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railsquid

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Long-time lurker delurking... So, the other day I was wandering through Akihabara looking for computer parts, as I end up doing a couple of times a year, and stumbled upon a newly-opened model railway shop which I couldn't pass by without having a look, mainly to relive the lost childhood and all that (HO/OO British stuff, most of which I still have packed away somewhere). Anyway this shop was selling some cheap bits and pieces, among which was an N-gauge end car of one of the trains which ran on my local line until recently, and together with a bit of track I thought it would make a nice decoration for my home office...

Anyway I get home, put the car on the piece of track, and it unexpectedly awakens desires. To own more of these little things, maybe even motorised. Have them run back and forth on longer sections of track every now and again, etcetera. I am sure you know what I mean. To be honest I never really had much contact with N-gauge before and always had the impression it was expensive and a bit clunky, but that was maybe the 1980s; anyway this little vehicle not much bigger than the space bar on my keyboard has captivated me and WANT. It didn't help that the Mrs. caught sight of it, takes a close look and is all "ooh look, you can see the seats inside" and "it's got hooks at the ends, maybe you can attach some more cars like they do on real trains". Bless her.

So... fortuitously, despite living in Tokyo I have a whole room I can call my own, according to the plans 6 tatamis or about 10sqm. At this point in time it's not going to transform itself into a railway wonderland but I've got a couple of desks in here which if cleared from residual junk could support some bits of track, albeit without enough space to form a loop.

Which brings me to my actual question(s) - what kind of controller options exist these days? It looks like the basic "apply varying levels of voltage to the rails in both major polarities" kind of controllers come with basic sets, but I have heard rumours of fancy chip-based things offering more sophisticated possiblities; are there any systems available in Japan for N-gauge, and if so which are popular/good? All the better if they can be controlled from a computer.

Also (without wanting to set off a holy war) - Tomix vs Kato - these seem to be the major players (FWIW the car and track section I have are both Kato), anything I should be aware of (incompatibilities etc.?)

 

Edited by railsquid
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The Next Station Is...

Firstly - great to hear your interest has been piqued and you are certainly in the right place (both virtually and physically) to make the most of the hobby. Akihabara has plenty of shops, selling both new and second-hand items, to buy trains from. Some stores sell other things and some just sell trains. Out of curiosity, do you remember which shop or where in Akihabara you found it? I went to a few in April (on my honeymoon!) and might know the place.

 

N gauge is the 'de facto' scale in Japan, much like 00 in the UK, the quality is extremely high and the price is extremely good. Here in old blighty it'd probably cost twice as much to have half of the size of collection that I have.

 

Tomix and Kato are both high quality and there are some things that differentiate them (Kato models are more DCC friendly - that fancy digital thing you queried about - and newer Tomix Shinkansens have multiple motors and power-conducting couplings). Unless you have a particular requirement for such features then it's down to personal preference between Tomix and Kato.

 

I'd personally recommend visiting somewhere like Popondetta in Akihabara - or any other store - and picking up a catalogue to peruse at your leisure, or just looking around the forums here as there are lots of useful links and bits of information.

 

Finally, even if you've got just a small space, there are still ways to get your fix - keep an eye out for some of the inspirational small layouts on here!

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As long as you don't mix up manufacturers in one consist, you won't have to suffer any incompatibilities. The sole source of incompatibilities are the specialized couplers Tomix and Kato have on offer, if you want to upgrade from rapido couplers you will soon discover you cannot match and mix things too much. Though there is a bit of room to play with, you can put Tomix TN couplers on Micro Ace trains and Popondetta rail cars accept Kato couplers (and maybe other ones).

You can definitely run anything you want (Shinkansen, Zairaisen, German, American...) on Tomix and Kato track, you can even mix both together on the same layout through the correct piece of track.

There is probably some threads you can read on DCC and computer control in the correct sub-forum. DCC might be a limiting factor as only a some of Kato's train accept drop-in decoders, the rest will require some soldiering and intervention on the innards of your set.

If you go to Popondetta and some other shops, you would be able to pick up some cheap-ish second hand full consists if you are still unsure of yourself.

I feel for you, Akihabara is where my addiction kindled itself up.

Edited by disturbman
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albeit without enough space to form a loop.

The smallest loops (mostly for trams and short cars) could be as small as 30 cm, using the tomix R140 tracks and turnouts. For longer, more serious trains, a point to point layout is a possibility, you can even build one from straight sections only.

