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.
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.
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:
- to put the finishing touches on my two nearly sold-out executive Japan Study Trips trips in May and October that year,
- 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
- 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:
- Rules are not made to be broken – one of my very first experiences in Japan that highlighted to me many cultural difference, as experienced in our local gelato shop Shinkansen bullet train arrives at Nagoya station.
- Omotenashi – The spirit of Japan’s customer service and hospitality
- Traveling faster than a speeding bullet (train, that is)
- Wrap it up – value or waste?
- Visual and audible management to guide everyday life
- Just ship it! Efficiency in logistics and travel
- Life in Japan: Where clean is beautiful, but 5S is still hard
- Visual and audible management to guide everyday life
- Japan’s contrasts and contradictions
- Lean Sushi Restaurant in Japan
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
- Innovation through kaizen
- The spirit of kaizen
- Supporting every person to be successful
- Lean in hospitals and manufacturing – a preview of recent site visits
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.
- Ashikaga Part 1 – the city that uses 5S to revitalize and bring joy to the community
- Ashikaga Part 2 – Ogura Metal – using 5S and Lean to “bring smiles to all employees & customers”
- Ashikaga Part 3 – Ogura Metal’s joyful “5S Theme Park” and Kaizen Spirit
- Ashikaga Part 4 – Eco-R, using 5S and kaizen to create a sustainable world and joyful society
Japanese hospitals and healthcare
Mr. Yoshino examining the patient comments and associated responses as displayed in the foyer of the main hospital.
- Toyota Memorial Hospital – Part 1: The most “Lean” hospital in Japan (this is the first of five articles in this series about Toyota Memorial Hospital)
- Leadership lessons about kaizen and Medical Quality Improvement at a Japanese hospital
- Tokyo hospital committed to quality improvement – Part 1 – Conversation with the President (this is the first of three articles in this series from St. Luke’s Hospital in Tokyo)
- Japan Conference for Healthcare: “Let’s use our strengths to improve hospitals”
- Why are Lean and Toyota methods rare in Japan’s hospitals? A Japanese physician explains
- Lean in hospitals
Other site visits to Japanese companies (a selection!)
Me with the Kyushu TPS Promotion Office director
- Toyota Kyushu gemba visit: Part 1 – Miyata plant tour (3-part series)
- Lean Thinking in Government – Part 1 – Kaizen, Kaikaku & PDCA to improve customer service (a 3 part series)
- Creating a culture of engagement, respect and customer service at a Japanese accounting firm
- You haven’t seen a start-up meeting like this one before: Teppen’s “Honki no Chorei” in Japan
- “Happiness is our purpose” – Ina Foods & Highlights from Japan
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.
- A reminder from a recent visit to Japan: Lean is not inherently Japanese
- The Toyota Production System / Lean is a countermeasure to limiting cultural and organizational traits
- The Real Meaning of Kaizen
- What does “Lean” mean in Japan? Are Japanese hospitals practicing “Lean”?
- Japanese culture and lean culture: not always the same (Planet Lean)
- Lean in Japan: The Benefit of an Outsider’s View (LEI’s Lean Post)
Podcasts (just a few – to see more visit my Media page)
- Lean Blog Podcast: “A Lean Thinker in Japan” My first Lean Blog podcast with Mark Graban – talking about my early observations in Japan
- Lean Blog Podcast: “Observing Lean in Japan”
- Gemba Academy Podcast: The Importance of Hansei and Revitalization
“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!
- Lean Leadership Lessons and Gemba Visit to Toyota City, Japan
- Toyota Leadership Lessons: Part 2 – Chance Encounter at Nagoya Station
- Toyota Leadership Lessons: Part 3 – Toyota Commemorative Museum of Industry and Technology
- Toyota Leadership Lessons: Part 4 — Helping to Develop People
- Toyota Leadership Lessons: Part 5 – “If you believe you are perfect, you won’t find the answer”
- Toyota Leadership Lessons: Part 6 – Coach like you are making sushi
- Toyota Leadership Lessons: Part 7 – Insights into how “respect for people” & “continuous improvement” became the pillars of the Toyota Way
- Toyota Leadership Lessons: Part 8 – “The A3 isn’t a magical tool”
- Toyota Leadership Lessons: Part 9 – Learning the value of asking questions
- Toyota Leadership Lessons: Part 10 – Practice Personal Hoshin Kanri or Goal Setting
- Toyota Leadership Lessons: Part 11 – “Everything is my learning journey”
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.
- Top 10 Experiences from Japan Lean Study Trip – May 2018 – #JapanLeanStudyTrip
- Japan Lean Study Trip – focus on people!
- KBJA Japan Study Trip 2019 Highlights
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.