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'Omotenashi' on board
AP/Shizuo Kambayashi
‘Omotenashi’ on board
QUICK TURNAROUND

This viral video shows Japan’s bullet trains being cleaned in seven minutes flat

By Maria Sanchez Diez

Japan’s bullet train or shinkansen has long embodied the miracle of the country’s progress and efficiency. But it’s not just the trains that are quick. A short video showing an army of cleaners clearing the cars in a record time has gone viral.

The clip, created by the American journalist Charli James, shows the cleaning crew diligently wiping the trays, sweeping the floor and clearing the seats. Each worker covers one 100-seat car, and takes 12 seconds to clean a row. They only have 7 minutes before the train must take the next set of passengers. More than 300 bullet trains depart daily from Tokyo station, transporting nearly 400,000 passengers.

The clip was originally uploaded to YouTube in January, after the Tokyo metropolitan government invited James and other English-speaking journalists to visit the city. It went viral in recent weeks, after being picked up by Indian and French websites: it now has more than 2 million views on YouTube.

“I wanted to capture how Japanese people take so much pride in their work, and how they work really hard to make sure that the train is nice for people to ride,” James tells Quartz.

When the cleaners were finished with the car, they bowed as a demonstration of pride and diligence. “It was really interesting to me that, even though is a cleaning job, they still take a lot of pride in their work,” said James.

When she asked the cleaning crew’s manager the reason why they bowed, the journalist said she experienced a “Lost in Translation moment.” The boss could not understand the question. According to James, he seemed to think: “Why wouldn’t they?”