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Rail Report: Riding close to the sky with the HIGH RAIL 1375

Rail Report: Riding close to the sky with the HIGH RAIL 1375

In an attempt to ride all of JR East’s exciting sightseeing trains also known as Joyful Trains, it’s finally my turn to share my experience on the HIGH RAIL 1375 in this rail report! 


Before I start, let me share a little more about this unique Joyful Train. The HIGH RAIL 1375 runs along the Koumi Line (小海線 Koumi-sen) and is home to some of the highest train stations in Japan. Stretching from Komoro Station (小諸駅 Komoro-eki) in Nagano Prefecture (長野県 Nagano-ken) to Kobuchizawa Station (小淵沢駅 Kobuchizawa-eki) in Yamanashi Prefecture (山梨県 Yamanashi-ken), this scenic line offers stunning views of the Yatsugatake Mountain Range (八ヶ岳連峰 Yatsugatake-renpō) and the highland scenery of both prefectures that can be enjoyed all season.


During a previous trip with my colleagues Carissa and Sue, due to unforeseen circumstances, we had to sadly pass on our ride on this pretty, blue train. So needless to say I was ecstatic to have another chance to ride it during my recent trip to Japan. So, let the trip begin!


First stop: Komoro Station

(Image credit: JR East / Julia Yee)


On this fateful day, my itinerary was split into two main segments: exploring the castle town of Ueda City and taking the HIGH RAIL 1375. Having completed the first half of my itinerary, from Ueda City, I took the local Shinano Railway Line (しなの鉄道線 Shinano Tetsudō-sen) to make my way to Komoro Station. The peaceful ride took about 25 minutes and as it is a local line, it was packed with students and families.


All aboard the HIGH RAIL 1375!

My obligatory “face with train logo” shot. (Image credit: JR East / Julia Yee)


Upon arriving at the station’s platform, the first thing that caught my attention was the very cute exterior of the HIGH RAIL 1375 train. The vibrant blue colours paired with motifs and images of the mountains and stars were right up my alley. The number 1375 from its name actually derives from a point along the Koumi Line which lies at the highest altitude among all JR railway tracks in Japan, at 1,375m.  


Wide variety of seat configurations

(Image credit: JR East / Julia Yee)


Taking a step onto the train, I found myself between two cars—Car 1 which had the single, paired, and boxed seats, while Car 2 had reclining seats. My seat was located in Car 1, and what really impressed me was that the seats are oriented towards the windows so that all the passengers would have their own spot to gaze at the beautiful outdoors. Car 2, on the hand, features the regular 2-by-2 seat configuration. The seats are reclinable, and the car also features large windows so that passengers can enjoy unobstructed views of the beautiful scenery outside. 


Stamp counter

I didn’t manage to collect all 3 stamps… (Image credit: JR East / Julia Yee)


As you may have read in the other “Rail Report” articles, each Joyful Train has its own little stamp counter for you to collect the stamp. Located in between both cars, I spotted the Stamp Counter. Fun fact: this Joyful Train is one of the only three that run within Nagano Prefecture, with the other two being the Oykot and the Resort View Furusato. If you have the chance, take all three of these Joyful Trains and complete your stamp collection for the prefecture!


The HIGH RAIL Gallery

(Image credit: JR East / Julia Yee)


The main highlight of the HIGH RAIL 1375 is located in Car 2 and it’s the domed planetarium. In this cosy gallery, passengers can look up and view a projection of the starry night sky and various constellations. I couldn’t stop looking up in anticipation for the actual night sky later on. I also found it fascinating that you could choose from a wide variety of Japanese astronomy-related books neatly lined up in the planetarium to browse through.


Sales counter

Can you guess what I brought home as a souvenir? (Image credit: JR East / Julia Yee)


Similar to the stamp counter, another commonality between the Joyful Trains is that they have their unique souvenirs. Located at the end of Car 1, the sales counter offers a variety of limited edition HIGH RAIL 1375-themed souvenirs ranging from keychains and stickers to little constellation drinking glasses. This sales counter is not only limited to souvenirs—it also offers snacks and hot and cold beverage options.


