Omotenashi promo video of quick shinkansen cleanup goes viral


Staff Writer

A short video depicting the cleaning of Japan’s famous bullet trains has become an online hit, garnering more than 2.6 million views on YouTube as of Monday.

As a way to promote Tokyo and omotenashi — Japanese hospitality — to the world ahead of the 2020 Summer Olympics, last fall the metropolitan government invited six foreign journalists to join a six-week Dateline Tokyo program.

They were asked to discover unique aspects of the capital that residents may not be aware of.

One of the journalists, New York-based Charli James, produced a video in October titled “7-Minute Miracle,” depicting an entire shinkansen train being cleaned in seven minutes.

“Three hundred and twenty-three shinkansen bullet trains depart Tokyo Station daily, transporting nearly 400,000 passengers every day,” reads an English subtitle in the video.

“Each worker covers one car, about 100 seats,” a subtitle says in another part of the video, which is less than two minutes long.

“I traveled on the shinkansen from Tokyo to Kyoto before starting the Dateline Tokyo program and was very impressed with the trains,” James told The Japan Times when asked about the reason for shooting the cleaning process for bullet trains.

“In America, our trains aren’t as clean and on time, so I thought Americans would be interested in seeing how this turnaround process works in Japan,” she added.

She also said that what she found unique about Japan’s culture is “that Japanese people take such pride in their work, and strive to make everything best.”

James also wrote several articles to introduce foreign readers to Japanese culture, and on how Tokyo can upgrade foreign tourists’ experiences.

Noriko Naito of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government’s public relations office said the journalists have helped discover things that for Japanese people are very common but may be unusual in other countries.

“There are many beautiful places (and things) that have not yet been shared outside of Japan,” Naito said.

James’ video shows part of the cleaning process, played at a fast speed. It starts with workers collecting litter that can’t be vacuumed up. Each seat is then turned 180 degrees as the train has reached its final destination and now prepares to change direction. After that, workers open the curtains and thoroughly clean the floor, tables and seats that are later returned to their upright position. Finally, they check whether there are any items left behind on the luggage racks.

The video ends with the phrase: “When finished, workers line up to bow. A demonstration of pride and diligence.” It was uploaded to the Tokyo Metropolitan Government’s official YouTube channel on Jan. 16.

Initially the video didn’t get much attention. But after it was introduced online by an Indian media outlet in late May, the number of views significantly increased and it was covered in French media, which suggested the service could be used on France’s high-speed trains.

The shinkansen are cleaned by Techno Heart Tessei Co., a subsidiary of JR East.

“For us, it’s a normal procedure. We’re not doing anything special,” the company’s spokesman said.

“The procedure was introduced 10 years ago, but it’s not like we did something special to improve the operations. Maybe it’s because it’s in Japanese nature,” he said. “Employees feel motivated by enjoying their work.”

  • GBR48

    Shinkansen are a joy to behold and to ride in. Trains like space shuttles that you just want to caress. The existence of smoking compartments on some is a concern, but the ticket office staff can ensure you avoid them.

    The general (if not entire) absence of litter in Japan is also a joy. The UK is paved with the stuff-a mixture of laziness, low standards and a lack of self-respect.

    The 180 degree seat swivelling also happens on some limited express services. It’s automated on the one that runs from Kyoto to Kintetsu Nara-you can film it through the window before boarding.

  • sharif sircar


  • J Steel

    Incredible indeed.

    Sigh…back in my hometown the mass transit runs as intended but would be considered filthy compared to Japan’s Shinkansen or metro trains. If I were to raise this to transit authority back home I would be laughed out for advocating money being spent on cleanliness. Really highlights the cultural difference…

  • wisteria

    What are the other videos?

  • anoninjapan

    “…“The procedure was introduced 10 years ago, but it’s not like we did something special to improve the operations. Maybe it’s because it’s in Japanese nature,” …” it has nothing to do with indoctrination over hundreds of years of obsequious servitude imposed onto the peasants and surfs by their ruling masters out of fear they comply and never complain.

    Wow…my bad then!!

  • samuelaugustusjennings

    Seats reverse by pushing hidden button while we struggle at Amtrak.