be looking for it!!

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chadbag

We have one train-only LHS.  They do everything from N-scale to the LGP type stuff.  And they have a bunch of different ther things (building and scenery, electronics (DCC etc), and related.

 

But they also run, in the back, a ride-on train for birthday parties and the like, and I suspect that they get a significant amount of money from that part of the business.  I've gotten a bunch of DCC stuff, a DC powerpack, a small amount of KATO unitrack I needed asap, etc. from them.  They've had a few Japanese trains on consignment in their used section.  Wildly overpriced and old.  I passed as it was nothing I was interested in.  But they do a lot of US N scale and US HO and Lionel O.

 

In terms of Japanese trains, I've bought from stores in Japan while there*.  Otherwise a lot from Amazon Japan, a fair amount from HobbySearch, some from AmiAmi and some from Modeltrainplus.    All those are recommended.   And a few orders from Plaza Japan for stuff I find on eBay that is reasonably priced including shipping.  Usually smaller things.  Plus random eBay and also Yahoo Auctions in Japan through ZenMarket.   I did buy one specialty KATO from KATO USA. They sometimes bring over special edition trains (for example Shiki-shima) and when the EVA 500 was restocked at a reasonable price I got it from them.  Usually they are much more expensive than just ordering from Japan.

 

You want expensive, start doing European trains.  KATO and Tomix are much more affordable than Fleischmann, Minitrix, and Arnold in most cases.   Ask me how I know.

 

*(In country mainly Joshin Denki Kids Land in Den Den Town [Osaka] and various Yodobashi Camera stores -- I need to hit up other stores, especially in Tokyo area when we visit there, as well but most of the time I have not had the time to go exploring.  We are based in Kobe now [used to be more Osaka in Amagasaki but my MIL has moved to my SisIL house in Kobe -- still close enough to Osaka] so only hit Tokyo a few days at a time and usually have family plans)

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Kamome

It was always a little frustrating in the UK too. The distributors like Gaugemaster, who stock Kato, would always be 3 or 4 times the price compared to Japan and as a result, never really shift rolling stock very quickly. I have even watched stock go up in price despite it already being in inventory. I know there have been fluctuations in exchange rates but this wouldn’t affect already held stock. The HO JRF DD51 starter set has gone up at least 4 times in the last 3 to 4 years. And it’s still on the shelf. Currently just under £350 in case anyone is interested. 

 

Train Trax was always my first point of contact after getting stung by admin charges from the UK postal company when ordering from Japan. 

 

As a product, the Japanese models are reasonably low cost, and a great way to attract more people into the hobby. Diesel or electric locos for ¥5000-¥6000 is pretty attractive. Instead, the UK market tends to appeal to older people with plenty of disposable income. I don’t know how well Train Trax is doing but with no shop to pay rent on, and the ability to sell across Europe, at the moment anyway. I hope he keeps it going. 

 

 

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ben_issacs

Folks,

I've dealt with Hobbysearch for many years and have found them most satisfactory.

Delivery times to Melbourne, by SAL, ten days to a fortnight.

Ordered a while ago a series 0 Shinkansen set, when opening it up I found that one of the rather tiny pantographs was damaged.

What I did was put the car with the damaged panto on my scanner and scanned it. Didn't put the scanner lid down of course!

Even though it wasn't a flat object, the scan came out with sufficient detail  for my purpose.

Sent the scan off to HS with an explanatory note, and a small packet with two replacement pantos arrived about ten days later, so the series 10 set was then complete.

Good work, HS!

Regards, 

Bill, 

Melbourne.

 

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railsquid
1 hour ago, Kamome said:

It was always a little frustrating in the UK too. The distributors like Gaugemaster, who stock Kato, would always be 3 or 4 times the price compared to Japan and as a result, never really shift rolling stock very quickly. I have even watched stock go up in price despite it already being in inventory. I know there have been fluctuations in exchange rates but this wouldn’t affect already held stock. The HO JRF DD51 starter set has gone up at least 4 times in the last 3 to 4 years. And it’s still on the shelf. Currently just under £350 in case anyone is interested. 

 

Train Trax was always my first point of contact after getting stung by admin charges from the UK postal company when ordering from Japan. 

 

As a product, the Japanese models are reasonably low cost, and a great way to attract more people into the hobby. Diesel or electric locos for ¥5000-¥6000 is pretty attractive. Instead, the UK market tends to appeal to older people with plenty of disposable income.

 

That's what got me into this, for less than the price of a new British loco I got a Kato Kokuden set, controller and track to run it on.

 

For the record, it's pretty hard to find any British N scale in Japan. There's one small shop who specialise mainly in OO gauge and have a small, random selection of N gauge, and Poppondetta in Akihabara have or had a shelf full of dated Farish stock. Second-hand stuff pops up every now and again and I've got some bargains that way (particularly split-gear Farish locos), and pretty much the entire back-catalogue of Lima British N gauge haunts the market for some reason. Fortunately we have the internet and international shipping and a very consumer-friendly customs regime, and since mid-2016 the exchange rate is very favourable (it'll be interesting to see where it ends up next Friday...)

