Village Buildings

On the River Crossing scene part of the layout there is a small cluster of buildings nestled within the loop of the track against the river. This is intended to represent a typical urban area mixing residential, light industrial and commercial buildings (Tōkyō, and apparently Japan in general, doesn’t zone construction to prevent such mixed use). This page details the buildings and other non-landscape scenery in this area. Several of these models were first purchased for my original N-scale Kitchen Table Layout.

After trying to arrange plastic buildings on the layout and not having much luck producing a workable street pattern, I created an outline in a drawing program (omnigraffle) and added individual building rectangles scaled to fit (the outline isn’t exact, so testing against the actual scenery will be required). Then I started pushing them around to make something that worked. When I had problems, I found more possible buildings and included them. I also assumed I could remove the bases of some of the buildings (generally the ones with bulky sidewalks) to allow a closer, and I think more realistic, fit. My best plan so far, but by no means a final one, is shown below. As you can see, three of the possible buildings didn’t get used.

Possible Village design (three buildings unused)

Electrical Substation

This building was a kit, Tomix 4023, Substation (sectional) , which I built to represent the kind of small substation used to provide power to a railway line or a small industrial area (in my case, it’s both). I detailed the construction of this, and the prototypes it is based on, in a Musing. I modified this kit during construction, painting all of the parts, and adding a large transformer (a resin casting I’d picked up separately) and changing the roof (it’s made from fine-grit sandpaper, and the roof vents from the kit were omitted. The end result is pretty good, although it needs to be integrated into the complete scene once that’s done. Although you can’t see it in this photo, there is a simple interior with one figure near a window, and another figure standing on the outside stairway on the far side of the building. A yellow LED provides interior light, with a very warm, dim incandescent glow typical of older lighting.

The footprint of this structure is 70 x 140 mm at the base.

The substation kit, with interior lighting

View from the other side

Gas Station

This is a Tomix pre-made building, Tomix Gas Station (ENEOS, 4064), which represents a typical small gas station that would be found in an urban area, with a wall around three sides of the lot, and a small mini-store, a service bay, and a tiny car wash (in this kind of car wash you park the car, and an arch moves back and forth over the car). The only problem with it is that the building is a single story, and urban gas stations almost always have retail or residential space on a second floor. But I don’t think I’m going to try adding that. This building was held together with screws and glue, but came apart fairly easily despite that. The big problem with it was that it was made of a slick plastic, rather than simple styrene, and ordinary plastic cement wouldn’t touch it. Modifications to it have been delayed while I consider how to work around that issue. I said a few words about the early work in this musing, and haven’t done much since.

Detailing work on this consisted of painting, and adding a few structural bits: support beams on the roof over the pumps and added-height splash guards on the walls near the car wash. Some extra material was removed from the base where it would have stuck out into the sidewalk area in front of the station. Work stalled when the slick plastic caused problems with attaching other parts, and I’m presently re-thinking what I want to do. The more I look at it, the less I like this model. The level of detail is just too coarse.

The footprint of this structure after I removed the very front of the apron is 110 x 149 mm, a rather awkward size to fit in my village. In the end, I don’t think I’m going to use it here; it’s just too large for the scene. I’m pretty much resigned to scratch-building something much smaller to fit available space. I may cut parts off it though, and use them.

Gas Station 3845
Gas Station, before modifications

Kato Apartments

I’m using two identical (except for color) Kato apartment buildings in this scene, Gilbert Gardens Apartments, 23-402A (blue) and Roselle Road House, 23-402B (brown). These model an upscale apartment building, each apartment with two bedrooms and a living room, plus kitchen and bath, and four apartments per building. Each unit has a private balcony (often used for clothes-drying in Japan).

As bought, these were in colors that I didn’t much like. They also have large windows that make the lack of an interior painfully obvious if illumination is added, which I planned to do. Detailing these was described in my initial set of three Musings (one, two and three) on the village buildings. This consisted of repainting it, as well as adding interior wall structures (it came with a second floor) and detailing those with photos of walls and flooring, as well as adding lighting.

The footprint of these structures is 70 x 120 mm, an odd size for Kato but one that works well with Tomix buildings, which are often 70mm deep. I expect I will use one of these in the Village, and the other will likely end up elsewhere on the layout.

Kato Apartments, before modifications

Kato Apartment Building, with interior and lighting

This model comes with an interior floor between the two levels. As described in the musings noted above, I supplemented this with a floor/wall unit I made from sheet styrene. The body also has a horizontal flat top above the second floor, and I cut holds in this to lighting could be placed in the roof. For the lower floor, there was sufficient room above the windows to attach LED strip lights to the underside of the upper floor, although the resulting light was quite bright, and I’ll need to add a resistor to tone it down for the final assembly.

Tomix Apartments

Following my theme of an urban residential area, there’s a third apartment building, this one the Tomix Apartment House with Red Roof (4026). This models a lower-income residence with a small room and a bath area on the entry side, and a pair of rooms (one larger) on the back, either a one or two-bedroom apartment with a small kitchen area. The balcony on the back side is shared with a small wall dividing the two halves, while the entrance is via a balcony on the front.

