Nobutaro Hara built his first model train, an electric steam locomotive, when he was in the sixth grade. Now, some 80 years later, both man and machine are still going strong. The recently opened Hara Model Railway Museum in Yokohama showcases some of his 6,000 handcrafted model train cars, and the Tokyo native says he has plans to build still more.
For Hara, 93, his lifelong passion for trains began with the old Shinagawa Railyard and streetcar depot near his birthplace in Tokyo's Shiba district. As a child, he never tired of playing with the model train his grandparents bought for him, and it wasn’t long before he was tinkering with his own.
His love of machines led Hara to study mechanical engineering at the Tokyo Institute of Technology. After World War II he was hired by office supplies maker Kokuyo Co., where he demonstrated his engineering skills in assignments such as designing a machine to automatically manufacture desks from rolled steel sheets.
His spare time was largely given over to his hobby. Growing up with Hara, his two sons and one daughter assumed that all fathers did nothing at home but make model trains. When his eldest son was in kindergarten, Hara would take him to the park to play with his model trains, sometimes forgetting to bring the boy back with him.
These days, Hara lays out tracks in his Hyogo Prefecture home to enjoy his collection. His realistic, handmade models even have working pantographs, overhead wires that supply the cars with electricity. In addition to building his own trains, Hara also modifies retail models he gets from Japan and overseas.
Over the years, Hara has received numerous invitations from museums to exhibit his models, but until now he had always refused, saying, "How can I live without my trains?" However, his wife persuaded him to change his mind.
"It's a shame if you just leave your models sitting around here," she told him.
Hara agreed, and decided to lend some of them to the museum at Mitsui Fudosan Co. because it is located in Yokohama, one of the terminal stations on Japan's first railway. The museum is located on the third floor of the company's building, and charges for admission.
At a recent private viewing, a smile floated across Hara's face as he watched the models running across a huge, elaborately crafted diorama. His daughter, Mari, chuckled as she asked him, "Which is more important: trains or your kids?"
"Trains!" he replied without missing a beat. "I want to make another hundred train cars before I die."
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