Joyful Train in Autumn 2021 #3: HIGH RAIL 1375
Imagine a train where passengers can witness majestic mountains in the distance, and even take part in a tour to watch the stars at night. Japan features different kinds of terrains, and Nagano Prefecture (長野県) in particular is known for its mountains and high elevation lands. A number of trains traverse these higher elevation areas in the prefecture, but there’s one in particular that runs specially on one of the highest railway lines in Japan.
HIGH RAIL 1375 is a Joyful Train with a special feature: it plies on a railway line with the highest elevation among all JR lines in the country. The train traverses the numerous plains of Nagano, and passengers onboard get to enjoy beautiful views of the mountains in the distance, the vast surrounding fields, and the clear blue sky.
Jak and Emmie's travel route on the HIGH RAIL 1375. (Image credit: JR Times)
Our favourite duo Jak and Emmie were back, as their autumn adventure around the Shinetsu Region (信越地方 Shinetsu-chihō) continued. For their third Joyful Train ride, they hopped onboard the HIGH RAIL 1375, where outstanding mountain views and the sheer natural beauty awaited them. Let’s join them on their journey and learn more about their ride!
(Note: this is part three of the four-part Joyful Train in Autumn series, which explores the Joyful Trains that Jak and Emmie took during the autumn season.)
Say hello to HIGH RAIL 1375
HIGH RAIL 1375. (Image credit: Japanmase)
The HIGH RAIL 1375 made its debut in July 2017, and it plies between JR Kobuchizawa Station (JR小淵沢駅 Kobuchizawa-eki) in Yamanashi Prefecture (山梨県) and JR Komoro Station (JR小諸駅 Komoro-eki) in Nagano Prefecture. Its concept revolves around being “the train that runs nearest to the heavens,” and it runs on the JR Koumi Line (小海線), which features many railway stations with high elevations. In fact, nine of the highest JR railway stations in Japan are on this line alone!
Railway stations on the JR Koumi Line, and their respective elevations. (Image credit: JR East / Kobori)
As the train travels between Yamanashi and Nagano, passengers will get an amazing panoramic view of the Yatsugatake Mountain Range (八ヶ岳連峰 Yatsugatake-renpō), which rests on the Yamanashi-Nagano border. Plus, they will witness wide-open green fields in the summer, and red and golden foliage in the autumn.
The HIGH RAIL 1375 runs mostly on weekends and national holidays, and three times per day on most days—in the morning, afternoon, and evening—except in winter, when it runs in the afternoon and evening only. All the seats are reserved seating only, so passengers must make a reservation prior to boarding the train.
Departing from JR Kobuchizawa Station. (Image credit: Japanmase)
Jak and Emmie's journey on the HIGH RAIL 1375 began from JR Kobuchizawa Station at 10:42 in the morning. The station is popular among trekkers and hikers, and features wonderful views of the Southern Alps (南アルプス), especially when the weather is clear. In fact, do you know that there's an observatory at the station? When the weather is clear, visitors can climb up and even see Mount Fuji (富士山) in the distance. And here's a tip for whisky lovers: the Suntory Hakushu Distilllery is nearby, and visitors can take a taxi or shuttle bus to get there from the station.
Mount Fuji, seen from the observatory at JR Kobuchizawa Station. (Image credit: JR East / Kobori)
The duo departed from the station and set their sights on their destination: JR Sakudaira Station (JR佐久平駅 Sakudaira-eki) in Nagano Prefecture. They had never ridden the HIGH RAIL 1375 before, and upon first glance, they were pleasantly surprised by the train’s sky-blue hues and images of stars, mountains, and green fields. And lucky for them, the weather that day was also fair and sunny, and the clear blue sky perfectly complemented the train colours.
Their whole journey on the train took 2 hours, and their experience had been nothing short of fascinating, as it was filled with fun discoveries and memorable moments. Let’s find out what the duo discovered while on the train!
Car 1: For couples and solo travellers
Seats in Car 1, including boxed seats (left) and single seats (top right). (Image credit: Japanmase)
The first thing Jak and Emmie noticed about the HIGH RAIL 1375 was that the train only has two cars. Car 1 is a passenger car that features three kinds of seats altogether: seven couple seats, seven single seats, and two boxed seats. With a variety of seating configurations available, the car offers different passengers options for their preferred seating style, whether it’s groups and couples who would like to be seated together, or for solo travellers who would want be seated alone.
And best of all, all the seats are oriented towards the train windows, so all passengers will have their own spot to gaze at the outdoor views passing before their eyes. Jak and Emmie went for the single seats, and they noticed that the perk of such a seat is that it gives individual privacy to those who would like to be seated alone and have a window view to themselves.
