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Takenodai Ekidori Shelf Layout


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I thought I'd slowly document the process of making my first layout. This post contains an overview of the final model. Other sections I've written or plan to write are:


I bought my first train last year - a bright yellow n-scale Kato Sobu 101 - and was looking for inspiration for a new layout to build around it. I needed something relatively modest, since this would be the first one I've constructed and I didn't want to set myself up for over-achievers failure, creating more work then I had the time or inclination to put myself to. I've been obsessed with Japan since living in Yokahama as a very young child. Clearly my purchase of the Kato was part of this obsession, and I was keen to build some (probably poor) approximation of a Japanese environment around it. The Sobu train runs on the Seibu Kokunbunji line in Tokyo, so I followed the route on Google Maps looking for an area that I could use as a subject. Eventually, I found a small, pedestrian-feeling street called Takenodai Ekidori in the west of the city, which I've used as the basis for this layout.


I've tried to copy the houses quite accurately, and the general layout of the area a bit more freely. The street itself is longer, and Takenodai Station is a bit larger than I planned, so I've created a fictional station of my own. I've been working on this layout for a while now, so I'm late in terms of posting progress here. Sorry. I thought I'd use this first post to show where I am right now with construction, then use a few subsequent posts to go back through some of the process, then show a bit more detail as I finish up.


Comments and feedback very welcome, although obviously I'm pretty committed at this point since I'm about 80% of the way through! 🙂

So here's where I am now.


This model is a 240cm by 27cm "shelf" layout. I just ended up with those dimensions based on my decisions of what track length to use, and how much of the street I wanted to copy. It's electrified, with one point. The street basically runs along one side, with a small rise on the other. Here's a video of the whole layout, and a bunch of shots.









At this end of the layout is a small canal, crossed by the street and the track.





The station entrance is scratch made, with stairs that rise up to a Kato Suburban station. 









A row of small shops and restaurants line the street. These are all scratch made, based on images that I captured through Google Street View (I'll get into the process of this in a later post). Here are some general macro shots of different parts of the layout.




















I've used LED-based street lighting along the length of the street, and dismantled a few of the lamp posts in order to build lighting into the shops and the station. The various cars and buses also have lights in them, although they need different power to the other LEDs, and I haven't quite figured out how to manage that yet. The LEDs are pretty effective in the station (since I took this shot I've closed off the visible gap at the bottom of the station columns, so they're a little cleaner). The mix of warm and cool LEDs seems to create a realistic effect, although it was a happy accident after buying two seperate batches of street lamps that didn't match. I've lit most of the shops from within, too. Here's a YouTube video of the layout "at night".



Anyway, that's where I'm at. I still have a bunch of tidying up to do. More greenery to add, as well as people. The sides need painting, and possibly more road markings and signs. If anyone has suggestions for small details to add I'd love to hear them. As I mentioned above, I'll put together more detail and photos about the process I went through to get to this point in subsequent posts. If anyone has any specific questions please let me know.


Next: Planning Process



Edited by RMB
Updating images and added index
  • Like 13
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Nice work rmb! Love the lazy little street feel. Keep us posted on your progress, it’s always so wonderful to see these thing evolve and become alive!





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Looks great! Almost a diorama. Some cars, trucks, buses and people would add to the feel. Any plans to extend it in the future?


Cheers eh,




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10 hours ago, tossedman said:

Looks great! Almost a diorama. Some cars, trucks, buses and people would add to the feel. Any plans to extend it in the future?


Cheers eh,





Thanks, Todd.


Yes, people and scenery are definitely next on the list. I've got a set of the Tomytec Human packs that I'm going to start integrating with the layout, which will include a few more cars and some cyclists/mopeds. Should make a big difference, if I can get a reasonable density of people. 


No plans to extend, though. This fits perfectly on the shelf in my office, so I think this is as far as I'm going to go. 🙂 I'd like to do some kind of loop for the next one, but I think it would need to be collapsible, just because I don't have the space for anything extensive. Maybe a couple of longer T-Trak modules connected with a couple of curves. I found this online, which I thought was an interesting, simple direction:


What's the difference between a detailed layout and a diorama, do you think?


  • Like 4
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This is exactly the sort of layout that appeals to me - a typical suburban station. I'm doing something similar in 1/80th scale, based on a station in Yonago. I really like what you've done so far, particularly the lighting, and will be following your progress. 

All the best,




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I'm glad to see that I managed to "trick you" into posting your work here.  😄


As I said before I think the lighting looks really well made. It's the right amount of light in the right places and the mix of white and yellow light is good.


