The Mizuno East-West battery operated train set has all the hallmarks of postwar Japanese trains. It’s made of tin. It runs on batteries. It was cheap. And it carries an aura of mystery. Fortunately time unraveled a number of those mysteries.
My personal East-West train set
My first encounter with the East-West set was a loose car I bought off Ebay sometime in 2003 or so. It was a red and yellow flat car carrying a wooden load. It had hook couplers reminiscent of U.S. prewar trains. But it looked postwar, because of its plastic wheels. The only mark it bore was “Made in Japan.”
The guy I bought it from didn’t know anything about it either. I asked around all I could, and someone on one of the old Yahoo train discussion forums identified it as part of a set that bore the roadname East-West. Within a few weeks I located an example and purchased it.
Variants of the East-West train set
Some versions use a transformer-like power station. The power station is an attractive tin lithographed building that resembles a train station. It’s about three inches square and appears to operate on two D cell batteries. The building came in a set with a blue locomotive, tank car, log car, and caboose, since a locomotive powered by a pair of D cells would have more power and likely a higher top speed. The track in this set has one insulated rail, since the track carries power, and the ties have holes to accommodate mounting to a table.
The cheaper sets, like mine, use a battery inside the locomotive for power. I think the cheaper sets like mine are more common.
The set box carries little in the way of identifying marks. It says “Electro Train,” with the word “Transcontinental” in script, with the words “Operates on one standard battery.” The box artwork is a picture of a US-style 4-6-4 Pacific locomotive that bears little resemblance to the train in the box. It’s definitely larger and more majestic. In the lower right corner of the label is a trademark, the letter M in a circle with three dots in the form of a triangle. I couldn’t find any reference to this trademark when I first started chasing down Mizuno trains. Fortunately we’ve documented a few things as the century rolled on.
Inside the box, my set consists of a loop of 2-rail track, two cars, and a locomotive. This is the configuration I’ve most frequently encountered. My box didn’t have a set number, but UK train collector Graeme Eldred documented an example with a catalog number of 7050.
Mizuno East-West rolling stock
The easiest cars to track down are the East-West boxcar, which came in maroon, and the East-West Caboose, which came in red. They seem to be the most common and they’re certainly the easiest to identify, since they bear a lot in the way of identifying marks. The boxcar and caboose bear a logo with an interlocked “TC” on them, but that’s a bit of a red herring. It’s not a manufacturer mark. It looks like an intentional attempt to imitate the Tennessee Central herald. It’s a bit of a random choice, but it adds some variety.
The tougher cars are the tank car, simply labeled Gasoline, and the log car with the real wood load. It’s possible there were others, but I’ve never seen them, nor have I come across anyone stating there were any more.
The cars are about six inches in length, very similar in size to Marx 6-inch cars, and the coupler height is close enough to Marx to allow them to interoperate with Marx 6-inch cars if you want. Also like Marx, the cars and the engine run on O gauge track. They have black plastic wheels like the postwar Marx battery and windup sets.
The East-West locomotive
The East-West locomotive resembles a British-style tank engine. It is maroon. Mine operates on a C cell battery. It has a switch at the front of the engine to turn the headlight on and off. A second switch in the back operates the motor. The motor switch has three positions for forward, reverse, and off.
There are four variants of this engine, all with a road number of E375. It came in maroon and black, powered by an onboard battery, and in blue, powered by the track. A fourth variant, in black, had the word “Express” in place of “East West.” It sold alone, with no cars or track.
If you encounter one of these sets, be sure to open the engine compartment to check the battery. You don’t want a dead battery leaking on all that nice lithography.
The engine runs rather well for a cheap battery operated set. It has good pulling power, capable of pulling far more cars than it came with, and it runs smoothly. In the 1950s, Japan had a reputation for making cheap junk, but the Mizuno set defies that reputation. All the sets I’ve seen run very well. I’m inclined to argue that reputation for cheapness had something to do with hostile feelings left over from World War II, as most of the postwar Japanese tin toys I’ve come across impressed me with their quality.
Mizuno, the manufacturer
The list of Japanese trademarks floating around is definitely more complete today than it was in 2003. And thanks to the Tinplate Toys blog, we now know a little bit about the manufacturer. The company’s full name was Nihon Alps Mizuno Seisakusho. The company was based in Ueda City, Japan, in the Nagano Prefecture, about 120 miles northwest of Tokyo. Ueda has a mixed agricultural and light industrial economy, which is consistent with manufacturing tin toys in the years after WWII. Mizuno made other tin toys as well, particularly a remote controlled battery operated 1956 Buick. We have to define “remote controlled” loosely, as the control was attached to the car with a cable. The relatively small number of toys attributed to them suggests they were somewhat short-lived.
Mizuno is a Japanese word that means “water,” but it’s also a Japanese surname. I don’t think there’s any connection to the popular brand of athletic shoe. Mizuno Corporation, the maker of athletic gear, dates to 1906 and its headquarters is in Osaka, 260 miles to the southwest of Ueda.
Value of the Mizuno East-West sets
It’s hard to assign a value of the Mizuno East-West sets, because so few people know what they are. The number of them that turn up boxed suggests kids got bored with them fairly quickly. That means nostalgia doesn’t increase the demand for them. They aren’t common, but without demand to drive their value, they aren’t expensive either. I paid around $15 for my boxed set, and the last set I saw sell also sold for around $15. I see one for sale at the time I wrote this for $99, but with no takers. These sets aren’t worth $99.
The only example of the station I’ve seen sold for $20. It’s safe to say a boxed example of the larger set, with the station, blue locomotive, and full consist of cars, would be worth more than the smaller set. $50 seems reasonable. I’ve had some success finding them using Ebay keywords like Electro Train, Electro Train Transcontinental, and East West tin train, but be prepared to wade through a lot of non-matching stuff. Locating and collecting Mizuno trains takes more patience than money. That’s not necessarily a bad thing.
Japanese postwar tin is fun to chase down and collect. Another example from the same time period is Mito.