 

 

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Kiran

I use Hobby search and for most part and it works nicely. I also have a few colleagues in japan who travel to the bay area and are happy to carry a suitcase full of stuff. But honestly, with the tax discount for being an international customer makes up for the shipping cost. Nothing in the US can really match stores like Hobby Search. I get lost in there.

 

I would love to support my LHS and I tried them a few times. But the owner is extremely unfriendly and the staff don't really care about customers. So I end up ordering from Kleins or Tonys Trains from the comfort of my home. As I build out my new garage layout, I ordered a lot from these 2 sources mainly Unitrack and DCC stuff. That's at least $3K worth of stuff.

 

That's one thing I don't like about Japan stores. They are very thin on DCC stuff. I forget why DCC is not popular in Japan but I am surprised it isn't.

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nah00
On 6/7/2020 at 12:42 AM, Kiran said:

They are very thin on DCC stuff. I forget why DCC is not popular in Japan but I am surprised it isn't.

 

The nice thing is is that most newer Kato stock is built with some DCC compatibility. There might be some fitting that has to be done with it but generally not too bad. DD51s and EF510s are pretty painless.  

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cteno4
On 6/7/2020 at 12:42 AM, Kiran said:

I would love to support my LHS and I tried them a few times. But the owner is extremely unfriendly and the staff don't really care about customers. So I end up ordering from Kleins or Tonys Trains from the comfort of my home. As I build out my new garage layout, I ordered a lot from these 2 sources mainly Unitrack and DCC stuff. That's at least $3K worth of stuff.

 

Sadly this is a recurring problem here in the states lately. I really dont know why its gotten that way, use to be one of the friendlier type stores to go to as you usually went back a lot and they got to know you and you formed a relationship. when i was a kid the two train shops in town knew my friend and i so well they would put things aside that came in they knew we would be interested in and give us first crack at it! they even put a few things aside for a couple of weeks as we needed the time to earn up enough money to buy a loco! I think they got a kick out of us pulling out our whole pocket of money to see if we had enough to get something that day!

 

perhaps its just the online world souring them from business in general and sadly gets taken out on the customer. I still try to support our only LHS chain here in the area but usually all they have that i would need is glue, styrene stock, and scenery materials. store is now mostly rc i think for their main revenue, but staff is still friendly and prices on that stuff reasonable so I shop there and to just take me back to the childhood love of going into a packed hobbystore of fun!

 

even 45 years ago there was mail order so sort of the same thing as web buying, it was usually cheaper even with shipping and they usually had a much larger selection, but i still bought most stuff at the LHS as it was just way more fun!

 

jeff

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roadstar_na6

In my area and Germany in general most hobby shops closed down around 15-20 years ago. I remember going to model car shops all around where we live with my dad but they all disappeared long time ago. Even regular toy stores (where I got my Märklin H0 stuff from) are all closed down and while there are still a few model railroad stores around their prices are usually at around RRP and there‘s not a lot stuff I‘m personally interested in. However the older guys in my club still shop there and support their local businesses which is a good thing. I‘d love to do that, too but the few shops that do carry some japanese stock (very very small selection) have a really high margin on them and it‘s a lot cheaper to buy from Japan.

I still visit those stores just for looking at stuff but buying something there is a very rare occasion.

The future also isn‘t really bright for our hobby even tho my club‘s got quite the big youth section. On the other hand in the 15 years I‘ve been a member there I‘ve seen a lot of children come and go and members of my age (20-29) are in a very huge minority. There‘s a few guys in their mid-30s but I‘d say that 1/3 of our members is at least 50+ and a big margin of them is way over their 60‘s. Unfortunately since we moved our club house in the last few years made us not attend any shows as those usually also drew in a few interested kids over the years and I hope once we‘ll go to some shows again that‘ll happen again and the member count stays healthy.

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Nick_Burman

@Jimbo all the above replies are valid, plus one extra - attitudes towards "bluudy fuureign stoof". In another forum I frequent on and off a moron had the rashness (and stupidity) of saying to all and sundry that Japanese steam locos (the topic was explicit on steamers) only served as mechanism donors for making US locos.

 

Cheers NB

 

 

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cteno4

Yes we’ve seen some of that at shows from very traditional modelers that can be vocal at times and I’ve wondered if it’s effected some dealers not stocking “foreign” stuff. I know one old dealer that carried a lot of greenmax buildings for many years especially because he did a good business in them as many shops refused to carry them even though there was a great importer in the us bringing it in cheaply and consistently. He was happy the other shops took that position as most ended up finding him as a source then!

 

cheers

 

jeff

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roadstar_na6
39 minutes ago, cteno4 said:

I know one old dealer that carried a lot of greenmax buildings for many years especially because he did a good business in them as many shops refused to carry them

 

One man's stupidity is another man's fortune 🙂

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maihama eki

Our hobby is on the decline in the U.S.  The people that I know in my area that have an interest in model trains are all older.  None of the younger kids in my family ever had any interest in the hobby or really in other similar hobbies like model building.

