Japan - A Roundup and a Celebration of Learning

JAPAN: A Roundup and a Celebration of Learning

It’s hard to believe that it’s been two years since my last trip to Japan, and just over seven years since my family moved to Tokyo for a life-changing 18-month experience.

The pandemic has brought many changes into the world, and into our lives, and one of these that has been the most challenging has been the ability to travel.

I’m missing Japan deeply.

However, in this post I want to focus on the good and celebrate with a look back on seven years of learning in Japan — which I’ve shared with you here since early 2015 when I moved to Japan.

In this post, I’ve created a roundup of many of my Japan-related articles and some reflections and insights learned along the way.

Celebrating the publication of Learning to Lead, Leading to Learn in Japanese!

This week I have some especially exciting news – my bestselling book, Learning to Lead, Leading to Learn: Lessons from Toyota Leader Isao Yoshino on a Lifetime of Continuous Learning has just been published and released in Japanese in Japan!

The Japanese title of the book –  トヨタのリーダーシップレッスン  – directly translates to “Toyota’s Leadership Lessons”, which I find fitting as it harkens back to the title of the series of blog posts of my early conversations with Mr. Yoshino (see below for links).

I’m thrilled for Mr. Yoshino to be able to share these stories and the book with more of his colleagues and his mentors from Toyota, and for his wisdom to be accessible to a wider audience in his home country.

He went to two of his local bookstores earlier this week and sent me a photo of his holding up the book. I wish I could be there to celebrate this exciting occasion with him in person, but seeing his smile holding up our book brings me joy!

This week also marks the lunar new year (February 1) and my favorite festival in Japan (Setsubun on February 3rd) – which I created a video about last year – and it’s also the week of my birthday. So lots to celebrate!

Join Me and Mr. Yoshino in Our Chain of Learning!

Even though Mr. Yoshino and I can’t be in Japan together, we have planned several ways to collaborate in the coming months, and help you on your leadership journey.

Mini-workshop: Expand Your Chain of Learning

90 minute, on demand workshop: Expand Your Chain of Learning: A Leader’s Role in Developing People the Toyota Way With Isao Yoshino and Katie Anderson

  • Does your behavior align with your desire to fill your organization with problem-solvers?
  • Are you learning both from those who develop you and through your process of developing others?
  • Are you increasing your impact and effectiveness, and that of your people, so that you can ultimately achieve your goals, and create greater value for your clients and customers?

That is your purpose as a leader.

Whether you are a seasoned leader or lean practitioner, or you are new to management or continuous improvement, take this workshop to be inspired by the stories and wisdom of 40-year Toyota leader Isao Yoshino and insights from yours truly.

Walk away with tangible practices you can take immediately to strengthen your Chain of Learning.

Learn more and register for the Chain of Learning workshop.

Amplify Your Leadership Impact Thought the Next Leading to Learn Accelerator

Register for the self-paced Leading to Learn Accelerator Foundations or the next community cohort!

Intentional leadership and coaching is one of the most powerful ways to nurture transformation and discovery in your people, as they learn, grow, develop and succeed, while your business achieves significant results.

I developed the Leading to Learn Accelerator as a structured learning program designed to help you accelerate your skills and step into the leader you want to be.

Looking back: My last visit to Japan two years ago…

A clear view of Mt. Fuji during a day trip to visit a retired Mitsubishi leader I became friends with while living in Japan.

On my two-week trip to Japan at the beginning of 2020 (the highlights of which I wrote about here), we were just starting to hear about the spread of the coronavirus.

I was in Japan for three reasons:

  1. to put the finishing touches on my two nearly sold-out executive Japan Study Trips trips in May and October that year,
  2. to meet with my friend and mentor Isao Yoshino to take a photo to grace the cover of our forthcoming book Learning to Lead, Leading to Learn, and
  3. to catch up with friends and colleagues that I’d cultivated relationships with in the preceding five years.

And, of course, to soak up the amazing culture and eat delicious food!

I thought that January 2020 trip was going to be the first of at least two more visits to Japan that year, and that Mr. Yoshino and I would also see each other in Europe and North America on our planning book launch tour.

My Japan Study Trip partner Mami-san and I made our own darumas, filling in the eye for a successful May 2020 trip. “Fall down seven times, get up eight” – my daruma awaits his eye to be filled in!

The world had other plans, and those trips didn’t happen.

When the pandemic hit most of us thought that by 2021 things, of course, would be back to normal (or if not “normal” at least more open to travel and the virus under control).

Alas, as we all know, 2021 did not pan out that way.