 

 

Which brings me to my actual question(s) - what kind of controller options exist these days? It looks like the basic "apply varying levels of voltage to the rails in both major polarities" kind of controllers come with basic sets, but I have heard rumours of fancy chip-based things offering more sophisticated possiblities; are there any systems available in Japan for N-gauge, and if so which are popular/good? All the better if they can be controlled from a computer.

 

There are analog systems, these are the cheapest and most popular in japan. You can get them from the simple analog Kato throttles to the fancy mini driving stands or radio based remote control sets of Tomix. Tomix even offers an automation box, that can be set to control a few trains with a few preset programs, including an automated back and forth shuttle of up to 3 trains.

 

Digital systems usually use DCC, which is a digital protocol transmitted through the tracks, but it requires digital decoder circuits inside each train and this is a bit costly and for non DCC ready models (like most of the japanse trains), require modification of the trains. Only some Kato sets are DCC ready, they can be easily upgraded to digital control by adding a few decoders. The rest needs soldering and/or filing and lots of fiddling.

 

Computer control is available for analog and DCC systems, the first through simple hobbist computer interfaces like the arduino family and there are commercial DCC systems with computer connection support. Tomix supports analog train automation with track sensors and other trackside digital equipment, while Kato has some DCC ready trains. First you have to decide what do you want to make and then it's easier to choose the right technology for it.

 

For trains, the main manufacturers are Kato, Tomix, Tomytec (the lower cost brand of Tomix), Modemo, Microace and Kawai. The quality is very high from every one of them. For tracks, the main brands are Kato and Tomix but trains can run on both of them and each have its good sides.

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Thanks for all the answers! I'd never heard of Popondetta before but as there's a branch in Shinjuku I'll mosey along very soon.

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Firstly - great to hear your interest has been piqued and you are certainly in the right place (both virtually and physically) to make the most of the hobby. Akihabara has plenty of shops, selling both new and second-hand items, to buy trains from. Some stores sell other things and some just sell trains. Out of curiosity, do you remember which shop or where in Akihabara you found it? I went to a few in April (on my honeymoon!) and might know the place.

 

It was on the 2nd floor (counting in the Japanese way) of this very new building, can't remember the name now. It was more like a bulk discounter for boxed railway sets than a genuine hobby shop; they hardly had any accessories or individual track. I can't tell at this point if their prices were good or not.

 

 

Finally, even if you've got just a small space, there are still ways to get your fix - keep an eye out for some of the inspirational small layouts on here!

 

 

Yes, I've found a few in the meantime. For now a straight stretch of track running along the desk will do me fine (though now I keep looking at the room and working out what I could do with the space...)

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Welcome to the madness, railsquid!

 

Why thankyou :). This is kind of addictive. What I really want is a 0-kei Shinkansen as they're my favourite type of train ever, which by necessity will have to be 4 cars, which means it's going to be masquerading as a Sanyo Shinkansen Kodama, but as I only have space for a terminal which ain't going to be Hakata I'm going to invent a fictive one-stop Sanyo Shinkansen branch line (a bit like the Gala Yuzawa line on the Joetsu Shinkansen) and there'll be a zairaisen station as well for some late Kokutetsu-era stock (which JR West seems to have plenty of anway), and a fictitious two-bit private railway which is ambitious but can only afford to buy the kind of rolling stock stock other companies throw away. Which will be enough to be going with for now. :love10:

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The smallest loops (mostly for trams and short cars) could be as small as 30 cm, using the tomix R140 tracks and turnouts. For longer, more serious trains, a point to point layout is a possibility, you can even build one from straight sections only.

 

 

There are analog systems, these are the cheapest and most popular in japan. You can get them from the simple analog Kato throttles to the fancy mini driving stands or radio based remote control sets of Tomix. Tomix even offers an automation box, that can be set to control a few trains with a few preset programs, including an automated back and forth shuttle of up to 3 trains.

 

Digital systems usually use DCC, which is a digital protocol transmitted through the tracks, but it requires digital decoder circuits inside each train and this is a bit costly and for non DCC ready models (like most of the japanse trains), require modification of the trains. Only some Kato sets are DCC ready, they can be easily upgraded to digital control by adding a few decoders. The rest needs soldering and/or filing and lots of fiddling.

 

Computer control is available for analog and DCC systems, the first through simple hobbist computer interfaces like the arduino family and there are commercial DCC systems with computer connection support. Tomix supports analog train automation with track sensors and other trackside digital equipment, while Kato has some DCC ready trains. First you have to decide what do you want to make and then it's easier to choose the right technology for it.

