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Watching “Midnight Diner” rekindled a long-forgotten railroad passion


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Hi my name is Clif Linton and I live in the San Francisco Bay area.


I've been a life-long train prototype and model enthusiast. I was born in Chicago and am developing an N-scale layout based on that prototype. However . . . 


I’ve been watching a lot of TV lately. That’s because I’m recovering from rotator cuff surgery on my left shoulder. That has limited a lot of my activities. One of the programs I found recently is “Midnight Diner”.


It’s a slice-of-life show set at a Tokyo izakaya in the Shinjuku Prefecture. An izakaya is a bar that serves drinks and snacks. The one in the Netflix show is open from Midnight to 7 am. Hence, the name. The show is like a more somber version of Cheers. There’s no laugh track. It’s also a foodie show in that the featured character or characters orders a dish of the episode. It's more than just ramen or sushi. 


What does this have to do with trains?


The railroad connection occurs during the opening credits. A camera is mounted in a car driving through Tokyo at night. Early in the shot, the car approaches and passes under the railroad tracks just north of the Shinjuku railroad station. Later, an overhead shot shows more trains.


Seeing those trains got me thinking about Japanese railroads. I didn’t know much about them aside from the Bullet Train or “Shinkansen”. When I was 6-years old, my parents took a trip to Japan. They brought back a pamphlet about the bullet train. I wore it out, paging through it and poring over the pictures. I don’t know what happened to it. 


The show exposed me to a less-glamorous aspect of Japanese railroads: the commuter train. Tokyo is teeming with them, as I found out. 


On reflection, it makes sense that I’m attracted to these trains. My American model railroad interest is in  Chicago terminal railroading. It’s gritty railroading. It is industrial switching, yard ops and transfer runs. My prototype, the B&OCT, hosted some B&O and C&O long-distance passenger trains. The B&O’s Capitol Limited was the most glamorous. No commuter trains, however. 


Back to Japanese trains and “Midnight Diner. In a five-second shot in the opening credits, I saw several trains pass on the bridge over the road. That was typical rail traffic, I learned. Shinjuku Station is the busiest railroad station in the world. This led me to start checking out YouTube videos and plunged down a rabbit hole. There’s a whole world of Tokyo train videos. I have yet to watch them all. I do have a life. I also started looking at web pages about modeling Japanese trains. So far, I have found a lot less material. I think there’s a lot written in Japanese that’s not showing in my browser. 


Ultimately, I started researching whether Japanese model trains are available in the U.S. Not widely. 


There’s a lot available in N scale from Kato and Tomix in Japan. N scale is very popular in Japan given the lack of living space and accompanying hobby space. On this side of the Pacific Ocean, most retailers don’t carry Japanese prototype models. The access hatch to the Japanese model train market is eBay. I found all kinds of stuff available for international shipping. My itchy trigger finger went to work and I bought a model commuter train. 


Now, I need a layout for it. It won’t run on the B&OCT. 


My idea is to build a small display layout. It would feature a single station serving two train lines. The operational feature will be the arrival and departure of trains from this station. There’s no switching or changing tracks. 


I’m thinking of modeling the Takadanobaba station. It’s a stop and transfer point on both the JR East’s busy Yamanote Line and the Seibu-Shinjuku Railway. The Yamanote Line serves an island-platform station. The Seibu line serves a two-platform station with the platforms on the east side of each track. There’s a connection between the two stations via a pedestrian bridge. That overhead passageway also crosses another two JR East tracks that carry trains on the Saikyo Line and Shonan-Shinjuku Line. The Siebu-Shinjuku Railway is run by an independent company and offers suburban service. 


The JR East's Yamanote Line is a circular 21.4 mile double-tracked line serving 30 stations. (see map) There are 50 trains constantly circling on this line, which during rush hour has 2-minute headways. The only comparable prototype in the U.S. might be the Chicago Transit Authority’s loop trackage in downtown Chicago. It serves eight stations over 1.79 miles. But, there is no longer a dedicated local train circulating. 


A small display layout could be a valuable learning experience for me. It will give me a chance to try scenery on a limited scale. Since we’re in Tokyo, the emphasis will be urban scenery (structures . . . and lots of them). I’m thinking of adding sound, semi- or fully automatic operations. Lots of lights and details. 


