SHINZO MIZU - A Japanese Z Scale Snow Scene
by Norman Raven


In common with a number of our other exhibition layouts, Shinso Mizu is a consequence of the purchase by my wife, Meg, of an item of rolling stock which happened to have taken her eye. In this case it was a Z scale ProZ E231-500 series electric multiple unit of the Yamanote Line from our good friend Heiko of Japan Model Railways in Germany. A couple of locomotives and a container set were added to the stockpile and then, inevitably, Meg began to make overtures for the building of a layout to run them on.

Having been in this position before, I immediately began to lay plans in accordance with the issued instructions that it had to be a simple tailchaser layout preferably on a single board. Shinso Mizu is the result with a small through station and a couple of loops disappearing behind the backscene to four storage loops. For added interest, there is an upper level line snaking along in front of the backscene. This is a separate line and simply disappears through the backscene at each end. Having tried various scenic permutations, I ended up with a lake occupying most of the centre of the layout along its length and this provided the name for the layout – I understand that ‘Shinso Mizu’ can be roughly translated as ‘Deep Water’.

There is nothing particularly novel about the baseboard construction. The frame is 34mm x 18mm softwood formed into ‘L’ girder shape and topped with a 4mm plywood surface. The backscene boards are also of 4mm ply. The board measures 6’3” x 2’. The length was dictated by the maximum which I could get into the car (a Renault Espace which has the excellent facility of being able to remove individual seats to turn it into a small van).

Rather than cutting out the area for the lake I resorted to the simple expedient of raising the trackbed on strips of balsa wood, having been given a large box of this from a neighbour who had rescued it from going into a skip.


The trackwork is the Rokuhan ready ballasted track. This is very similar to the Kato and Tomix track in N scale which we have used for a couple of our other layouts. I used the early versions of this track which requires you to trim the track pieces to fit with the turnouts although I notice now that the currently developed track comes ready trimmed. A slight difficulty I had with this system is that the point geometry does not allow you to fit a point onto the curved section of another as one would normally do when constructing storage loops. Proceeding this way results in each loop becoming shorter and therefore not meeting up with the track coming from the other end of the loop. The expandable track now available might assist here but that particular track piece was not around when the layout was under construction. I have used the electric turnouts which operate on DC power but rather than connect them to the large Rokuhan switches I use simple DPDT switches.

A number of our locomotives are based on electric prototypes and catenary was therefore a necessary scenic addition. As with our similar layouts in N scale, the catenary itself is non-operational and only the masts are represented, the overhead wires are omitted since in this scale they would not really be that obvious.

The track has been sprayed with Railmatch sleeper grime to mask the plastic look of the ballast and the shiny rail sides. It’s important to protect the operating switches on the side of the turnouts to prevent their being gummed up with paint (been there, got the T-shirt!!). I use a little bit of masking tape or Blu-Tak. The rail tops are then cleaned with a track rubber and isopropyl alcohol.


The scenery is a mix of materials and techniques. The basic landforms are made from polystyrene blocks to approximate to the desired shape and glued together with PVA glue. These are then covered with tissue paper scrunched up to from the desired rounder contours after which scraps of tissue paper are glued onto the base shape. The rock formations are shaped from ready mixed plaster. The accepted practice is to apply this and then carve the shapes and strata required. However, I simply skim the plaster onto the tissue paper base and at the same time form the rocky surface by finger pressure. I find this much easier than trying to carve set plaster. Once the plaster has dried, the rocks are then painted with a suitable colour. A darker wash is then applied to form the shadow areas and a lighter shade of the basic rock colour is dry brushed on to pick out the edges and highlights.

Ground cover is the usual scatter materials held in place with the customary spray of ‘wet’ water (water with a few drops of washing up liquid) followed by an application of Woodland Scenics Scenic Cement through a pipette. Again, it is necessary to protect the turnout switches so that the glue does not get into the operating parts of the mechanism.


The assorted greenery including bushes and trees is recycled from a previous Japanese N scale layout and is mainly Woodland Scenics. All this is secured with a hot glue gun. Keep your fingers away from the hot glue (been there, got the T-shirt again!!).

The lake surface is made very simply by painting the board surface black and then applying many successive coats of Klear floor polish. Before painting it’s best to smooth the board surface with reasonably fine grades of sandpaper and ensure that all the dust is cleaned away. Eventually a surface is formed which will reflect the surrounding scenery and the passing trains.

The backscene, like all our layouts is hand painted by mygoodself using acrylic paints. In this way I can match the backscene to the three-dimensional scenery and to the overall scene required to be portrayed. On top of the painted backscene I have stuck some photographs of suitable buildings. The trick here is to get the correct size and perspective.


Meg very much wanted another snow scene. I say ‘another’ because we have two current layouts with snow and three of our previous Japanese N layouts featured snow scenes! As will have been clear from the previous references to the scenery the layout is built as though a ‘normal’ green scene is to be portrayed and the snow is then applied on top to give the effect of a snow fall rather than a blizzard. My contract work during the winter as a gritter truck/snowplough driver means that I get pretty much enough of the white stuff anyway!!

There are now a number of materials on the market for making snow but when we first started to build snowy layouts these were not available. Our snow mix is therefore a very simple concoction of talcum powder and crushed up glitter dust which catches the light and gives a frosty glitter effect. To apply the snow powder the scenery is first given a quick brush with white emulsion paint and then sprayed with hair spray. Again it is necessary to protect the track work and this is done by laying over it strips of damp paper towel or the like. The snow is applied from a cheap old tea strainer until the desired coverage is achieved. The initial application of hairspray dries quickly and a second and possibly third coat is then sprayed over the snow to fix it in place. Once this is done the protective paper strips can be lifted. This leaves small areas which have no snow. These areas can be spot treated with more snow powder and Scenic Cement. The centre of the track itself is dealt with simply by dry brushing the white paint over the sleepers and ballast.

The buildings are laser cut card kits which fit together beautifully even in this tiny scale. The girder bridge over the stream is recycled from an old layout which was in 1/12th scale using Z scale stock as a garden railway. The plate girder bridge on the upper level is simply a couple of pieces of card suitably painted.


Operation of the layout is very simple. Trains of various sorts transit from the storage loops to the scenic side of the layout then return. Some, such as the long container train go right through while others such as the stopping passenger trains and short freight trains halt for a while in the loops to allow other trains to overtake or pass in the opposite direction. Because of the limited length of the storage loops the publicity material warns that if you hang around for a few minutes you’ll probably see the same trains again!!

That then is a very quick canter through the beginnings and construction of the layout. If anyone would like more information about any aspect please feel free to get in touch ().

All text and photos copyright 2013 Norman Raven.

Posted 1.19.13


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