Building Woody Joe’s Nihonbashi Bridge Kit

Earlier this year, I decided to take a short break from ship modeling projects and spend a week or so on something fun, but a little different. I have several small kits in my stockpile (what’s in yours?) of miscellaneous Woody Joe kits, including one of the famed Nihonbashi Bridge.

The bridge was originally built in the early Edo period, around 1603. Built in the heart of Edo itself, It was extremely significant, as it was officially the starting point of Japan’s 5 major roads. Yes, all roads lead to Nihonbashi, and the bridge appears in many Japanese woodblock prints.

So, I decided to start the kit, which I purchased from where else but, for about $41 plus shipping. One of the driving factors in building this kit is that it would allow me to exercise some of my basic diorama building skills. After all, there are trees, the bridge itself, the canal, a couple boats, and tiny people. Also, I knew that my 95 year-old mother would love to have it on display in her living room, and her birthday was coming up quickly. So, I needed to get it done.

Actually, I should mention that the kit doesn’t actually include the tiny people, you have to buy them separately. But, you do get to choose from the inexpensive sets of unpainted figures, possibly going blind painting them, or kind of pricey sets of painted figures.

I chose to risk my blurring eyesight and paint the figures myself. Anyway, I used to paint miniature figures in my younger days, and I wanted to see how much of that skill I’d retained… or lost. Also, being that I’ve been specializing in the building of models or wasen, or traditional Japanese boats, I really couldn’t leave well enough alone and had to make my own set of boats for the canal.

Assembly of the bridge structure is pretty straight forward. The columns require a bit of care to make sure they are centered and all aligned. Because the bridge deck comes as 4 separate pieces, I wanted to make sure there were no weird flat spots. So, I used a strip of wood clamped into place in hopes that it would help prevent any flat spots in the surface.

In addition to the bridge, the sides of the canal have to be constructed. The laser-scored stone wall pattern makes construction easy. With the earlier castle kits, these stone patterns have to be created from individually trimmed and glued pieces.

Before actually gluing down the bridge, it’s best to paint the river bottom first. The instructions have you add the bridge, then paint the river bottom. But, it’s tricky to fully paint between the support columns without getting paint on them.

The only issue is that it is necessary to add a little bit of “ground powder” along the edges of the canal to add some texture. When that is glued into place, the bridge should be test fit while the glue is still soft, so the bridge will seat completely flat. It can then be removed right away while the glued ground powder sets.

Alternatively, there is a clear piece of colored plastic to simulate the water that can be purchased. It only costs about $1 – When was the last time you bough a model kit accessory for $1? This allows you to forgo the need to paint the river bottom or to simulate water. However, I’m all for learning how to simulate water well, so I didn’t purchase the plastic accessory.

So, I added the ground powder and I painted the canal bottom and placed the bridge.

After that dried, I used the Woodland Scenics product called Realistic Water. This is a simple product you just pour and let dry overnight. I first poured it into a plastic cup and mixed in several drops of their companion coloring product, Green Moss. This gave the water a nice murky look which you could still see through.

First, I used some masking tape to keep the “water” from flowing out of the canal. Then, I poured a thin layer of the colored Realistic Water. My plan was to add a second, thin layer and set the boats in that second layer.

If you look at the photo from the box art, you’ll notice there are two boats that are very crude looking provided in the kit. They’re not detailed and a bit oversized, but the main focus of the kit is the bridge. So, they add nicely to the atmosphere.

However, being that I’ve been specializing in traditional Japanese boat models, it was not possible for me to leave well enough alone. So, I made a few of my own using something of a bread-and-butter construction method.

It took me a couple tries to make the boats. I initially tried to build planked-up boats, but at this scale it was too difficult, so they ended up partly solid, partly planked. Also, I found that scaling the boats to 1/150 scale resulted in boats that were still a bit too large for the scene, so I had to trim them down by another 10% or so. The finalized boats were then put into the canal.

I considered trying to add some posts for the boats to tied up to, little Edo period docks, and such. But, my knowledge on that aspect is still very lacking. And, since they would have been so tiny, I decided to just leave it alone and leave the boats “drifting” in the water.

I had to have some kind of cargo on some boat, so I rolled up some polymer clay and cut some tiny tawara, or large straw sacks of rice. I filled up one boat and put a stack of them piled up on the ground.

Finally, I finished up the structural scenery by adding a modified version of the little stand (what were they selling next to the bridge) included in the kit. I basically added some little details like the stringers on the roof, and a little shelf on the front and back of the stand.

The pair of cherry blossom trees included in the kit add a nice splash of color to the scene.

Of course, a scene like this isn’t complete without some people. I’d already purchased the figures that are featured on the box cover. These are optional, and not included in the kit.

Woody Joe distributes these figures which are actually produced by a Japanese company called Aurora Model, not to be confused with the old plastic model kit maker.

Three sets of unpainted figures are available for about $12 each. They can be purchased direct from Aurora Model, but they actually turn out to be a little more expensive that way, particularly the shipping. So, I recommend just buying them from Zootoyz.

Each set contains 14-16 unpainted figures. These are extremely tiny at 1/150 scale, so you can also buy pre-painted figures. These come in sets of 8, though a horse figure in one of the sets counts as 3 figures. These painted sets cost about $30 each, but if you have trouble painting REALLY tiny figures, they may be worth the extra cost.

I used to paint miniature figures, so I was ready to take on the challenge and painted the figures with a spray of Tamiya white fine primer. For coloring, I used some Vallejo brand paints. I didn’t have enough colors for some colorful Edo period kimonos and such, so I ended up spending about $80 on a set of paints and a set of washes. Would have been cheaper to just buy a couple sets of painted figures, but what the heck.

It took me a while to get some colors that stood out like those in the box art, but in the end, I was very happy with what I was able to achieve using the new paints.

I glued the various people into their various little sub-scenes and the whole bridge diorama started to come to life.

Finally, I used a piece of thin brass wire to use for the boatman’s sao, or pole.

Finally, I found a nice acrylic case on Amazon from a company called Better Display Cases. Here’s the link to the one I got for this model:

The above case is shown with a protective plastic wrapper still on the base. Overall the quality looks really nice.

Before taking it her house, I made sure the gang at the Hyde Street Pier Model Shipwrights club, to which I belong, got a chance to see this neat kit. So, the model made an appearance at the February meeting.

The model now sits in my mother’s house, next to Woody Joe’s shinmei-zukuri shrine model and the traditional Japanese teahouse model.

If you want to build one of these for yourself, here are some links for the various things you may need.

Nihonbashi Bridge kit:

Optional Diorama Water:

Edo Period Figure sets:

Woodland Scenics Realistic Water:

Woodland Scenics Moss Green Water Tint:



1 thought on “Building Woody Joe’s Nihonbashi Bridge Kit

  1. catopower Post author

    Reblogged this on Wasen Mokei 和船模型 and commented:

    While this is about building a bridge model kit, it wouldn’t be complete without wasen on the canal below. The bridge model kit was the easy part – scratch building tiny wasen was much more difficult. But, admittedly, painting the tiny figures was probably the hardest part of the making of this neat little diorama from Woody Joe.


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