The Koumi Line: A Highland Railway
The Koumi Line runs 78.9km between Kobuchizawa, Yamanashi Prefecture and Komoro, Nagano Prefecture. The line, which reaches a maximum altitude of 1,375 meters, skirts the foot of Yatsugatake mountains. Trains first ran along the whole Koumi Line in November 1935. Construction of the line was extremely difficult and local people were delighted when it was finished. The local railway has continually played a vital role in people's lives. We visit Japan's highlands in summer, where unexpected encounters are waiting.

Nearest the Sky

High Rail 1375 is a special train that only runs at weekends. The seats on the train face the windows, helping passengers enjoy the passing scenery. JR, the railway company, has lines all over Japan, but the Koumi Line includes the network's highest point at 1,375m above sea level. The train climbs rapidly through an altitude of 500 meters to reach the Koumi Line's peak, the line's most popular spot, which is marked by a large pillar.

A Clear, Starlit Sky

Nobeyama is the highest JR station in Japan. In fact, all of Japan's nine highest stations are on the Koumi Line. The parabolic antenna visible from the train window is the Nobeyama Radio Observatory. This is one of the largest radio telescopes in the world, with a 45-meter dish. Observations made here 30 years ago helped lead to the first discovery of a black hole. The antenna reaches high into the clear skies above Nobeyama. It listens out for quiet voices from space, hoping to make a new discovery.

Highland Harvest

Kawakami Village lies at an altitude of over 1,100 meters. It stays cool even in the summer, making it an ideal climate for growing lettuce. The lettuce business in Kawakami Village expanded in the 1950s. The village produce was taken to market on the Koumi Line. Specially ventilated rail cars kept the produce fresh. Helped by the Koumi Line, Kawakami Village grew into the largest producer of lettuce in Japan. Some local farmers are the third or fourth generation of their families farming the lettuce.