Cleaning brigade helps Japan’s bullet trains to run on time

A JR East TESSEI cleaner stands at the train platform of Tokyo Station as passengers alight from the Shinkansen. Photo: Amanda Lee/TODAY
A JR East TESSEI cleaner takes 12 seconds to clean a row of five seats in the Shinkansen train cabin. Photo: Amanda Lee/TODAY
The Shinkansen train at Toyoma Station. Photo: Amanda Lee/TODAY
A JR East TESSEI cleaner waits for passengers to alight from the Shinkansen at Tokyo Station. Photo: Amanda Lee/TODAY
Published: 9:53 AM, February 7, 2016
Updated: 1:02 PM, February 7, 2016
(Page 1 of 8) - NEXT PAGE | SINGLE PAGE

TOKYO — Armed with detachable brooms, dustpans and other equipment, the cleaners have just seven minutes to clean the 17-carriage Shinkansen as Japan’s famous bullet train makes a 12-minute turnaround stop at Tokyo Station.

Each of the 40 cleaners is assigned to a seat carriage, which has between 75 and 100 seats. Once inside the cabin, they swing into action – checking luggage racks, clearing tray tables and leftover rubbish, ensuring all seats are in upright position. To meet their deadline, they only have about 12 seconds to clean a row of five seats.

After they are done clearing one train cabin, they will move to another one – their actions monitored by cleaning leaders with an eye on the clock.

Once their seven minutes are up, the cleaners will leave the train and line up at the train platform – to bid goodbye to passengers who have just three minutes to board the Shinkansen before it leaves the station, just a minute longer than the time given for passengers to alight from the bullet train.

Japan’s meticulous band of train cleaners — which made the headlines when a video of a Shinkansen cleaning crew in seven minutes went viral last year — form an integral part of the workforce that keeps the nation’s bullet trains running like clockwork, give and take several disruptions a year.

“Although they (the cleaners) are not very highly paid, they take a lot of pride in their job,” Mr Takuya Watariya, manager of JR East TESSEI, the cleaning company owned by JR East, one of the four JR companies which operate the Shinkansen network in Japan. The other three are JR Central, JR West and JR Kyushu.

As the highly-anticipated Kuala Lumpur-Singapore High Speed Rail (HSR) project prepares to move to its next stage of implementation, TODAY visited Tokyo last November for some insights into how the Shinkansen system works in Japan and the impact the bullet train has had on daily life in the country.


The Shinkansen is a nationwide network of railways which links cities such as Tokyo, Nagoya, Osaka, Sendai, Aomori, Niigata and Kanazawa.

JR East operates a five-route Shinkansen network between Tokyo and major cities in eastern Honshu, Japan’s main island.

(Page 1 of 8) - NEXT PAGE | SINGLE PAGE