Locomotive Roster: JR East E3-1000; Kato 10-222

For this review we head to the east...the JR East and the E3-1000 Tsubasa from Kato!  The  Series E3-1000 is actually what is a called a mini-Shinkansen.  I originally assumed that this was because it was using the Japanese 3'6" narrow gauge.  This turns out not to be the case but it does reflect the fact that the lines these trains operate on were converted to standard gauge (4'8.5") but are still however restricted to the original 'narrow gauge' loading gauge restrictions.   Essentially what I think that means is that the radii are a lot tighter on these lines than they normally would be for a standard gauge train, so the Shinkansens car length, width, etc... are a bit smaller than their traditional standard gauge brethren.
This would not necessarily have been my next Japanese trains set (it was a gift from my wife and son) so I am particularly blessed in getting a really cool train I would not normally have chosen that - frankly - looks way cooler in person and running than it did from my limited exposure to the photos I've seen!
Its styling is extremely...elegant. Very minimalist and sleek.  In fact, it sort of reminds of the Italian ETR 500, or even the new Alsthom AGV (sort of).  And WOW does it have some massively bright lights! You won't miss this train coming!

The lights...well just getting them to work was a huge issue.  And that reminds me of the DCC decoder installation process.

 I go into a bit more detail in the video, but the bottom line is that this so-called "DCC-ready" train from Kato (using their proprietary EM-13 Motor Decoder and two FL 12 decoders for the lights on the cab cars - see this post at Sumida Crossing for a great overview) was anything but easy.  Here's why:

  • Not really intuitive where the decoders go.
  • Not intuitive which way the decoders get inserted.
  • When you do get the decoder inserted, it may not necessarily have good contact.
  • If you do get the decoder installed, and it manages to have good contact in all those places it should have contact, its not at all clear if Kato's decoders will want to function like every other decoder on the planet. 
I had a big problem getting the CV's adjusted so that my cab lights would actually function. For some strange reason, the FL12 decoder would not allow me to use 'Function 0" for the light control (F0 is the nearly universal function used to turn the main lights on / off, etc..) and I had to resort to using Function 5 to turn the lights on and off.  I'm befuddled by this and it makes no sense to my simple mind.

The good news in all of this is that you have friends who can help!  I have to say (and not for the first time) that the folks over at the Japanese N Scale forum are about the friendliest and most helpful folks on the planet.  Here's the specific thread where I presented my problems and got excellent (and fast!) responses from Inobu on the forum.  This is a great hobby!
So, it finally all worked out.  The train runs great (particularly after a bit of breaking in).  And while the decoder install was  hassle, I have to think its one of the 'rights of passage' in the 'brotherhood' of this hobby we all share.   Its also a nice way to 'connect' with others via this wonderful thing called the internet.
That's it for now!  Please feel free to comment as always!


  1. Hi Jerry,

    Just now I was planning to buy any KATO Shinkansen train (like the E5 or the Nozomi 500 series), but I have lots of doubts due to that KATO "DCC friendly" EM13 decoder. And it seems that the same has happenned to you!

    Beautiful train and, as ever, you have done the best report possible about it! Enjoy it!

    I think I will ask you a lot of things about these trains and its "friendly" decoders ;-)


  2. Jerry,
    Thanks for the link. And that's a good video, although at 28min it feels like it ought to be a TV episode. :-)
    The plastic strip problem with the EM13 is one that I've seen on older body designs, but not on more recent ones. I think Kato finally solved that, although it took them some time.
    The FL12 F0 problem is weird. I've never had F0 not work for me. It sounds like a broken decoder.
    BTW, I cringe every time you touch the brass strips with your finger tip. That's a good way to damage the decoder if you have any kind of static charge. Try to always touch only the edge (and use insulated tweezers if you must hold the metal bits, which is hard to avoid).

  3. Thanks for another entertaining review. You didn’t mention the coupling system employed on this set. More info please. (My KATO Eurostar is now unusable as the scissor like peg couplers have all failed and I’m loathe to reward the manufacturer with more cash for bad design by buying replacements. Does anyone know of a working alternative out there?)

