Every day, at Tokyo station’s four platforms, more than 300 “Shinkansens” (bullet trains) arrive and depart, with average intervals of roughly four minutes. “TESSEI”, a subsidiary of Japan Railway, is in charge of cleaning these bullet trains, making them meticulously clean and ready for the next passengers. Completing the task of cleaning these 17-carriage bullet trains in under 7 minutes, TESSEI has recently attracted attention from the international media, including CNN who dubbed the TESSEI crew as “The 7 minute miracle”.
TESSEI is Japan Railway’s rail service subsidiary, responsible for cleaning the bullet trains when they arrive at Tokyo station, the final stop along the route. Their responsibilities include collecting trash, wiping each of the 1,700 individual tables, opening the curtains, rotating the seats 180 degrees to make them face the front of the train, and numerous other tasks. The TESSEI staff are divided into 11 teams, each with 22 people, and each team is in charge of cleaning around 20 trains every day. On average, the trains stop at Tokyo station for 12 minutes, and as it takes 2 minutes for the passengers to disembark and 3 minutes for the new passengers to board, it leaves the TESSEI crew roughly 7 minutes to complete their task.
As in many countries all over the world, in Japan cleaning was always a back-end service, and it was classified as a “3K” job; “Kitsui” (tough), “Kitanai” (dirty) and “Kiken” (unsafe). The cleaning industry was often an industry people looked down on, and many people did not stay in the industry for long, and even with those who stuck around, very few had motivation or pride in their job. The situation at TESSEI was no different from their peers, until nine years ago when a new CEO Teruo Yabe changed the culture and mentality of the TESSEI employees. He believed that the value TESSEI offers should be more than just cleaning, and redefined the cleaners as service specialists who deliver first-class service that creates a memorable experience for passengers. Now, TESSEI’s key value proposition is “Omotenashi”, which is a Japanese word for hospitality, and this is embedded in the operational manuals, training programs and in each employees’ minds.
Each team at TESSEI consists of 22 members, and each member is put in charge of one carriage, which has roughly 100 seats each. The whole carriage must be made spotlessly clean within the 7 minute deadline, and in order to accomplish this TESSEI has made continuous improvements in their operation.
After each train slides into the platform, the TESSEI team starts with bowing and thanking each of the passengers who come out on the platform. Once all the passengers have disembarked, TESSEI’s 7 minute clock starts ticking.
0m00s – 1m30s
- Collect large pieces of trash
- Check luggage racks / gaps between the seats for forgotten items
1m30s – 3m00s
- Rotate seats 180 degrees to face the direction of travel
- Sweep between the seats and move all trash to the aisle
3m00s – 5m00s
- Wipe seat-back trays
- Open all curtains
- Wipe all windows
- Change dirty seat covers
5m00s – 6m00s
- Sweep aisles
- Take all trash off the train
6m00s – 7m00s
- Final quality check
TESSEI’s highly efficient cleaning operation is a state of art, but the quickness and the efficiency is not the only thing they have pride in. Their mentality to provide hospitality to their passengers is what really sets them apart from normal cleaning services, and this is the true value of TESSEI. CEO Teruo Yabe changed the perception of cleaning amongst not only his employees but also society in general. He reinvented the job of cleaning into something enjoyable, and gave the job purpose.