Sidebar: Japanese N Scale

Japanese N Scale is either 1:150 or 1:160, although 1:150 is much more prevalent; both use 9 mm track. Modeling Japanese railways is complicated by the fact that four different track gauges exist in Japan:

  • 3' 6", a.k.a. Cape Gauge (~14,000 miles of track)
  • 4' 8˝", a.k.a. Standard Gauge (~2,500 miles)
  • 4' 6", a.k.a. Scotch Gauge or "Coach Gauge" in Japan (~60 miles)
  • 2' 6" (~30 miles)

The Japanese National Railway and other major private railways use Cape Gauge. Evidently this gauge arrived in Japan via the British and European consultants hired by the Japanese to build their first railways.

The track for Shinkansen or "Bullet Trains" in Japan is standard gauge, so modelers of such railways are correct when using a scale of 1:160.

Then there's the Keiō and a few other small private railways, as well as Tokyo tramways, which use Scotch Gauge.

Image courtesy of Railway Gazette.

So, where did 1:150 come from? Some discussions on Japanese modeling forums suggest the manufacturers of the 1960s chose 1:150 as a compromise based on similar issues faced by the British: fitting motors in generally smaller Japanese trains required going larger, and the thinking evidently was that it sort of helped improve the appearance of 9 mm track in light of Japan's narrower gauges. Some contend Scotch Gauge is the origin of 1:150, since 9 mm track at 1:150 is very close, but there's no evidence to support this; besides, the gauge is rare in Japan, making it an odd choice on which to standardize; it would seem this is more likely a coincidence.

With today's modeling tastes shifting toward greater accuracy, 1:150 creates a problem for more discriminating modelers using 9 mm track. It's not suitable to represent Cape Gauge, the most widely-used track gauge in Japan, because 9 mm at 1:150 scales to 4' 5"—too wide by more than a foot. Working in the other direction, using 9 mm track to represent Cape Gauge requires a modeling scale of 1:119. A small number of modelers use TT Scale (1:120) with 9 mm track to more accurately represent Japanese Cape Gauge railways. Others use Z Gauge track (6.5 mm) in N Scale, although it's too narrow, measuring 3' 2" at 1:150 and 3' 4˝" at 1:160. Japanese modelers also face the issue that not all Japanese manufacturers make 1:150 models; some are 1:160, meaning they can't be mixed without looking odd. Despite all of these issues, N Scale is extremely popular in Japan.

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