My goal is not faithfully replicating the prototype. I don’t have the space. I want a reasonable representation. All the important elements need to be captured. I’m going for the effect. I’d like the viewer to think they’re looking at a miniature slice of Tokyo. This presents the challenge to accurately represent Japanese architecture? Can I replicate the density? Google Earth and Google Maps street view are invaluable resources for research. I expect be doing a lot of kitbashing and scratchbuilding.


One thing about the Tokyo commuter train system: it runs on narrow gauge track. I will not be modeling Nn3. The trains are made to run on standard-gauge N scale track. As a result, the models are 1:150 scale, rather than 1:160 scale.

I'm eager to get started, because a Seibu Line train that I ordered, arrived recently. I have a few details to add to my layout concept document, which I'll share soon. Rough track planning has started. I  discovered that I may have less scenic space available than I thought only have 3.5 square feet. (That's 0.325 square meters.)


Enough talk. It's time to roll up my sleeves and get started. Looking forward to conversations with this community. I will need help.

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@Linton12 welcome to the forum. Sorry to hear about the shoulder, I had frozen shoulder in both shoulders a couple years apart (shoveling stupid snow!), and know how debilitating and painful it can be, but luckily both were worked out with pt and chiropractor and no surgery (but the shoulder doc sure wanted to to that right off the bat even though it turned out not to be a rotator cuff tear!). Hope the recovery is speedy for you and you can get back to life.


once you get into the forums here you will see how easily available Japanese trains here in the states. It’s easy to export them from several excellent sources in japan. Shipping is a bit expensive right now due to covid as only express options available, but hopefully once air travel starts back up again the more inexpensive shipping (about priority mail rates) will come back and take just a couple of weeks. Once and a while ModelTrainStuff will have some Japanese trains available at ok prices. Smattering shows up on ebay in the us. We also have a classified forum here for sales between members once you get to 25 posts. This topic can get you started and the supplier forum has a ton discussions on suppliers and using yahoo auctions in Japan (everything Japanese rail is there).




Kato Unitrak and Tomix finetrack are excellent sectional tracks, but most all Japanese stock works fine on all normal n gauge track. Kato unitrak is readily available in the us most everywhere n scale is sold and Walthers has a deal with Tomix to bring over Tomix track and buildings, but that has kind of fizzled out as the price they set in the us was 50-100% more than you could easily get it from japan. Some older Japanese cars, like older us and euro cars, may have larger pizza cutter wheels that won’t work well with code 55. Most all Japanese rail is 1067mm gauge except for shinkansen and a few commuter and subway that are standard gauge. The 1/150 scale is a compromise to make the trains a bit bigger on scale standard gauged n gauge rail. Shinkansen trains are scaled at 1/160 so they scale correct to n gauge standard gauge track. Most all buildings and accessories are at 1/150 scale. This also is a nice cheat as it’s close to uk 1/148 n scale and 1/144 modeling.


lots of fun Japanese train shows. Nhk has a bunch they do with railroading and on most cable systems, over the air digitally in some places I think, and a lot on their website to stream.




These will only get your juices going more to see the variety of trains and the fact trains go just about everywhere in japan. That’s what makes doing Japanese modeling so fun as about anything you dream up to do you can find a prototype for and just about anything shows up right next or over a rail line! Not the same zoning restrictions as well so mashing up stuff in limited modeling space is totally prototypical!


poke around the forum, you will find a ton of information! Feel free to ask questions.


enjoy your new hobby.



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Hi Cliff, welcome to the forum.  There's a few of us on the forum from the Bay Area and before Covid a couple of the members ran Japanese trains at the local trains shows.  I actually just met up with railtunes to have lunch and talk trains.  Hiller Aviation Museum is planning a model train show in April - waiting to see if the N scale clubs will be attending.  railtunes who has his own modules depicting various scenes in Asian, not just Japan is still contemplating whether to participate.  Search AsiaNrail on the forum and see past postings of the shows.  Like Jeff said, you won't normally find Japanese models here in the states but are quite accessible from Japan and shared a list of the online retailers.  There's 2 retailers that many of us use and offer great customer service - I think better that what we get here IMO.  Lots of great info here and good folks.

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On 1/21/2022 at 9:36 PM, Linton12 said:

. I  discovered that I may have less scenic space available than I thought only have 3.5 square feet. (That's 0.325 square meters.)

Hello Cliff, 


A big hearty welcome. 3.5' is loads of space and I for one am excited to see what you create in it 🙂 My layout is only 162 square inches and includes a passing loop and a hidden sideing !!! So you should be fine with 3.5 square feet 👍

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