 

Hmm, looks like I'll have to think about that. I'll start off simple for now. Thanks for the overview :)

 

For trains, the main manufacturers are Kato, Tomix, Tomytec (the lower cost brand of Tomix), Modemo, Microace and Kawai. The quality is very high from every one of them. For tracks, the main brands are Kato and Tomix but trains can run on both of them and each have its good sides.

 

 

Yes, I was impressed with the quality, and at that size it's hard justify keeping a single unpowered end car all on its lonesome.

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Why thankyou :). This is kind of addictive. What I really want is a 0-kei Shinkansen as they're my favourite type of train ever, which by necessity will have to be 4 cars, which means it's going to be masquerading as a Sanyo Shinkansen Kodama, but as I only have space for a terminal which ain't going to be Hakata I'm going to invent a fictive one-stop Sanyo Shinkansen branch line (a bit like the Gala Yuzawa line on the Joetsu Shinkansen) and there'll be a zairaisen station as well for some late Kokutetsu-era stock (which JR West seems to have plenty of anway), and a fictitious two-bit private railway which is ambitious but can only afford to buy the kind of rolling stock stock other companies throw away. Which will be enough to be going with for now. :love10:

 

Nice idea!

 

Yap it's highly additive. I only started about 2 years ago too. Plus you're at the right place to enjoy all the Japanese modelling you can get! You could also run your trains by the hour at Popondetta and other stores that provide layout rental services just to have your own beautiful train running around and take photos/ videos of them!

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Thanks for all the answers! I'd never heard of Popondetta before but as there's a branch in Shinjuku I'll mosey along very soon.

 

If you can, avoid Popondetta for its overpriced 2nd hand stuff. It's best to step out of the Keio department store and a bit further in the direction of the Metropolitan Govt. Building. There you can find Hobby Land Pochi, which has more reasonably priced 2nd hand stuff. It's good to buy 2nd hand before getting more seriously into the hobby IMO.

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There you can find Hobby Land Pochi, which has more reasonably priced 2nd hand stuff. It's good to buy 2nd hand before getting more seriously into the hobby IMO.

Thank you Toni.  I am staying at the Shinjuku Washington in October, so this is nice and close.

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If you can, avoid Popondetta for its overpriced 2nd hand stuff. It's best to step out of the Keio department store and a bit further in the direction of the Metropolitan Govt. Building. There you can find Hobby Land Pochi, which has more reasonably priced 2nd hand stuff. It's good to buy 2nd hand before getting more seriously into the hobby IMO.

 

Curses, around the time you posted that I was in Popondetta. Thanks, I'll be sure to check that out next time (I swear I had no idea how many railway hobby stores there are around, and I know the area pretty well). As it happened I wasn't very impressed with the 2nd hand stuff available in Popondetta, but spent some time familiarising myself with stuff, and picked up a basic power unit. Then wandered over to Yodobashi Camera where it turned out I had more points than I thought, which I mainly turned into some lengths of track and an orange 103 Kokuden, which may or may not be the bee's knees of 103 models, but that'll do me fine for now. And some bits of platform, and some buffers. I was tempted by the 0-kei Shinkansen from Kato but that will be for another time.

 

Oh yes, also got a Kato catalogue, which I'll probably need to lock away from myself.

Edited by railsquid
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It was on the 2nd floor (counting in the Japanese way) of this very new building, can't remember the name now. It was more like a bulk discounter for boxed railway sets than a genuine hobby shop; they hardly had any accessories or individual track. I can't tell at this point if their prices were good or not.

 

Aha, from the receipt it appears to be the No. 1 Akihabara branch of Hobby Land Pochi. So maybe not so bad after all.

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The Next Station Is...

Aha, from the receipt it appears to be the No. 1 Akihabara branch of Hobby Land Pochi. So maybe not so bad after all.

I had a feeling it would be Hobby Land Pochi... (very close to the Mandarake building which is full of otaku goodness). I stopped by there and picked up a Tomytec model of the Hakone Tozan train that I rode on during the same trip.

 

Another option for getting your 0-kei Shinkansen fix are 'B Train Shorty' kits made by Bandai which are shortened interpretations of Japanese trains and (with optional motors and bogies) run on N-gauge track. Combine this with Tomix's tightest track (radius 103mm) and you could almost have a briefcase layout!