    Keep up the good work and 28 minutes is fine with me.

    Ross S
    North Berwick

  4. Jerry,

    Thanks for an update that isn't about the station. Sure, the station is a big deal, but after a month of reading about it, it starts to get annoying, no offense.

    I'm also glad that it was to show this magnificent train. It is just beautiful. To be honest, I'm not a huge fan about the Japanese trains, but this one is an exeption. The design, the colors, the way it fits in with a urban scene (photo 3) just as well as it does with a countryside scene (photo 4, sort of. You see better countryside scenes in the "Layout Action Video" :-)).

    Great review and thanks for the photos !

  5. Wow! A lot of comments! Thanks! Let's see if I can respond to a few!

    @ Jose - Yes, I'm a bit wary of these decoders now, but the good news from Ken (see his comment lower down) may be that they've solved this problem with some of their new models. Ken may be right that this is also an example of a 'bad decoder', but its weird that I would have two that are bad. This won't keep me from buying any future Kato train sets, but at least I am a little wiser then next time!

    @ Kens - As always, some really good advice! As for the length of the video...its strange how long these videos can get! I'm NOT trying to make them long! :-) And I actually think they are too long and a lot of folks tune out...I cut out a lot of video before it ever makes it to YouTube!

    @ RossS - I have some really good news about the coupling system on this train...HUGE IMPROVEMENT over the couplers used on the Eurostar (which I believe are the same as my Thalys). I don't know if these couples can be adapted to a TGV like model, but they are really pretty easy to use and work really well! I'll try and video tape or get some photos of them in the future.

    @ Mark - Mark..I'm TIRED of posting about the station! :-) The problem is with a project this big and complicated, there's not a whole lot of other stuff going on (not totally true as I've decided to spend some time on some other diversions for a bit!)!

  6. Jerry,

    I would like to invite you to my new website, It would really be an honor (since trains were my 1st hobby) if you could share some of your buildings and layout at the site.
    It is designed to showcase and promote varied hobby works.

    Please see info at my blog.

  7. @ Kriz...DEFINITELY!

    I love all kinds of models, but am particularly fascinated with the sci-fi / wargaming sorts, so I'm obviuosly a fan of your site! Would love to contribute!

    Thanks for sharing your blog and the invite. And in fact, for any other bloggers out there with similar interests, always feel free to share what you've done!

  8. Jerry, did you try F1 rather than F0? I was just reviewing Kato's documentation, and F0 is used by the FR11 for interior lights by default, with F1 used by the FL12 for cab lights.

  9. Thanks a ton Jerry.

    Hopefully when its all said and done.

    PaintedHobbies will be a crossroad linking people to all kinds of hobby Art venues and sites.

    Thanks again my friend.

  10. @ KenS - I think I tried F1, but honestly its been a while now since I got it installed I don't remember exactly.

    However, something a bit weird is going on with my layout. I haven't run my trains much since I got the E3 running, but I noticed that a couple of the recent locomotives I have attempted to run on the layout are all of a sudden having problems with their lgihts! Bascially, I'm seeing that F0 isn't working on several locos (I can't say 'all' just yet, but on the three locos I have run in the past month, all of a sudden I can't get the lights to work).

    I checked and double checked the decoder seating, the CV settings, etc... and its just weird. I originally thought it was more bad decoders, but I literally had a locomotive with working lights all of a sudden stop having any lights after a few minutes of running.

    I'm trying to do some research to understand what the cause might be. Whatever it is, I don't think I'll like the answer.

  11. Hi Jerry: I have watched your video about the Kato Yamagata Shinkansen on youtube. Since a new version of this train is coming up soon under the reference Kato 10-1289, I would like to know if this train can negotiate curves of radius 282 mm and even tighter curves such as Fleischmann/minitrix R3 curves (radius is 262mm). Thank you for your help.

  12. Hi Jerry, I follow your blog and I would like to know if this shinkansen can negotiate curves of radius 282mm. I´m thinking of buying this train and it is important to know if the train will pass through these curves or if it will derail.

    Thanks a lot for your help.