And I want to learn your skills in making scratch built houses.


I'm looking forward to see how it will develop. Obviously the big things are already there, but I'm curious about what will happen when you add people and all that little "clutter" that lines the sides of the roads in Japan.


8 hours ago, RMB said:

What's the difference between a detailed layout and a diorama, do you think?


I think a layout is something you drive (operate) trains on, whereas a diorama can be static, or if it has moving trains there aren't meaningful operating decisions. Obviously there is some overlap between the terms.



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18 hours ago, MeTheSwede said:

I'm looking forward to see how it will develop. Obviously the big things are already there, but I'm curious about what will happen when you add people and all that little "clutter" that lines the sides of the roads in Japan.


I've started dropping a few people in. They seem to look quite lonely 🙂

By little "clutter" do you mean all the signs, bicycles etc?



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12 hours ago, Szdfan said:

RMB, I’d love to hear about your structure scratch building techniques.


I'll definitely get to that! Not sure I'm doing it "right", but stay tuned.

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16 minutes ago, RMB said:


I'll definitely get to that! Not sure I'm doing it "right", but stay tuned.

The beauty of it is that there isn’t a right way. I’m seriously also considering scratch building structures to save on cost.

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Just wanted to prove that there actually IS a train on this layout 🙂 Here's a shot of the Sobu 101 pulling out of the station.

Very tempted to get the interior lighting for this now, though. Always one more thing to do!




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As promised in the previous post, I wanted to jump back a bit to show some early process in creating this layout. This is the first layout I've ever created, so it has been quite a learning experience for me. I lived in Japan as a really young child, and remember my dad having some n-scale trains and tracks, which were quite expensive and I don't think I was allowed to play with. But they stuck in my mind as really beautiful. My dad started various layouts with them, although I don't think he finished any.


So finally, as a 50 year old adult, 44 years after leaving Japan, I bought my own - a shiny Kato Sobu 101 train, with four carriages, and a bunch of Kato Unitrack. I'm not sure why I bought this model other than the fact that I love the Japanese suburban trains. The 101 has a lovely sense of history to it, in the design, and the yellow colouring is beautiful.


Since I had the trains, I was now looking for inspiration for a layout for them to sit in. Somehow I figured out that the 101 ran/runs on the Seibu Kokunbunji line West out of central Tokyo, so I literally followed the route as closely as I could using Google Maps and Street View, noting down little buildings and details that I might be able to pull together into a design. Eventually I found Takenodai Ekidori, which felt like it had everything I needed - a small section of track running parallel to a pedestrianised street.




I have a background in design, so my "go to" tool for layouts is Adobe Illustrator. I measured and copied the various pieces of Kato track that I wanted into the software, making my own templates of each piece, and then did a series of simple layouts, loosely copying the street and track that I'd found in the map. I started by mapping out the rough track positions, then started adding details such as the canal at the Southern end of the street, and the green areas to the East, as well as rough positions of some of the houses. I wasn't going for total accuracy. Having access to maps like Google's is an amazing resource for figuring things out.


Various Kato Unitrack track piece "templates", mocked-up in Adobe Illustrator:



A couple of layout variations, using the track pieces:





Settling on a layout, playing with the position of the points and the road, and gradually inserting some rough building positions:







The next step for me was to print my layout onto multiple sheets of paper at n-scale, and to build up a simple 3D prototype in cardboard. I laid the track out on this just to make sure I got the dimensions right. Then I copied this mock-up into wood, using a combination of a sheet of MDF and some batons that I had in my garage at home. A added a small raised section in hardboard to the wooden version where the track would run.


Cardboard mock-up with Kato Unitrack:



Cardboard mock-up with wood model:



At this point I had a good base for the layout, and felt like the design I'd created wasn't going to be too much for me to handle as a first model. I've worried throughout about taking on too much, and running out of steam to actually get it finished, which is why I went for the small shelf layout. The next step from here was to build up some of the terrain. I'll post about that next time. Thanks for reading!


Next: Hills, Roads and Tracks

Edited by RMB
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Very nice layout! I'm also mesmerized by the ornate fireplace and color/decor of the room 😜 Please post photos of the diorama when it's finished and placed on your shelf. I'm very interested to see where people display their dioramas in their home.

Edited by ZandT
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On with the build diary. In the last post I published a few weeks ago I described how I got the inspiration for my layout, and how I roughly sketched it out, first digitally, then in sheets of paper, then cardboard and finally in wood. One of my next steps was to move on from figuring out the rough layout of the track, to getting comfortable with other elements, particularly the low hill to one side, the position of the station, the road location and the early positions of shops on the street.


