How the Tessei, Japan’s Crack Cleaning Squads, Turn Bullet Trains Around in Seven Minutes


Being a New Yorker, the year I spent living in Japan was a shock because the country is so spotlessly clean. It’s as clean as it is for three reasons, the first two being that average citizens pick up after themselves, and they also pick up after un-average citizens. You’ll probably recall that during last year’s World Cup, Tweeted photos of Japanese fans cleaning their side of the stadium in Brazil went viral. As per Japanese sporting venue tradition, they had arrived to the match armed with garbage bags. The third reason Japan is so clean is because when the first two reasons aren’t enough, they have crack cleaning squads operating with military precision. Consider the hundreds of Shinkansen (bullet trains) the country runs every day. They adhere to strict 12-minute turnaround times, with two minutes alloted for passengers to get off and another two minutes for new passengers to get on. That leaves the employees of Tessei, the company hired to clean the trains, just seven minutes to turn the trains around. Here’s how they do it: Asian news network Rocket News 24 provides a detailed breakdown of their timetable: “1.5 minutes spent picking up trash, 30 seconds rotating the seats, four minutes sweeping and cleaning, and a one-minute check.” Also interesting is that the efficacy of the Tessei cleaning crews, which are 50/50 men/women with an average age of 52, only recently attained their legendary status. TESSEI was reformed into the company it is today nine years ago. At the time the workers were treated as mere dispatch cleaners, and had low morale and dedication to their job. This led to the cleanliness of the shinkansen suffering and not living up to the expectations held by its millions of passengers. One of the main changes involved in the overhaul was redefining the work as ‘service’ rather than ‘cleaning’, and endeavoring to create a sense of pride in the job. Another major factor is the importance of teamwork, with input coming not just from the supervisors but from everyone in the team. Every day they will hold a team meeting to thoroughly discuss any issues no matter how trivial, and every member gets a say. Furthermore, the teams are not fixed, and will be shuffled around so that everyone gets a chance to work with and learn from lots of different people…. TESSEI’s incredible service has garnered admiration and praise around the world. Upon visiting TESSEI, the French national rail president commented that he wanted to import the idea to France. And last month a group of professors from Harvard University visited TESSEI and discussed including the company in teaching materials at the graduate school of business.

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How the Tessei, Japan’s Crack Cleaning Squads, Turn Bullet Trains Around in Seven Minutes


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