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Unsung Heroes: The Faces Behind Track Maintenance VOL. 010

Mr. Ayumi Kamata

Picture Book Author

Born in Tokyo, Mr. Kamata is a renowned picture book author. Some of his notable works include "Midnight Train Tracks" (Alicekan), "Giant Airport" (Fukuinkan Shoten), "Hakobu" (Kyoiku Gageki), "Hashiru! Shinkansen Series" (PHP Kenkyujo), "Chikatetsu no Gin-chan" (Shogakukan), and many others.

Summer 2023|Interview with Teams


This marks the inaugural inclusion of a picture book author in the “Unsung Heroes: The Faces Behind Track Maintenance” project since its inception. While numerous books delved into the world of railway vehicles, there are remarkably few that depict the Muliple Tie Tamper, vital railway maintenance machine. I was pleasantly surprised to come across this book. How does the picture book portray the Multiple Tie Tamper, and what is the backstory behind it? We will delve into these questions in our discussion with Mr. Ayumi Kamata, the author of “"Midnight Train Tracks" by Alicekan.


From the picture book "Midnight Train Tracks"

■The inception of the picture book "Midnight Train Tracks" stemmed from ■

――Mr. Kamata, track maintenance is a nocturnal undertaking, a realm far removed from the enchanting world of children's picture books. Unlike the popular Shinkansen and 'Doctor Yellow,' which captivate children's imaginations, our machines lack the flashy allure to catch their eyes. How did the narrative of this storybook come into being?


Mr. Kamata:Initially, my idea revolved around creating a picture book titled 'Doro Seisosha' (Road Cleaner)

If roads require cleaning, what about railroad tracks? This curiosity led me to delve into my own research. Although this profession is vital to our society, it remains largely unknown. The subject fascinated me, prompting me to create a rough sketch, essentially a picture book prototype. While the concept was presented at a publishing company's planning meeting, another idea was chosen. Although it didn't materialize into a picture book at that time, I harbored a desire to transform it into a work of art someday. Sometime later, when a publisher, Alicekan approached me about a picture book, the theme of 'maintenance of railroad tracks' resurfaced..."

Oh, what was that like? It was a long time ago, so I don't really remember (laughs). Alicekan, could you help me?

Alicekan:(laughs) I wanted Mr. Kamata to illustrate a picture book about trains, so I shared several ideas with him. One of them was "Track Maintenance. A mysterious car that is rarely seen from the train on the way to work. What on earth are these cars? I always wondered. I wondered if they played an important role. When I mentioned this at our meeting, Mr. Kamata came up with a rough draft in a flash. It was called "Midnight Train Tracks". I remember being surprised that it was already finished.


――Now that you mention it, both Kamata and Alicekan wanted to create a picture book about multiple tie tamper, and the picture book "Midnight Train Tracks" was born from the coincidence of these two vectors, wasn't it? Just hearing about it makes me excited.


Kamata: Book production is a combination of various coincidences that never cease to amaze me. I am glad that we were able to work with Alicekan at the right time.


From the picture book: The front measuring trolley is in place, and the operations are about to begin.


――So you decided on a theme for the picture book, and then you decided to do interviews on the spot. Did you do the interviews on your own? Or did you and Alicekan do it together?

Alicekan:Yes, I also went to the field interview with Mr. Kamata in the middle of the night. I remember it well because it was my first field interview, and I went in a skirt (laughs). We should wear clothes that are easy to move around in. It seems obvious now, but at the time I had no idea what I was getting into. I still remember being surprised by the people there. Since then, I never go into the field in a skirt.


――Wow! A skirt for night work? Everyone at the scene must have been surprised. Maybe it will become a legend (laughs). What was your impression of working on the machine for the first time that night? I think you must have experienced engine noise, work noise, vibration, and other things that you can't understand unless you're at the machine.


Kamata: I was overwhelmed by the machines, including those things. In the pitch-black night, the machines were illuminated by lights and moving dynamically. It was fascinating to see a machine built just for the purpose of maintaining the tracks. It was a precious experience to ride a train machine that I would never be able to ride.


――It's a surprise the first time, isn't it? It's a mysterious machine.


Kamata:Yes, speaking of mysterious machines, I had a hard time gathering material. For some reason, I don't remember seeing the Nippon Plasser website. I remember looking at various English or German websites. Since I couldn't find materials easily, I bought a model train and studied its construction.


――Even to buy and examine models! By the way, Koichi-san (Greenmax Co.), a model maker I interviewed last time, also had Mr. Kamata's picture book as a reference. He used it as a reference for the movements of the ground workers who do the follow-up work on the multiple tie tamper.

