Visiting Tokyo recently from North America felt kind of like the fabled Gorbachev-sees-an-American-supermarket moment for me. Not only do the trains go everywhere, frequently, and reliably, but the condition of everything was astounding. The cleanliness was a big part of it, but also just how non-abused everything was. I was there for a week and didn’t once see a tag carved into the seats or walls of a train car or smell urine on a platform. I don’t think I even saw a single piece of litter on a train. The respect with which people treat public property was genuinely eye-opening.
The cleanliness of Tokyo is (at least) two factor: People are more clean in public (less graffiti, less littering, less spitting, less gum, less urine) and the maintenance spend for public infrastructure (roads, trains, etc.) is higher. That combination is the magic. Restaurants feel similar as well. Many are freakishly clean by any US/CAN/EU/AUS/NZ standards. Again, I would say the key is a combination of neat(er) customers and fastidious cleaning by the restaurant staff.
Thats the transferable lesson that we could apply here where dingy and defaced public infrastructure is just accepted as “the way things are in a big city,” when it’s demonstrably not inevitable.
Speaking of cleaning the Tokyo train system, here is a documentary on how Japanese trains are cleaned:
I can’t believe this level of cleaning is ever done in the NYC subway system.