Fast forward to today….

Japan’s borders have remained fairly closed to travelers now for nearly two years, and I’ve had to cancel even more scheduled dates for Japan Study Trips for 2021 and Spring 2022.

I remain hopeful that borders open and we can go in October as planned, but with each passing week, a 2022 trip is seeming less and less likely.

(If you want to go to Japan with me, go here for more information and reach out to me to secure your spot for a future trip).

Japan Article Roundup

So, even though we cannot travel to Japan right now, I wanted to take you on a trip there through the words in this article and highlight seven years of learning, insights, and culture, especially for those of you who are new to my community and who perhaps haven’t had the chance to explore Japan yourself or through my work.

Here are some more of my articles that I’ve written over the past 7 years — including many from when I was living there in 2015 and 2016.

Practicing Souji – A Cleaning Ritual

Middle school students cleaning their classrooms. Keeping the school clean is the responsibility of the entire school community – including students and teaching staff.

At the beginning of the pandemic, I recorded a video and wrote this article about the idea of practicing Souji – a daily cleaning ritual inspired by Japanese schools.

Japanese schools do not have cleaning staff – it is the collective responsibility of the children and teachers to keep the school clean. They don’t just tidy up, either. They use rags, brooms and mops to clean their classrooms and other other public areas.

While a daily practice hasn’t stuck in our family, it got us through the early days of lockdown!

Cultural Observations from Living in Japan

Anytime you visit another country, you’re going to be struck by the differences in culture. I loved living in Japan because I learned so much about the way different people work, live and engage with each other.

I wrote many articles about my observations: both the challenges and the delights. Here are a few of my favorites:

You can find more articles about my observations of culture and life in Japan here.

Gemba / Company Visits in Japan

12,000 ideas generated last year

The idea of going to gemba (the place work happens) is infused throughout my writings and my work.

Visiting companies in Japan was a critical part of my learning experience when I lived in Japan, and I’ve continued to cultivate relationships with Japanese leaders and companies over the past seven years to enrich not only my own learning, but also offer them as direct gemba experiences on my Japan Study Trips.

You can see all posts from experiences visiting companies in Japan (and a few elsewhere) here.

Below are just a few highlights!

A few of my earliest visits to Japanese companies

A group learning about 5S in Ashikaga. Photo credit: Toshiko Kawanami

A few highlights from the first tour I led in Japan

I led my first study tour – a one day excursion from Tokyo – in May 2016 while still living in Japan, to a town and a fabulous company that is that are cornerstone of my Japan Study Trips: Ashikaga and Ogura Metal.

Japanese hospitals and healthcare

Mr. Yoshino examining the patient comments and associated responses as displayed in the foyer of the main hospital.

Other site visits to Japanese companies (a selection!)

Me with the Kyushu TPS Promotion Office director

There are many more – plus check out highlights from my Japan Study Trips below too!

Reflections on “Lean” and Continuous Improvement Practices in Japan

“Ii ne!!!!” Thumbs up for Teppen’s inspirational and energizing start-up meeting (chorei).

As a continuous improvement practitioner and leader, I went to Japan with an open mind and a desire to learn about the roots of the Toyota Production System and what we now call “lean”.

Here are a few of the articles published both on my website, as well as on LEI’s The Lean Post and on Planet Lean, and links to some podcasts where I discuss these observations.


Podcasts (just a few – to see more visit my Media page)

“Toyota Leadership Lessons” series with Isao Yoshino

When I first met with Mr. Yoshino in Japan, in April 2014, I started a series of articles called “Toyota Leadership Lessons”.  These 11 articles are the basis of my book, Learning to Lead, Leading to Learn, and they highlight some of the extraordinary lessons I took away from our discussions and the collaborative work I was doing with Mr. Yoshino at the time.

Where it all started — my first visit with Mr. Yoshino in Japan (April 2015). Outside of Nagoya Train Station with my husband John too. We thought it was a once-in-a-lifetime get together…..and turned into an amazing 7+ year partnership!

Katie Anderson’s Japan Study Trips

Japan Study Trip Participants with their “graduation darumas” in May 2019

Being able to curate and offer an unparalleled learning experience for leaders around the world – of culture, gemba visits, and discussions with Japanese leaders such as Isao Yoshino, Ritsuo Shingo, Noriko Ogura – is a delightful outcome of my rich years of experience and connections developed in Japan since 2015.

Of course, my study trips have played a huge part in my business and my life. I always write about each trip once they’ve happened and reflect on different learnings and moments.

