TESSEI: The 7 minute miracle of the bullet train cleaning crew

Japan’s bullet train cleaning crew elevates “cleaning” to an “art”

Every day, at Tokyo station’s four platforms, more than 300Shinkansens” (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”.

 

Business Model

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.

 

Operating Model

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.

 

Sources:

  1. http://www.tessei.co.jp/
  2. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/japan/11692858/High-speed-cleaning-teams-behind-Japans-high-speed-bullet-trains.html
  3. http://e.globis.jp/article/000265.html
  4. http://ignition.co/127

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5 thoughts on “TESSEI: The 7 minute miracle of the bullet train cleaning crew

  1. This is such an innovative and interesting operating model – using human capital and dividing the tasks to maximise efficiency. It would be interesting to know how this could be applied to other industries which would derive a similar value in quick cleaning. Not only public transport, but spaces like offices. How important do you think the human capital element (workers having pride, and offering a hospitality service) serves as a source of value versus the efficiency of splitting up the process into simple, manageable tasks?

  2. Great post Yukako! It’s clear that the operational model is finely tuned to reduce the amount of time it takes a team to clean a train car to the bare minimum. In taking it a step further, Tessei went beyond that obvious simple math and instead focused on improving the experience of their employees. They did this because they found it was one more way of tweaking their operating model to better align with their business model.

  3. I am fascinated by the power of bowing as a demonstration of “pride and diligence”. I can only imagine how this helps to remind employees of the seriousness of their work, and of their reinforce their self-worth. It is hard to imagine anything of the sort being implementable in the United States, and yet perhaps there are things we can learn. It seems like a principle worth exploring in the future…

  4. This is awesome post Yukako! I have never thought that how efficient cleaning model can be and how effectively this model can be turned into a business. Also it is interesting to know that average age of people cleaning in 52 which in my opinion is relatively old age people and they are so efficient in this process.

    Does TESSEI work only for bullet trains or it is planning to expand to other industries? From my experience, this model would fit in for Airlines also and Airlines will have faster turnaround rates for aircrafts if this is implemented.

  5. Hi Yukako, this is such an interesting post! I enjoyed reading your post, while this article kept me thinking of the Korea’s eCommerce giant “Coupang”.
    The company “Coupang” also brought innovation to change conventional delivery people, who were non-permanent employees, to permanent employees, which made the quality of service much better and faster. Changing perspective from the public notion and conventional conception about cleaning job was probably quite hard, but that was the point the company TESSEI found the difference and improved to the outstanding model!

    Hopefully all of us can be entrepreneurs who can bring simple but meaningful innovations in people’s lives.

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