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People picking up litter as they pass by, others who leave litter behind them. Anywhere people gather or pass through is bound to get dirty, and a train station is no exception.
With all the hair and dust from the clothes of the non-stop human traffic in addition to litter, it’s no wonder that stations become extremely grimy. But you are not likely to see any noticeable litter or grime in the stations on the Tokyo Metro subway system, because every day an army of 720 cleaning staff is out keeping them spick and span.
Tokyo Metro operates 179 stations on nine lines. The station cleaning staff meets every morning at 8:30 a.m. at liaison points located every few stations. They do some lightwarm-up exercises and then set out for their assigned stations, unsurprisingly traveling by subway.
After arriving at their designated stations, the first thing the cleaners do is make a patrol of the platform and pick up any litter on the ground.
Next, they empty the garbage bins and take the contents into a storeroom to sort into burnable garbage, non-burnable garbage, bottles and cans. On days when new editions of magazines hit the stands, apparently there are so many discarded magazines the pile reaches the ceiling. In the morning the main task is wiping clean the handrails of escalators and stairways. It looks like easy work, but because there are people constantly using these handrails, the cleaners can’t let their concentration slip.
“You have to be particularly careful on the stairs. When we see customers using the handrails about ten steps in front or behind us, we get out of the way because we don’t want elderly people, pregnant women or anyone else falling over.
Preventing accidents before they happen is one of our duties,” says Akira Igarashi, chief of the Komagome-based team.
He and the rest of the staff always carry a cleaning cloth and garbage bags on their waist. The moment he steps on the platform his eyes are peeled, and any mess he sees is dealt with promptly. For example, if spilled juice is not cleaned up quickly, passengers will walk all over it and spread it even further. Swift action is required.
“I give priority to dealing with whatever I notice needs doing first, and the places I think are dirty, so I don’t have any set route for each cleaning task. But litter naturally tends to collect into piles and stay in one place. It’s crucial to discover where the vulnerable points like that are in each station and get on to them quickly.”
In the afternoon the cleaners concentrate on cleaning platform doors and walls. Depending on the state of things, they might use a back pack type cleaner or bring in a floor cleaner to thoroughly remove all the dirt. “We believe our job is to create an environment that doesn’t leave the customers with memories of a bad experience.”
A subway station can definitely feel oppressive at times, but clean and tidy stations can help to relieve that cooped up feeling and make using them a comfortable experience. As usual, the stations Mr. Igarashi is in charge of are spick and span once again today.
Cleaning staff pay attention to detail and look out for passengers as they do their work in crowded stations
Text: JQR Editorial Staff