Astronomy-themed interior designs on the HIGH RAIL 1375. (Image credit: Japanmase)
Another thing they noticed about the train was the quirky astronomy-themed interior designs. The seat upholstery features images of stars and constellations, and there are walls with cute images of satellites and the cosmos. They are related to the train’s theme of being “nearest to the heavens,” and they represent the wonderful things that people can see in the sky on a clear night. Better yet, these images serve as a clue for a special surprise for passengers who take the evening train (more on this later).
Jak and Emmie’s limited edition brunch set. (Image credit: Japanmase)
Of course, like their trip on the KAIRI and Koshino Shu*Kura, a ride on a Joyful Train wouldn’t be complete without delicious food. For their ride on the HIGH RAIL 1375, they bought a brunch set as part of the train's "Meal Options", and it consisted of delectable tonkatsu and egg sandwiches. But what caught Jak and Emmie’s attention in particular was the packaging: the front cover featured a beautiful image of JR Nobeyama Station (JR野辺山駅 Nobeyama-eki), the JR station with the highest elevation in Japan, amidst a starry night sky.
The brunch set’s cut-out design. (Image credit: Japanmase)
Another surprise awaited Jak and Emmie as they opened up their brunch boxes. Inside the box was a cut-out of the HIGH RAIL 1375, the exact train that they were riding! The cut-out also featured mesmerising images of the Yatsugatake Mountains, the Nobeyama Radio Observatory, and the monument for the highest elevation of JR railway tracks. They were signs of what was to come for the duo, so the excitement was palpable for them just by looking at the images.
Enjoying food with a beautiful scenery. (Image credit: Japanmase)
Jak and Emmie had already realised by then that there’s a running theme when it comes to Joyful Trains: it's enjoying delicious food and amazing outdoor scenery at the same time. Every Joyful Train ride is meant to be an exciting sensory experience, particularly for the senses of sight and taste, and the HIGH RAIL 1375 is no exception. The feeling of being full over their scrumptious ekiben and enjoying the outdoor scenery was a sense of contentment that the duo thoroughly enjoyed during their ride on the train.
(Note: for the “Meal Options”, passengers must make a reservation by three days prior to boarding the train. The morning train offers a brunch set (~¥2,800), the afternoon train offers a dessert set (~¥1,900), while the evening train offers a cutlet sandwich set (~¥1,800). Reservations can be made at JR East Travel Service Centers at major railway stations like JR Tokyo Station, JR Ueno Station, JR Shinjuku Station and more.)
The autumn scenery seen from the train. (Image credit: Japanmase)
Moreover, during their time on the train, Jak and Emmie had the opportunity to gaze as some of Nagano and Yamanashi’s best natural sceneries. Autumn is one of the most beautiful times of the year, and the duo got to gaze at magnificent fiery red and golden foliage right from their seats. The JR Koumi Line is regarded as one of the most scenic train routes in Japan, and Jak and Emmie experienced why first-hand, and wished that more people can experience it themselves someday.
Sales corner inside Car 1. (Image credit: Japanmase)
Do you know another common theme when it comes to Joyful Trains? Souvenirs. At the end of Car 1 is a sales corner where passengers can indulge in a wide variety of limited edition HIGH RAIL 1375-themed souvenirs. Keychains, pens, pencil case, folders, you name it. There are also specialty snacks such as milk chocolate cookies, and drinks such as ciders, sake, and beers. Jak and Emmie also spotted Arukuma, Nagano's cuddly mascot, at the corner!
Snacks and drinks (top), and Arukuma (bottom), Nagano's mascot. (Image credit: Japanmase)
With so many eye-catching souvenirs available, anyone would be spoiled for choice. Emmie herself loves to collect souvenirs from all her railway trips, so naturally she got something for herself while onboard the train. In the end, she got a pen that was not only cute in design, but also highly functional and useful.
Souvenirs at the sales corner. (Image credit: Japanmase)
And guess what? Jak and Emmie made a similar discovery here that they also did in all their previous Joyful Train rides: stamps. That’s right, the HIGH RAIL 1375 has its own unique stamp, and railway enthusiasts would not want to miss this for their collection from their railway trips.
HIGH RAIL 1375’s stamp corner. (Image credit: Japanmase)
The duo noticed that there were three spots for stamps on their paper. That’s because there are three Joyful Trains in Nagano Prefecture altogether: the HIGH RAIL 1375, the Oykot, and the Resort View Furusato. They haven’t ridden the other two yet, and after learning this, they knew that the other two trains are next on their bucket lists.