Edited by The Next Station Is...
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In the meantime I've seen those 'B Train Shorties' and not my cup of tea.

 

Talking of Shinkansen, in the Kato catalogue the 16 car set diagrams show only one car is motorised. Is that really enough to shift all 16 cars? (Not that it's a problem I'm likely to encounter in the forseeable future, just wondering).

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squid,

 

yep they work pretty well with on car motorized w/o a grade. might be an issue with much of a grade. 

 

tomix is a bit umphier with the two motor cars and the all wheel pickup.

 

cheers

 

jeff

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If you can, avoid Popondetta for its overpriced 2nd hand stuff. It's best to step out of the Keio department store and a bit further in the direction of the Metropolitan Govt. Building. There you can find Hobby Land Pochi, which has more reasonably priced 2nd hand stuff. It's good to buy 2nd hand before getting more seriously into the hobby IMO.

 

Oh yeah. Hobby Land Pochi. I know them from Osaka. They had two really good shops there. Though Popondetta had a comparable selection of second hand stuff in price, and many more in quantity.

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Can I suggest some more shops?  

 

Imon: http://www.imon.co.jp/MODELS/INDEX083.MBR/SHOP

Heard of this but have yet to visit, nor receive any feedback on this...

 

Tam Tam: Tam Tam site is misbehaving now and refusing to show up... But i'm sure they have stores in many places of Tokyo, probably Akihabara. I think Tam Tam has discounts like up to 30%, but I'm not sure if they carry 2nd hands...

 

Then of course there's FModels at Akihabara.

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Can I suggest some more shops?  

 

Imon: http://www.imon.co.jp/MODELS/INDEX083.MBR/SHOP

Heard of this but have yet to visit, nor receive any feedback on this...

 

Tam Tam: Tam Tam site is misbehaving now and refusing to show up... But i'm sure they have stores in many places of Tokyo, probably Akihabara. I think Tam Tam has discounts like up to 30%, but I'm not sure if they carry 2nd hands...

 

Then of course there's FModels at Akihabara.

 

Thanks, looks like I need to arrange more time in Akihabara...

 

Meanwhile, has anyone been to the Tokyo Hobby Center Kato? It seems to have been opened relatively recently (and is annoyingly a few minutes away from where I used to live).

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squid,

 

yep they work pretty well with on car motorized w/o a grade. might be an issue with much of a grade. 

 

tomix is a bit umphier with the two motor cars and the all wheel pickup.

 

Wow. I just imagined my OO motive power units trying to pull that number of coaches, not a pretty sight. Mind you the little 3-car 103 set I now call my own is pretty snappy and I can imagine it easily powering a few more unpowered cars.

 

Talking of motors, would I be correct in thinking the motor is mounted within the car and drives the bogies via a sort of camshaft arrangement?

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Yep, center motor with two drive shafts that connect to a universal joint and worm gear on top of the gear chain in each truck. Pretty standard in most all n scale powered chassises.

 

Cheers

 

Jeff

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I would like to add that flywheels are increasingly common, so much that nowdays even cheaper modells have them. Also there are two common construction types for the mainframes. One is a plastic frame with metal strips carrying power from the bogies to the motor in the middle, the other is the split metal frame version, where the inside of the power unit is made out of two solid metal halfs with the motor and the cardans between the two halfs and these two halfs carry the power from the bogies to motor. The first is usually found in emu's, where you have to see through the car above the motor, the second is usually for locomotives where maximal traction power is important. The kokuden you have is the cheapest and least sophisticated variant you can get, so most new motors are even better. Older ones, you can usually find used, may have some older drive, which might be a less optimal solution, including using spring worms instead of cardan shafts. You might want to avoid them as they are not as good and reliable as modern drives.

 

ps: Many modern H0 locomotives follow the same arrangement, with a large centally mounted motor driving all axles through cardans, so they are as powerful as their N scale variants. On the other hand, some British N scale drives still have a single bogie propulsion, like my 4cep unit, where only 1 end bogie is driven from the 8 bogies and it can only manage 1 extra car on a flat surface. (so running a whole dummy set coupled to it is not viable)

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Thanks, looks like I need to arrange more time in Akihabara...

 

Meanwhile, has anyone been to the Tokyo Hobby Center Kato? It seems to have been opened relatively recently (and is annoyingly a few minutes away from where I used to live).

I'll be going in October.

 

But for you, take the Toei Subway Oedo Line and get off at station number E33.  Get a daily pass for 700 yen if you like.

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