Mixed Plate: The caretakers of Japan’s Shinkansen


With over 120,000 trains bringing millions of commuters to and from their destinations, the Shinkansen knows the value of time.

With the 2020 Olympic Games approaching, the bullets are ready to take on millions more.

Gearing up for the games are the Shinkansen’s hospitality workers, known as the Tessei Division, a devoted band of cleaners who greet each train with a respectful bow.

They consider themselves caretakers and the trains are their babies.

Nearly 1,000 workers, divided into teams of 22 people, swab, sweep, and scour about 20 trains a day.

“Japanese have a real sense they must be respectful of everyone’s space,” said passenger Edwin Hawkins Jr.

That respect is reciprocated by everyone on board. There’s not a bit of trash, no gum on seats, and not a bit of graffiti on the walls.

“We hire people with the best attitude. They take pride in their trains. They are as ready as any athlete for the Olympic Games,” said Munehiro Nakakouji of West Japan Railway Co.

Stationed below the tracks, the workers prepare. They’ve got only seven minutes between the time passengers get off and new passengers get on. They are the Usain Bolts of janitorial service.

With the task done,the Tessei take another bow, not for acknowledgement, but out of respect for the passengers who will now ride their impeccable cars.

Watch the premiere of “Mixed Plate: Season of Gold” Wednesday, Oct. 18, at 9:30 p.m. on KHON2.

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