Car 2: Reclining comfort
Inside Car 2. (Image credit: Japanmase)
Car 2 is another passenger car, but with a regular 2-by-2 seat configuration. Like those in the Joyful Trains that Jak and Emmie previously rode, the seats are also reclinable, and the car features large windows so that passengers can enjoy an unobstructed view of the beautiful scenery outside unfolding before their eyes.
Domed planetarium in Car 2. (Image credit: Japanmase)
Most importantly, Car 2 is where the HIGH RAIL 1375's main highlight is located: an impressive domed planetarium and a mini astronomy book corner. Here, passengers can look up and see an animation of various constellations on the dome, as well as browse through various books on astronomy topics. Indeed, this is where the heart of the train is, and it rings true to the central theme of being “nearest to the heavens”!
Ticket for the planetarium show (left), and the show inside the planetarium (right). (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)
For passengers taking the evening train, they can join a 6-minute show at the planetarium too. In the show, animation and images will be projected on the dome with commentary given by a local staff that regales the wonders of the heavens above. It's a magical event that passengers should not miss!
High in the sky
Jak and Emmie had the pleasure of enjoying a splendorous view of the Sea of Japan while riding the KAIRI and the Koshino Shu*Kura a few days earlier. For the latter, they had the chance to get off and explore JR Ōmigawa Station, the railway station that is closest to the sea among all stations in Japan. The HIGH RAIL 1375 offers an amazing opportunity for them as well, but of a different superlative kind.
JR Kiyosato Station. (Image credit: Japanmase)
The HIGH RAIL 1375 makes a short stop at JR Kiyosato Station (JR清里駅 Kiyosato-eki) which has an elevation of 1,274.694m, making it the second highest JR station in Japan and the highest railway station in the prefecture. Jak and Emmie got off the train for a while to explore the surrounding area, and they found it hard to believe how high they were above sea level.
Monument for the highest JR railway tracks in Japan. (Image credit: Japanmase)
After JR Kiyosato Station, the train continued its way to the next stop, JR Nobeyama Station (JR野辺山駅 Nobeyama-eki). En route to the station, Jak and Emmie learned that the railway tracks on the section between JR Kiyosato Station and JR Nobeyama Station has an elevation of 1,375m, making it the highest JR railway tracks in Japan (hence the name “HIGH RAIL 1375”). There is a monument to mark this section, and the train will slow down so that passengers can have a look at it, of which Jak and Emmie were wholly grateful for.
JR Nobeyama Station. (Image credit: Japanmase)
After a few minutes, the train finally reached JR Nobeyama Station, which has an elevation of 1,345.67m. The train makes a 10-minute stop here so passengers can get off and explore the area surrounding the station. Jak and Emmie were charmed by what they found inside the station: an artwork of the railway station amidst a breathtaking mountain backdrop, and a roof with images depicting all the different constellations.
An artwork of JR Nobeyama Station (left) and the roof depicting the different constellations (right). (Image credit: Japanmase)
Not only is JR Nobeyama Station the highest JR railway station in Japan, but it is also one of the top three places in the country for stargazing, as chosen by astronomers. The HIGH RAIL 1375’s evening train will make a 50-minute stop at JR Nobeyama Station, and passengers onboard can go on a stargazing tour conducted by a local guide.
JR Nobeyama Station at night (left), and dark streets around the station (right). (Image credit: JR East (left), JR East / Carissa Loh (right))
Stargazing ideally requires a place with minimal light pollution, and the station, together with its flat and open surrounding areas, is the perfect place for that. The local city office will even switch the street and park lights off just for the tour, so that it’s easier to see the stars. How incredible is that! When Jak and Emmie learned about this, they were certain that they will be riding the HIGH RAIL 1375 again soon, this time to catch the stars in the night sky.
The station is also located in Minamikami (南牧村), a village that is famous as a production area for highland vegetables such as lettuce and cabbage. Nagano Prefecture is widely known for its amazing highland vegetables thanks to its high elevations, clean air, and access to mountain spring water, and here is one of the places where such vegetables are grown and harvested. Throughout their ride on the train, passengers can see many of such farms in Minamikami and areas along the line.
Highland vegetable farms that the train passes by. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)
Bonus: Mount Asama in the distance
The view from JR Aonuma Station, with Mount Asama in the distance. (Image credit: JR East / Kobori)
JR Koumi Line is full of spots with amazing scenery, as Jak and Emmie realised while onboard the HIGH RAIL 1375. There's one spot along the line where the majestic Mount Asama (浅間山) can be seen in the distance, and it's at JR Aonuma Station (JR青沼駅 Aonuma-eki). This quiet and unattended station is particularly known for its picturesque scenery, and on a clear day, visitors can even see the mountain far away. Do note that the HIGH RAIL 1375 doesn't stop here, but for visitors with time on their hands and love beautiful landscapes, they should take note of this place.
