Returning to Japan – What questions do you have?

I’m at the San Francisco International Airport and about to board my flight back to Japan – the second time since we departed as residents 11 months ago.

I’m super excited to be back to see friends, experience the food and omotenashi (customer service), and to continue my deep learning about kaizen culture. I’m looking forward to being back in my old neighborhood in Tokyo, wandering the streets, experiencing the constant contrasts and contradictions that abound.

What questions do you have?

I have meetings with many of my professional connections across Japan and am looking forward to spending time with all of them.

What questions do you have for the people with whom I’ll be meeting? I’ll do my best to ask your questions as time and conversation permits!

Please post your questions in the comments section below.

The 5S City and Mrs. Ogura

Our Lean study tour group at Ogrua Metal. Mrs. Ogura is in the front row, third from the right. My co-leader Ms. Kawanami is in the front row, fifth from the left.

It was one year ago this week that I led a tour to the “5S” town of Ashikaga, where over 200 companies and organizations in the town use 5S and kaizen principles to bring joy and revitalization to their community.

Next week I’m meeting up with Mrs. Noriko Ogura, the inspirational leader of Ogura Metal, and my colleague Ms. Toshiko Kawanami who co-led the study trip to Ashikaga with me.

I cannot wait to talk with both of these strong Japanese career and family women who were ahead of their times in terms of female roles in Japan (see my posts on the gender divide in Japan to get some context about this).

What questions do you have for Mrs. Ogura or Ms. Kawanami? You can get inspired by my posts about Ashikaga, Ogrua Metal and 5S principles in Japan.

Mr. Isao Yoshino

Making pottery with my friend and mentor, Mr. Isao Yoshino, a year ago (May 2016).

Of course, no visit to Japan is complete for me without a trip to Nagoya to visit with my friend and Toyota mentor, Mr. Isao Yoshino.

I’ve seen him twice in the U.S. since I left Japan last June, but look forward to spending time together with him in his university office and to hear one of his lectures on hoshin-kanri (strategy deployment).

Mr. Yoshino is a wealth of knowledge and wisdom about leadership, coaching, and Toyota – plus we always have a good laugh!

I have missed bullet train travel and am very much looking forward to my two 90-minute Shinkansen rides to and from Nagoya!

CLICK HERE to get a PDF of 10 Toyota leadership lessons that I’ve learned from Mr. Yoshino.

Gemba visits in Nagoya and Tokyo

I also have some exciting gemba visits lined up to visit some kaizen-minded Japanese companies and to experience the energizing daily start-up exercise deployed.

I look forward to spending time with Tim Wolput, who I met this time last year and who invited me to join him to visit a local Japanese government office, which have been the focus of my most recent three posts, and a Tokyo-area dry cleaner (posts still forthcoming).

Follow me on Twitter for real-time learning

I will be tweeting more frequently while I am in Japan. Follow me to get more real-time impressions and photos of my learning experiences: @kbjanderson

What questions do you have?

Remember to leave your questions below!

Time to go board my flight!

Katie Anderson
About Katie Anderson 128 Articles

Lean thinker and coach. Passionate about developing people. Healthcare change agent. Living in California again after 18 months in Tokyo. Writing about lean and leadership.

  • coryroz

    All suppliers of products and services sometimes miss a serious defect (sometimes even a systemic issue rather than a singular event) that causes the customer to feel let down; and more immediately some form of pain either in the form of a delay, a defective product, or many other forms that may occur.

    How do we recover from such an event? Or more importantly, how can we best use continuous improvement practices to prevent such occurrences in the future.

  • AN

    How do our Japanese colleagues keep team members energized & engaged to sustain change & find new/continuous improvement oppty’s (vs. burning platform, sprint, distracted, stop behaviors)?

  • Jason Tate

    Do they have any models/recommendations for organizations that want to develop Kaizen skills but don’t have the ability to dedicated 2-4 days to? Maybe a model for a half of day type Kaizen?

  • Thiago Oliveira

    Hi Kate. I am interest in a Sales Kaizen material. How do they sale? Tools, Strategies, etc. Thank you!

  • Thanks for your question. I’m already back from Japan and wasn’t able to ask your question to some of my Japanese colleagues. I do know from previous conversations with Mr. Yoshino that TPS (Toyota Production System) thinking was slower to become part of management at Toyota Sales, but now it is incorporated. Other organizations that I have visited in the past use Lean in sales, but I do not have details. Sorry I can’t provide more info at this point.

  • Hi Jason – great question! Thanks for asking. In my experience visiting many kaizen minded organizations in Japan, I have learned that what we call “kaizen” is different from how the Japanese think about kaizen. Kaizen in Japan are the smaller, everyday, more simple improvements. Companies tend to place a greater emphasis on this than I have observed in the U.S. Companies do improvement projects too (often referred to as kaikaku) that take many days or months to complete, the the intended goal to be more radical transformation or innovation. Take a look at my “gemba/site visit” category and you can see many examples from Japanese organizations about how they approach smaller and larger improvements.

  • Hi AN – thanks for your question. I wasn’t able to follow up with your question directly on this recent trip, but I have some input based on past experiences. A large motivation for many lean-practicing Japanese organizations has been as a way to engage, motivate and “revitalize” people. Most leaders in Japan have highlighted that developing people, soliciting and implementing small improvement ideas, and allowing time for innovation and improvement is essential to how they run their business.

  • Thank you for your question. I didn’t specifically get a chance to ask your question, but it is one that I intend to follow up on in future conversations with my Japanese colleagues. I can share with you some insights from conversations I’ve had with Mr. Isao Yoshino and others related to this topic. Toyota, for example, places high value on the relationship they have developed with their suppliers. They work with their suppliers to teach them TPS – including imbedding their own leaders in the supplier org to coach and develop them – to help prevent defects and other quality issues. It takes time to develop the relationship and trust, but it is essential across the whole value stream. A few years ago there was a major defect in airbags supplied to Toyota (and other auto companies), which resulted in the relationship being terminated.

  • Darin P asked me the following question on email: “How do they sustain lean initiatives?”

    Thanks for the question, Darin. This answer varies, of course, by organization. Some themes have emerged from this visit and previous experiences going to gemba and talking with Japanese lean-thinking leaders. 1) Leadership commitment and active involvement is essential. 2) Encourage and support small daily kaizen. Celebrate top suggestions with newsletters, annual events, on visible boards in the workplace, etc. 3) Don’t see improvement as an “initiative”. There can be improvement projects, but it is about how leaders engage with employees that is the “secret sauce”. Check out some of my posts in the “gemba/site visit” category to learn more.

  • Thiago Oliveira

    Thank you very much for your answer. I will be waiting if you get some. I love so much A3 Thinking, Kaizen, Lean and all Japanese Culture.

  • AN

    Hi Katie, Thank you for the meaningful response. To me, it is a good reminder of building a culture that encourages & supports continuous improvement for benefits beyond/greater than KPI’s. Thank you.

  • Thanks for the answers here, Katie (well, at least one answer for now 🙂
    I’m hoping for all the best for Japan when it comes to innovation – I know they have it in them!

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