Wearing yukata to our celebration dinner and karaoke!

I cannot wait until the borders to Japan open more freely and I’m able to run the Japan Study Trips again (see here for more details).

And, finally, Setsubun, my favorite Japanese holiday

I love Setsubun.. It happens the day before my birthday and is the Japanese celebration to usher in the first new season of the year.

When I was there in 2020, I purposefully organized my departure date so that I would be in Tokyo during the festivities.

I went out to celebrate it in my former neighborhood I wrote an article about it which you can read here and how my family continues to practice Setsubun traditions each year at home. You’ll also find a video at that link which shows how much fun the festival can be!

The idea of setsubun is that you welcome in the good luck and you ward off the evil spirits.

Let’s all focus on that this year – two years into the pandemic we’re all definitely in need of that (I’ll be throwing beans at my family this week!)

Even though I can’t be in Japan, and neither can you, I wanted to revisit it with you this week. I hope you’ve enjoyed this walk down memory lane and have been transported virtually to Japan.

Join Me and Mr. Yoshino to Expand Your Chain of Learning

If you’re interested in developing your purpose as a leader, and aligning your actions and habits with people centered leadership, join Mr. Yoshino’s and my on-demand workshop: Expand Your Chain of Learning: A Leader’s Role in Developing People the Toyota Way.

And if learning in a community of like-minded people sounds like something that would excite and challenge you, join the self-paced Leading to Learn Accelerator Foundations.

I guarantee that it will be one of the most transformational experiences of your life, in which you’ll explore how to discover your people, and support them as they learn, grow, develop and succeed.

Be Part of My Chain of Learning

If you enjoyed this post and want to continue your learning journey with me, sign up for my periodic newsletter below where you’ll be the first to know about new articles on leadership, coaching, and continuous improvement, more author interviews and giveaways, and other opportunities to deepen your learning.

If you are already a subscriber, thank you!

Get The Latest Updates

Join my Chain of Learning®!

Register below for my newsletter and be the first to know about new articles, podcast episodes, and other inspiration to deepen your learning and leadership impact.

Let's grow our Chain of Learning -- together!

Related Posts



Get my free guide 3 Tips to Break The Telling Habit & learn how to ask better questions with intention.

3 Tips to Break the Telling Habit

Take my FREE Change Katalyst™ self-assessment now!

Sign up today to get a free copy of the Take my FREE Change Katalyst™ self-assessment.

Get your own copy of the 4-Box Problem-Solving Tool

Sign up today to get a free copy of the 4-box problem-solving tool.

Download My Plan-Do-Check-Adjust Framework

I want the "Leading to Learn: People Centered Practices to Develop a Culture of Learning" webinar slides!

In addition to the webinar slides, you will also be signed up for Katie’s periodic newsletter, which you can opt out of at any time.

Get the Create a Life Tapestry Art Project Instructions

Enter your email to get access to the life tapestry instructions.

How to Ask Effective Questions

All newsletter subscribers get a copy of Isao Yoshino’s tips on “How to Ask Effective Questions” from our joint session on asking effective questions. Sign up here!

Download Learning to Lead, Leading to Learn Book Sample

Dive into Isao Yoshino’s Letter to the Reader and learn from his first mistake at Toyota. By sharing your information, you will also be subscribed to Katie’s periodic newsletter to be the first to know about new articles, events, and other learning experiences!

Download a PDF of the article "If You Think Lean is Inherently Japanese, Think Again"

Sign up below and receive a PDF of the article I wrote for Planet Lean “If You Think Lean is Inherently Japanese, Think Again”!

Get Personal Improvement A3 Coaching Tips!

Develop your coaching skills to develop others. Download the Personal Improvement A3 Coaching guide!

Start living and leading with intention today!

Do you want improve yourself as a leader, coach or learner? Getting started with an intentional practice of daily reflection can accelerate your learning. Enter your email address below to download the Daily Reflection Template.

Isao Yoshino’s Leadership Credo

Sign up here and get your copy of Isao Yoshino’s leadership credo!

Learning to Lead Leading to Learn Book

Top 10 Toyota Leadership Lessons

Receive a PDF of the first top 10 leadership lessons and insights that I learned from Mr. Isao Yoshino, a leader at Toyota for over 40 years. These lessons and more inspired us to create the bestselling book “Learning to Lead, Leading to Learn.”

Learning to Lead Leading to Learn Book

Access the Book Bonus Resources

Get the downloadable bonus material and additional resources referenced throughout the book. By sharing your information, you will receive access to all the bonus resources — as well as new resources as they become available.