Here's a useful tip for passengers on the HIGH RAIL 1375: they can use their smartphones to connect to the train's wifi intranet to watch a live camera held at the front of the train. When the weather is clear, they can see Mount Asama coming into view as the train makes its way towards JR Komoro Station!
A token of hospitality
Station staff greeting the passengers at JR Nakagomi Station. (Image credit: Japanmase)
Japanese hospitality (おもてなし omotenashi) is something that always amazes travellers to Japan, and Jak and Emmie are always grateful towards the locals' sheer hospitality. They witnessed an instance when their train reached JR Nakagomi Station (JR中込駅 Nakagomi-eki), when the station staff said hi to all the passengers by dressing in special happi (法被) coats and greeting them with a specially designed train banner and adorable Arukuma fans. It’s small gestures such as this that make people feel welcomed and making them want to take Joyful Trains such as the HIGH RAIL 1375 again and again.
Commemorative photo onboard the train. (Image credit: Japanmase)
Before reaching their destination, Jak and Emmie also took a commemorative photo onboard the train. There are several props available on the HIGH RAIL 1375, and the friendly staff will invite people to take photos as mementos from their experience on riding the train. The duo found it a welcoming gesture to take one as a keepsake, especially after seeing how joyous it had been riding the train!
A banner of the HIGH RAIL 1375 at JR Sakudaira Station. (Image credit: Japanmase)
At 12:42 in the afternoon, Jak and Emmie finally reached JR Sakudaira Station, where they got off and bade farewell to the HIGH RAIL 1375. The duo got to experience yet another amazing railway trip on a Joyful Train, and the HIGH RAIL 1375 showed them some amazing autumn sceneries. But all good things must come to an end, so upon getting off the train, they took one last look at it before setting off on their autumn adventure.
Like their previous Joyful Train rides, Jak and Emmie knew that although this was their first time riding the HIGH RAIL 1375, it definitely wasn’t the last, and they were sure they would be riding it again really soon. As they continued their autumn adventure throughout the Shinetsu Region, they couldn’t contain their excitement over their next and final Joyful Train ride.
Stay tuned around for the next article, where they will be riding the last Joyful Train of their autumn trip: the SL Banetsu Monogatari, a Joyful Train that hearkens back to railway travel of the yesteryears!
(Tip: if you want to ride the HIGH RAIL 1375, you can do so for free with the following JR East rail passes!)
JR EAST PASS (Nagano, Niigata area)
The JR EAST PASS (Nagano, Niigata area) and where you can use it. (Image credit: JR East)
If you are planning to ride the HIGH RAIL 1375 or explore the Shinetsu Region, check out the JR EAST PASS (Nagano, Niigata area), an affordable pass offering unlimited rail travel on JR East lines (including bullet trains and Joyful Trains like the HIGH RAIL 1375) in the valid area for 5 consecutive days. At only ¥27,000, the pass is a considerable option for railway travellers, and it also covers the entire route for the HIGH RAIL 1375. The JR EAST PASS (Nagano, Niigata area) can be used for automatic ticket gates, and foreign passport holders living in Japan are also eligible to use this pass.
JR EAST PASS (Tohoku area)
The JR EAST PASS (Tohoku area) and where you can use it. (Image credit: JR East)
Alternatively, the 5-day JR EAST PASS (Tohoku area) is another affordable pass if you would like to ride the HIGH RAIL 1375 and explore the Tohoku Region (東北地方) too. At only ¥30,000, it is a considerable option for railway travellers who are planning to visit many places in the region. The JR EAST PASS (Tohoku area) can be used for automatic ticket gates, and foreign passport holders living in Japan are also eligible to use this pass.
JR TOKYO Wide Pass
The JR TOKYO Wide Pass and where you can use it. (Image credit: JR East)
Lastly, if you like to ride the HIGH RAIL 1375 and explore Tokyo and its surrounding region on top of it, consider the JR TOKYO Wide Pass, an affordable pass that allows unlimited rail travel on JR East lines (including bullet trains) and certain non-JR lines in the valid area for 3 consecutive days at only ¥15,000. You can also make seat reservations online for free, up to 1 month in advance, on the JR-EAST Train Reservation.
The JR-EAST Train Reservation. (Image credit: JR East)
Header image credit: Japanmase