I roughed all of these out in SketchUp, which is used for quick architectural models. I imported the image I'd done in Adobe illustrator to set the proportions of everything, and then started doing some extrusions on one side to create the rough hill, then dropped in a couple of boxes the size of the Kato stations I was planning on using. I also played around with rough positions for a few trees and posts.








With this done, I had enough to add some shape, starting with the hills. I did this in paper mache, first making ribs out of cardboard, then covering it with layers of newspaper soaked in mixture of flour and water. Once dry I painted this in brown.


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I covered the road and the slightly elevated area where the track would go with some Woodland Scenics' Smooth It, then a coat of their Top Coat Concrete on the road, and yellow paint on the area where I was expecting to put dried grass and track.




Having never made a layout before I was pretty nervous about ballasting the track, so I also did a practice run of this on a small piece of wood which had a short piece of Kato track nailed into it. I mixed up my own imitation of Kato ballast using a couple of varieties from Woodland Scenics, based on this recipe from Thomas Tuerke. This is the first chance I got to practice using watered-down PVA for ballasting, dripped from a cheap plastic pipette. I also started playing around with grass effects on this practice piece, using a combination of green and brown grasses, and a few bushes.


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Having got up a bit of nerve to do the real thing I moved back to the main layout. I nailed down the track, including the bridge at the canal end of the board. I fixed in the Kato station, and also started adding a bit of fencing along side the track, mostly for fun. Then I ballasted the line from one end to the other. I found this whole process quite therapeutic!


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Next time I'll write a little about the process of scratch-building the shops. Thanks for reading this far!


Next: Buildings

Edited by RMB
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In the last build diary I wrote about the basic work I'd done to form the environment for this layout. I thought next I'd jump into the work I'd done in scratch-building some of the shops and homes. That probably isn't the right next step for building out a layout, but I was looking forward to this bit so got a head start. This layout was inspired as much by my fascination for Japanese buildings and styles as it was for the trains, so I wanted to invest a bit of time here.


Google Street View is an amazing resource for scratch building since you can get a lot of the primary elevations, and roughly estimate the size of everything using it and the basic satellite view. I spent a bit of time using it to screen grab shots of the different buildings I planned to create on Takenodai Ekidori. One nice aspect of Street View on the desktop is that you can go back through the history of shots taken by the Google car, so you can choose from different views of the same building. This is quite useful for shops, particularly, so you can see what they look like when they are open or shuttered, at various points of the day.








I used Street View to start blocking out the buildings one by one by eye into my layout in Sketchup (see previous post), using an estimate of 13 or 14mm per story. Each of the structures was bisected by the edge of the layout, so I modelled the buildings to be cut short at the edge of the layout. I used a rough thickness of 0.9mm for the walls and floor to be able to scratch build the structures using that thickness of styrene sheet.






Once I'd modelled a full structure I hid the rest of the layout, then exported images from each elevation into eps file format so I had vectors that I could scale (rather than as bitmap images). I dropped each of these images into Illustrator, assembling them together as a "working sheet" at 1:150 scale, so I could measure off as I built. I added a perspective image to the sheet just to remind myself of what each building looks like.




I printed out the layout at full size and then used it to measure off the pieces I needed to cut from the sheet. I usually just started with the floor, then built up the walls and other elements, gluing each together with plastic weld as I went (held by hand or magnets). Finally, I put together the roof, which I left loose so I could access the insides to insert an LED etc. I sprayed each model in a light grey undercoat just to get rid of the white plastic of the sheet, and give a good base for paint, and then detailed each, roughly following the colour schemes on Street View.










The final thing I did was grab images of the windows of each property on Street View and print these out on transparency film on my inkjet printer. Then I mounted a really thin sheet of paper behind the windows. This gives a nice effect during the day since it provides a white backdrop to the windows, and then helps diffuse the light of the LEDs when the building is lit up at night.














Next: Details

Edited by RMB
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On 6/3/2021 at 11:37 AM, ZandT said:

Very nice layout! I'm also mesmerized by the ornate fireplace and color/decor of the room 😜 Please post photos of the diorama when it's finished and placed on your shelf. I'm very interested to see where people display their dioramas in their home.

I'm going to second a fascination of 21st century modeling in the architectural context implied by the background details of your home/apartment. Our house dates to 1780 and I like the juxtapositions created by my Japanese hobby-ing and the austerity of our Anglo-Dutch era colonial American home.


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