In the picture book, each person's expression is richly and attractively depicted. As you turn the pages, you might think, "Oh, is this person Mr. A at the construction site? From the picture book: Ground workers you may have seen on a construction site.

From the picture book: Ground workers you might encounter at a construction site.


Kamata: It's a midnight job that most people don't know about. Of course, the vehicles are cool, but the workers are all cool. They work quietly, keeping us safe in the middle of the night when we don't even realize it. Every face I saw during the field interview was a good face, full of confidence. Not only do they do physical work, but they also engage in desk work with their brains. I envy them because they have to do "real work" grounded in the soil every day. It's not like me, who just wanders around aimlessly (laughs). I wanted to let everyone know about this work through my picture book.


―― I am very happy to hear you say that. The people who work at the site always work late at night, so they work as inconspicuously as possible, like vampires. We sometimes get complaints about noise and vibration at work, but we don't often get complaints like Mr. Kamata's. Thank you very much.


■What to keep in mind when creating a picture book■

――In the picture book, you refer to a tamping tool as a "stump" to harden the stone, and you replace technical terms with common ones to make them easier to understand. I assume you chose words with both expertise and ease of understanding in mind.

From the picture book: The Powerful Scene of Tamping Tool



Since I was a child, I have been in contact with some kind of machine within my reach, such as a motorcycle shop. It is not that I am particularly fond of machines, but since I grew up in such an era, machines have always been a part of my life, and I personally like geeky stories. However, there are plenty of such books for adults. What I create are picture books for children. I want them to be something that children can understand and that adults can appreciate.

To achieve that, I must never lose sight of what the machine is supposed to do. I had a hard time making it easy to understand that "a multiple tie tamper removes distortions in a railroad track." I cannot draw what I do not understand. I reviewed many photos I had taken through interviews and materials I found on the Internet. It was also crucial to choose what kind of expression to use, and I spent a lot of time thinking about the angles (composition) in the illustrations.


――Each composition is important because children will be reading it. The machines in the book are shown from different perspectives: diagonally, sideways, and frontally. The change of perspective creates tension, doesn't it?

 I didn't think about it when I read the picture book, but composition is very important. Do you draw on a PC? Or do you draw with your hands?


Kamata: I draw everything by hand. I do not use a computer. I wonder why. It's difficult to verbalize. I think it's because children see the finished picture book with their own eyes. Similar to how records can reproduce sound more realistically than CDs. Even in the world of picture books, there are things that can be conveyed because they are hand-drawn, which is analog. Even with digital tools, I prefer to redraw repeatedly. Drawing by hand ensures it doesn't become too mechanical.

From the picture book: Using different shades of gray to reproduce midnight. This was a significant challenge in the printing process.


――Allow me to make one final point. Most of the people reading this article are in the track maintenance industry. Do you have a message for them?


Kamata:As I mentioned earlier, I was very impressed by the remarkable things I saw during the field interviews with all of you. I would be happy if my picture book helped people understand a little more about the value of those responsible for the infrastructure of society. Picture books have a long life, so I hope they will continue to spread in various ways.


Ayumi Kamata's preferred product is the "Water-based pen" 

When the nib is slender, I find myself eager to draw more, often ending with excessive sketches. This pen, however, boats the perfect thickness. It strikes a balance, not too thin to discourage drawing (in a positive sense). The water-based ink offers a delightful texture and remains steadfast on the paper, preventing any unwanted bleeding. The ink density is ideal for drawing, and I have remained a loyal user for many years.




Ever since I discovered his picture book, I've harbored a desire to engage in this conversation. I would like to seize this opportunity to extend my gratitude to Mr. Kamata for accepting the interview and to Alicekan for her dedicated efforts in facilitating it. Mr. Kamata`s gentle voice and unassuming presence, coupled with the occasionally fluttering pure white curtains in the background, transformed the interview into a dreamlike experience, akin to stepping into the enchanting world of a picture book.


to have this conversation. I would like to take this opportunity to express my gratitude to Ms. Kamata for accepting the interview and to Alicekan for her efforts in making the interview possible. Mr. Kamata's soft voice and natural appearance, along with the pure white curtains that sometimes fluttered in the background, made it a dream interview, as if I had entered the world of a picture book.


「Midnight Train Tracks」 Ayumu Kamata/ Alicekan


Format size: AB format

Number of pages: 32

ISBN 978-4-7520-0770-8
Price:1,540 JPY