The journey to Japan’s highest JR station

(Image credit: JR East / Julia Yee)


The train is not the only thing that is exciting about the HIGH RAIL 1375. During my trip, I got to witness the beautiful scenery that line is also famous for. The rice fields were all in hues of yellow with the end of summer right around the corner, and paired with mountains in the distance, made the entire journey very serene and peaceful.


Such a heartwarming farewell. (Image credit: JR East / Julia Yee)


One of the most memorable parts of the journey was the stop at Nakagomi Station (中込駅 Nakagomi-eki). Passengers such as myself were greeted by the warm and friendly train staff donning happi (法被) coats designed after the train itself. At this stop, passengers can alight and snap photos with the train staff, and soon it was time to depart the station. I bid farewell to the lovely train staff at Nakagomi Station—I must say, the top-notch hospitality is one of my favourite parts when riding Joyful Trains.  


No excuse for me to forget the day I took the HIGH RAIL 1375. (Image credit: JR East / Julia Yee)


Continuing on with my journey, I helped myself to a refreshing bottle of Yatsugatake Kogen Cider (八ヶ岳高原サイダー)! Also, the lovely train crew came down the aisle holding a sign for a photo to remember your trip by. Of course, I opted in and it was a fun little activity to partake in. 


Arriving at Nobeyama Station (Day time)

(Image credit: JR East / Julia Yee)


Having taken in the stunning view and sipping my cider, I arrived at Nobeyama Station (野辺山駅)—Japan’s highest JR station. The train makes a brief stop here and I hopped off to explore the station. Within the station, you can spot the image of the starry night sky on the ceiling. However, this can’t be seen with the naked eye and requires you to use your phone’s flashlight to capture the constellations displayed. 


Nice weather and puffy clouds. But is this some sort of foreshadowing for later? (Image credit: JR East / Julia Yee)


At 1,345.67m, it is the highest train station on the Koumi Line. You may wonder, “wait, I thought that the number on the train is 1375?” and yes you’re right. Despite being the highest JR station in Japan, it isn't exactly the highest point on the Koumi Line. That point can be found between Nobeyama Station and Kiyosato Station (清里駅 Kiyosato-ek). If you would like to find out more, you can check out my colleague Nazrul’s rail report on his experience on the HIGH RAIL 1375 here


After having a good look around the station, I made my way back onto the train and I was soon on my way to the last stop along the line. It wasn’t farewell to Nobeyama Station just yet as I will be returning to this station later. 


The last stop: Kobuchizawa Station

(Image credit: JR East / Julia Yee)


With evening upon me, the train arrived at Kobuchizawa Station, the last stop along the Koumi Line. Upon arrival, I got off the train and it was time to grab a quick dinner while I awaited the evening service back to Nobeyama Station for stargazing. I had about an hour or so to spare, so I was eager to check out the shop located at the station. But before that, I had to have a peek at the station’s rooftop observation deck. 


You can spot the HIGH RAIL 1375 parked at the station! (Image credit: JR East / Julia Yee)


After climbing a short flight of stairs, I was greeted by this gorgeous panoramic view of the surrounding area and mountain. With the cool evening breeze and benches to sit on to enjoy the view, it was tempting to just spend my time there—it is not every day that I get to visit a station with a splendid view of the mountains. Sadly, my stomach wasn’t agreeing with me and it was time to head to see what was for dinner.    


(Image credit: JR East / Julia Yee)


Just after exiting the station on the first floor, I spotted MASAICHI, a shop that sold plenty of souvenirs from both prefectures of Nagano and Yamanashi. It offered an assortment of omiyage such as classic crackers, biscuits, and jellies, to local wine and even whiskey. With so many interesting souvenirs, I had to really think about my luggage’s capacity and what I could stuff in it to bring home to share with my friends and family. 


Double trouble? (Image credit: JR East / Julia Yee)


Having arrived in the evening, half of the ekiben (駅弁) for the day had already sold out. Trying not to feel too defeated, I looked through on what was still available and found one that was only left with two boxes: the W Wine Bento (Wワイン弁当). Yes, the extra “W” is not a typo—it is often used as a short form for the word “double” due to similar pronunciation. Hence this ekiben can be interpreted as Double Wine Bento.