 

I am happy that model railroading seems to still be relatively popular in Japan, and that the railroads seem to be generally loved by the Japanese people.  It drives new model railroad items being produced at a healthy rate by a large number of producers.

 

I would also say that outside of Japan, the people modeling Japanese railroads are very rare.  I think most of us have some connection to Japan - probably via traveling there.

 

We are lucky to have this forum to discuss this hobby among ourselves despite how few and scattered we are around the world.

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cteno4

I don’t think the hobby is dying in the us. It’s had some contraction, but most hobbies have in the last decade with modern culture. The hobby has always been an older hobby thru my lifetime. I started young at 11 and even then it was mostly starting at middle age thru retirees and over the last 45+ years it’s seemed to be the same mix pretty much. Kids rarely really get into true hobbies, most tend to have a phase here or there. I was the odd ball growing up having true hobbies I put a lot of time, effort and money into, the few others were guys fixing up cars. That was back in the 70s. Many young adults are now spending more time having to churn thru a few jobs while getting married and starting families so less time and spare money when young for hobby spending. Usually towards middle age many get the time and resources to get into hobbies like model railroading.

 

Also more group things like a club tends not to attract younger folks, so you tend not to see them involved that way. One of our local dealers of odd train bits was working a lot to find younger folks interested or beginning in the hobby and talking to them about what “group” things they would like to get involved with. Most all wanted informal events that were more like casual meetups instead of a club meeting and a local event like running trains at a small public event (Ie library, hospital, street fair) over a formal “train show”. Time investment was not big to start, but willing to increase if they found it interesting and gained a social aspect. Shopping preference was online not at a shop or show. Having a social aspect was also big that could move past just model trains. It was really interesting to hear his data and we spent a number of lunches trying to figure out how to help create an environment to foster these approaches to the hobby instead of the traditional ones which don’t tend to reach out to younger folks to actually join the hobby. Ttrak of course stood out as thing that fit this well! Also crossover from the whole robotics and maker world and even steam punk
 

the N scale industry is still churning along Pretty well in the US. There has been the big upheaval of the rise of internet shopping and issues with retail rental space rates and such changing how we buy stuff. Also events are getting increasingly more expensive to do for shows. Rental costs, insurance and security are all going up quickly on events. Internet pressure, but mainly cost of gas, food and lodging for dealers to attend shows has also gone up fast and they just can’t do a big show circuit anymore, so shows are declining from that.

cheers,

 

jeff

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cteno4
59 minutes ago, roadstar_na6 said:

One man's stupidity is another man's fortune 🙂


yes Lee always laughed about his niche business and that some of the other dealers would look a little ascant over his odd selection. He had noch, faller stuff, greenmax, Tomix, and more that most places would not bother carrying even though there were good and inexpensive suppliers out there. Little competition meant even the niches had good little chunks of business for him. He was super careful of the us stuff he sold, focusing on the things that sold well and easily and not trying to stock it all when all his competitors were.

 

jeff

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brill27mcb

He did a brisk business at the big train shows at Timonium, Maryland. Our carpooling club members always went straight to his tables first, because later in the day most of the Japanese stuff would be gone. When he stopped selling at those shows, it was a big loss for us.

 

Our club's N informal group was structured so that we set up on-the -fly large layouts for a weekend in a local meeting room we could reserve, and people and kids were welcome to come. They could just watch and ask questions, run our trains, bring the one train they might own and run it - whatever level of interest they were at. We had people of all ages, including kids (many Japanese or Japanese-American). Some of the moms got comfortable enough that they would drop the kids off and go do other things.

 

Rich K.

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cteno4

Rich,

 

yep we did the same at timmonium! Lee was great he would give our club 10% off our Unitrak for the layouts. Nice chap to boot, I ended up helping him now and then man the booth when his wife was off at lunch and stuff, he just wanted me to stand there and watch people and obviously stare to help prevent 5 finger discounts! Also the goto source for Kato, greenmax and Tomix catalogs from mokei (mokei would import the catalogs in his container and sell them at cost to his dealers, smart guy)! He would bring a carton to the train show for us to save shipping.
 

your setups were epic! That was such a great room for the events. Ardesh and I looked all over here for something like that Arounf here to try some of his event ideas but they all were not cheap unfortunately and kept killing the idea. It was great rich worked there and was a nice trade for the xmas show.

 

jeff

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Reynard Noir
Posted (edited)

I import from Japan, but only stock good quality second hand. I do ship from UK to US but it is quite expensive, $14 US minimum. I only really stock Kato, Tomix and Micro Ace. Will have a little experiment with Modemo in a few weeks give or take. So it is worth setting Ebay settings to see listings in Europe too. 

I sometime have Japanese N on sale at fairs in the UK (mostly near Cambridge) but the uptake is not huge. 

Edited by Reynard Noir

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