This is a problematic model. The large windows on the back make an interior desirable, but the walls and roof are a single casting, with little room for lighting. I’ll probably illuminate only the upper floor, and put curtains on the lower one, leaving the rooms dark. The single-casting nature also made it very difficult to paint the interior (in preparation for lighting) and despite careful masking I ended up with black on the exterior, leaving me no choice but to paint over it with a white primer coat and re-do the exterior paint. This was a nuisance, as the color was actually quite good for both the roof (colorful metal roofs are common in Japan) and the stucco exterior.

I expect I will discard the base, and that will allow the building to more tightly fit its location, with street immediately outside the entrance ramp. Footprint is 53 x 105 mm without the base.

tomix appts 2095
Tomix Apartments, before modification

This building is actually fairly easy to adapt. There’s no interior, but the small windows (the ones on the back are larger) and external balconies and catwalks make it difficult to see inside. The walls and roof are a single casting, and while the narrow shape makes it hard to paint the inside, it’s not too hard as long as you accept that this means painting the outside also. I did two coats of flat black on the inside for a light block, then added a several coats of flat white on the inside and outside to hide the black, creating a primer on the outside and a reflective surface on the inside. Because the roof is not removable, final exterior paint involved masking the roof, painting the outside walls a “concrete” color, waiting for that to dry, and then masking the walls and painting the roof. A similar approach was used on the balconies, although a raw wood brown was used for these (the roof on both portions was painted “dull red”). However, the extra space above the second floor makes adding lighting under the roof much easier.

The Bike Shop

This started life as a Bachmann Plasticville Drive-In Hamburger Stand 45709, which was pre-built with a simple interior and a plastic parking lot with a couple of car bodies. I never took a good “before” photo of this, and removed the parking lot section early on. That part with its pre-attached car shells just didn’t fit the look I wanted. The photo below is the best I have. It was converted into a small retail establishment selling bicycles. The roof definitely needed a different color, and the original body was both an odd color and a bit too “plastic”. The original sign, which read “Hamburgers” in English, was simply discarded and replaced with a sign on the front.

With the original base removed, the footprint of this building is 42 x 60 mm at the foundation, or 59 x 66 mm at the eaves. Front overhang is 10mm, so the foundation needs to be at least that far back from a road.

Bachmann Drive-Thru 1812 Bike Shop Painted 4513
The Bike Shop, before modifications, and after addition of some interior structures and initial painting

Bike Shop - Lit with Bikes 4686
The finished shop with lighting and interior details

This one was a bit troublesome to work on, as the walls and floor were a single casting, with roof, windows, and interior structures using tabs glued in place. Except for the windows, which were really just sheets of plastic, not molded to the window openings, it came apart fairly easily, but the windows were well glued and broke on removal. They’ll be replaced with more transparent sheet plastic.

Work on this involved blocking off the rear third to suggest a back room (complete with an exterior door and one inside) and addition of a viewblock on the upper quarter of the windows so the ceiling-mounted LED strip wouldn’t be visible. Interior decor consisted of photographs glued to the walls/floor, along with re-using the counter that came with it and some brush painting of a light color for the walls to provide a neutral color for any parts visible around the photographs. I also installed several model bicycles glued to the floor with Woodland Scenics tacky glue used for placing figures.

A base paint color of “concrete” was used (on top of the usual black light block and white primer), to suggest the rough stone exterior is a fake casting rather than real mortared stone, which wouldn’t be appropriate to Japan. Additional paint was brush-painted, including silver trim around the windows to suggest framing, and brown for the interior wooden door. The roof-top air conditioner received some fresh paint too, as I had to file off some mold marks on the original, exposing the underlying tan plastic. Finally, the roof was painted gray to simulate a gravel roof (which goes with the texture on it), this was both darker and flatter than the original gray color, which didn’t look natural to me.

Traditional Shop

What kind of Japanese layout would it be without at least one stereotypical “Japanese” building? And surprisingly, you can still find these structures in the heart of a modern city, occupying small lots sandwiched between newer, and often much taller, buildings. I have two Kato models, and I haven’t yet decided if I’ll use one or both. Kato actually makes six buildings like this (plus a few other traditional-style buildings) with fairly minor variations. All represent a small family shop of some kind on the ground floor, with a residence above it. I have the Diotown Shop with Traditional Eaves 1, 23-450A, and the smaller Diotown Restaurant with Traditional Eaves 2, 23-451B.

They go side-by-side quite well, as the smaller one as fencing on one side, and when placed against the larger (which has fencing on both sides) looks quite natural. Both have molded interiors are fairly large windows on the upper story street side, but with mullions that make seeing through them difficult. I may light these with yellow LEDs like I did the power substation and just paint the interiors without detailing them further.