As per the name, my delicious ekiben came with the White Wine Yakiniku (白ワイン焼肉 Shiro wain yakiniku) and the Red Wine Hamburg (赤ワインハンバーグ Aka wain Hanbāgu). On both sides, the ekiben has perfectly incorporated the delicious wine in the sauce and marinate. The combination was the right balance of Western and Japanese cuisine and I quickly gobbled up my food, feeling satisfied. 


Attempting to reach for the stars at Nobeyama Station

(Image credit: JR East / Julia Yee)


With the sky gradually getting darker, I quickly made my way back to the HIGH RAIL 1375 as it soon departed from Kobuchizawa Station. Right when boarding the train, the staff crew informed us that as the sky was looking cloudy—in the event where no stars were visible for stargazing, passengers could pick a time slot at the planetarium. The HIGH RAIL 1375’s evening train service is called Hoshizora (星空 starry sky), where the evening sky will be shimmering with stars. Admittedly, this news made me a little worried that I wasn’t able to see any at all. 


(Image credit: JR East / Julia Yee)


My journey back to Nobeyama Station was prompt and upon arrival, I was greeted by a gentleman who would be our guide for the stargazing tour. Having worked for the space centre for many years, he was equipped with a wealth of knowledge as he began his explanation while handing out a leaflet (that he had prepared on his own!) with details of the constellations. Feeling like I was in good hands, I eagerly paid attention to his explanation which was both entertaining and easy to understand. 


He had also updated us on the sky’s cloudy condition and that we would be proceeding to the Gallery first, and after that, we would be heading out to check on the sky again. At my selected time slot, I made my way to the Gallery equipped with my leaflet. The experience I had was truly enjoyable—I was so amazed by the visuals I could witness within the car of the train. The bright and detailed visuals truly made me feel like I was looking up at the clear night sky. I highly recommend anyone taking the HIGH RAIL 1375 to check it out given the opportunity. 


(Image credit: JR East / Julia Yee)


With the show and explanations over, I stepped out of Nobeyama Station and to my surprise, the entire area was very dark. I was informed that the surrounding area had turned off their lights to make for a better stargazing experience. Unfortunately for me, the sky was still relatively cloudy. Nevertheless, other passengers such as myself were trying our best to peer into the sky, hoping for the clouds to pass. 


Hello there! (Image credit: JR East / Julia Yee)


As my neck was starting to ache, I was about to lose hope that I wasn't able to see any stars tonight but the shy stars decided to make a brief appearance in a spot that was not blocked by the clouds. Despite it being very brief, I was amazed by the number of little stars hidden behind the cloud—some smaller than the rest, and some brighter than the rest. 


The guide explained that it is usually harder to see the stars during warmer months and the best time was in fact during winter when the air is cooler and dryer, hence reducing the likelihood of cloudy weather. Now I’m determined to return once again to see the stars in winter! 



Byebye! (Image credit: JR East / Julia Yee)


Having spent 1.5 hours at Nobeyama Station, it was time for me to head back. My journey back was pretty eventful too as my colleague Carissa and I had to rush and catch the last shinkansen back to our accommodation at Nagano Station—but that's a story for another day...


Taking the HIGH RAIL 1375 has been a bittersweet experience for me. This being my first time taking this train, there was plenty that I enjoyed during my trip along the Koumi Line. Despite not being able to see the stars that night, I was not disheartened; instead, it fueled my determination to see them in the future. (For those who managed to catch the starry nights on the HIGH RAIL 1375, I would love to hear about your trip!) This concludes my attempt to reach for the stars, and you’ll definitely see me again onboard the HIGH RAIL 1375! 


JR East rail passes

The JR TOKYO Wide Pass (left), the JR EAST PASS (Tohoku area) (top-right), and the JR EAST PASS (Nagano, Niigata area) (bottom-right). (Image credit: JR East)


If you want to ride the HIGH RAIL 1375, as well as travel to other destinations in Eastern Japan, then check out the different JR East rail passes that you can use for your travelling needs. Have a look at the passes below for more details



The passes above offer unlimited rail travel on JR East lines (including bullet trains and selected limited express trains) in their respective valid areas, and they can be used to ride the HIGH RAIL 1375 as well as other Joyful Trains for free. They can also be used at automatic ticket gates, and to make seat reservations up to 1 month in advance.


Header image: JR East / Julia Yee


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