Footprint of the 23-451B, which I’d likely locate to the left of the other due to the way the fences work, is 81 x 62mm. The 23-450A is 81 x 81 mm, so combined these are 81 x 143 mm. I don’t think I’m going to be able to fit both of these, but I’d really like to use at least one.

Traditional Buildings 4515
Kato Traditional Restaurant (left, 23-451B) and Shop (right, 23-450A), before modification

Tomix Commercial Building

Tomix’s Square Building Set, Green 4050, is a pair of buildings, one two-story and one three-story, which can be combined to create a taller building. I’m using the two-story building here, and plan to use its companion over in the Urban Station scene. The building may be rather lacking in features, but that’s not uncommon for simple commercial office space structures. I’ll add some interest to it with signs, and some kind of interior, but it’s not supposed to be a standout structure. It’s going to need some interior structure, or at least view blocks so you can’t see all the way through it.

Footprint of this is 70 x 70 mm at the base.

Tomix Commercial Bldg 4518

This building proved problematic. The windows inside are not simply glued in place, but held by pins that go through holes in the “window” sheets and are then melted to lock the windows in place. Removing them requires cutting the head off two pins for each window panel. And since the building is modular, there is a window panel for each floor. That’s a lot of pins. There is no interior, so floors and light-blocking walls will need to be constructed.

Tomix Office Building

The “Railroad Office” (4025) is a nice, modern, three-storey office building. I really like it, and wanted to fit it in the Village, but it’s just too large to go anywhere other than on the main street, and I think that real estate would be more appropriate for stores.

With the base removed, the footprint is 70 x 140 mm, which is a nice fit with other Tomix commercial buildings (like the above square building).

Kato Shops

Kato’s Small Strip Mall, Blue (23-408B) consists of two slightly different buildings, each containing two small shops. I’m only planning to use one building here, and haven’t yet decided what kind of shops they will be. Kato includes signage for a convenience store, CD/DVD store, bookstore, bakery, drug store and several others, any of which would be appropriate. Modification is going to be simple, a small LED hidden inside somewhere for lighting, and a bit of paint, and some signs.

Footprint of this structure is 57 x 124 mm, including the overhang of 4mm at the front. It would normally be placed far enough back for parking spaces between it and the street, although often this kind of structure in a residential neighborhood serves mainly pedestrians and has limited parking.

Kato’s Small Strip Mall (23-408B), before modification

This came apart easily. Two screws hold the floor, body shell and roof together, remove them and those come apart. The roof details and rear fence are simply pressed into holes and easily pulled out. The windows are a single long strip that comes out with barely any encouragement, and the roof and roof trim just fall apart.

Inside, the base includes molded shelving detail, so it’s worth keeping. But note that there is no full-height wall between the two shops inside; I may add one. However, there’s next to no room above the window line for lighting (the body has a solid top below the roof). I may end up cutting a hole in the body top at the front, and installing lighting under the actual roof.

There are other buildings, but I haven’t made a final decision on which will be part of this scene, so for the moment I’ll leave them off this page.

Tomix Convenience Store

Similar to the Kato store above, Tomix’s convenience store (7-11 in yellow, 4036, or Lawson in white, 4063) comes with a base that has a large sidewalk against the long side, and a small parking lot at the end with the window. I’m planning to trim back the base since I will have my own sidewalk along the main avenue, and no sidewalk at all on the side street. I need to keep the part under the store, because the interior is molded into the base. My version is the Lawson, but I plan to repaint it anyway so I can add lighting (I need to paint the inside to make the plastic opaque).

Footprint without the base is 56 x 110 mm.


This is a very easy model to detail. Unsnapped from the base (which isn’t too hard) all that’s left is the body and four window units, which aren’t even glued in place. The base includes molded shelving, so it probably needs to be kept (unless you want to change the interior). Although the body shell is painted in three colors (light gray walls and sign, white front brick facade, and dark-gray roof) it appears that this is all a single casting. Further, the inside of the roof has some interesting vertical strengthening ribs that are big enough to serve (I think) as a light block for a LED strip, to keep it from being visible from outside (I’ll need to check that).

Freight Office

Kato’s Freight Forwarding Office (23-457) is a good example of a two-story office building in an older style, with concrete (I think) walls and a tile roof. The small building attached to the back could be treated as a garage for a company car, a business loading dock, or something else. I’d really like to use this because of the “modern yet traditional” appearance, and the high level of detail, but the size makes it problematic.

The footprint is 81 x 81 mm with the base (which I’d probably keep, or else use a similar amount of space).


Like many Kato buildings, the base, body, and roof are held together with small phillips-head screws from below. Remove them, and it mostly comes apart easily. The windows aren’t glued, but the raised “glass and frame” sections need to be gently pressed in from the outside (I used tweezers with soft tips) before removing from the inside. A couple of exterior detail parts (the rear door light and a drain pipe) proved to be glued in, and broke during removal, but their absence won’t be notable. Inside, there is a blank floor plate between the upper and lower floors. As like the apartment building, the yellow section has a solid horizontal surface below the roof, which makes lighting the interior difficult.