Japan Study Trip Highlights: October 2023

What is a leader’s role in creating a culture of continuous improvement? What is the real meaning of kaizen? What does “lean” mean in Japan?

On my fourth edition of the Japan Study Trip – in October 2023 – we explored these topics and much more over a six-day learning experience of a lifetime!

While this second and final tour for 2023 has come to a conclusion, I’m already excited to return in May 2024 for the 5th installation of the Japan Study Trip. Join me!

Highlights from Japan

In this post, I share highlights of our most recent Japan Study Trip program from October. There is so much rich learning to share, so this is just scratching the surface! These summaries are pulled from my daily posts, videos, and summaries shared on LinkedIn. Be sure to continue to follow me here and check out the Japan category eight years of insights of mine from both living in Japan and leading learning programs since I’ve returned to live in the United States.

Also, check out the bottom of the post for links to some fun videos showing lean principles in action at the Shinkansen cleaning change-over “7-minute miracle” and a barbershop.

And be sure to check out the trip summaries from my May 2023 cohort too, including Patrick Adams, Issac Mitchell, Stephany Oliver, and John Wills.

Japan Study Trip Participants – October 2023

I was thrilled to welcome another amazing and diverse cohort of global leaders to Japan for the experience of a lifetime! The October 2023 cohort consists of organizational and individual clients I’ve been working with for 1-5 years — and many of whom I haven’t met in person until we met up in Japan this month.

Japan Study Trip October 2023 - Darumas & Certificates

From healthcare executives, government leaders, small business owners, agile and lean specialists — all are united by a passion for continuous learning, respect for people, and organizational excellence.

I was so happy that Isao Yoshino, my mentor, and subject of my book Learning to Lead, Leading to Learn, who was very sick for much of August and September, was feeling high energy and joined us!

I am excited to now be partnering with my longtime friend and fellow lean enthusiast Tim Wolput to help coordinate. Tim and I met when I was still living in Japan in 2016 – he saw some blog posts I made about conversations with Mr. Yoshino. We immediately became friends and have had some amazing experiences going to “gemba” and spending time with families together. And now we are partnering professionally too! (You can check out some of my past experiences with Tim from a government agency, a restaurant, and an accounting firm – that we visited again on this program).

Pre-trip Chain of Learning Connections

Before my Japan Study Trip officially kicked off,  I had a special 20 hours in Tokyo with two Japanese business leaders who have had an important impact on me – and who have been an integral part of my success and growth — and both of whom are important parts of my JapanStudyTrip tours

I had the pleasure of a personal get-together with Toshiko “Nami” Kowanami and Noriko Ogura for a delicious shabu shabu dinner, karaoke, and onsen. In addition to catching up on our personal lives, we talked about what it means to really lead people from the heart … and through challenging business times … and how a focus on learning and happiness is the way to get through.

Katie Anderson with Nami-San and Noriko-San

Nami-San is an accomplished HR consultant and business leader, whom I met in 2015 when I first moved to Japan. She and I partnered together for my very first (one-day) lean business tour and made many important connections for me, including Ogura Metal and the town of Ashikaga which uses 5S as a way to revitalize industry and people. Her energy in her late 70s and still working nearly full-time is inspiring.

Noriko-san is the leader behind her family company’s business culture focused on happiness, kaizen, and growth. She is an incredible example of a business leader who achieves results *through* a focus on people. I am honored to have visited her company over a dozen times and to bring leaders there on my Japan Study Trips.

It’s important to me that I can offer experiences on my Japan Study Trips from many perspectives – different generations of business leaders, different industries, and different genders – with a uniting desire to make their community and the world a better place and for their companies to survive and thrive by providing value to customers.

Japan has historically been a very male-dominated leadership/business culture – so to have these inspirational women as friends and to share their leadership insights with my trip participants is a special experience.

I’m so grateful for the friendships and partnerships I’ve developed since I first moved to Japan in 2015 and cultivated since then – especially with Mr Isao Yoshino, Noriko Ogura, and Nami-San.

Japan Study Trip Program – October 2023

These comments are lightly edited versions of my daily summaries about the program that I posted on LinkedIn. You can follow all these posts and more at #JapanStudyTrip on LinkedIn! And be sure to follow me on LinkedIn, where I post almost daily about what I’m learning with you.

Day 0 – Sunday – Nagoya: Orientation and Toyota Techno Museum

We kicked off our program with an afternoon visit to the Toyota Museum of Innovation and Technology, followed by orientation and discussion with Mr Yoshino and a multi-course teppanyaki meal.

Everyone rated where they thought Lean thinking and practice sits on a triangular continuum of: Japanese specific, Toyota specific, universal / human traits.

KA-Japan Study Trip October 2023

Day 1 – Monday – Toyota City – Toyota Supplier, Kura Sushi, and Toyota Hands-on Training

Highlights from today:  Kaizen is the way to revitalize and engage the human spirit. The focus is on people first. The result is efficiency and quality.

After yesterday’s orientation and visit to the Toyota Museum of Innovation and Technology, today we dived into gemba and hands-on learning.

We drove to Toyota City to visit a supplier I’ve visited many times — but hadn’t been to since 2019. They supply 100% of their product directly to Toyota suppliers. It was wonderful to see their chairman — and experience the improvements they have made over 4 years.

His energy and passion for connecting with his people and commitment to ongoing improvement was key highlight for everyone. We heard from operators about kaizen and mistake-proofing improvements they have made, and the visual management to ensure safety.

After a 30-min “lean” conveyor belt sushi experience at Kura Sushi (lean referring to the visual management, quality, and pull system – not to how our bellies were when departing!), the tables were turned and WE were the operators being asked to perform kaizen. Check out my past posts about Kura Sushi here.

Japan Study Trip October 2023

So much of the experience today really reflects how a growth mindset is the foundation for Toyota’s culture. Some key takeaways and quotes from our experiences and discussion with our group and Mr Isao Yoshino:

  • “Toyota pays to deliver good quality products, not for inspection steps. To build in quality to the system.”
  • “To the customer, the defect ratio has no meaning. If you get a defect it is a 100% rate.”
  • “Working harder is not sustainable. Must eliminate waste.”
  • “Toyota hires people to help them grow.”
  • Leaders need 1) skill and knowledge and 2) virtue as a human being.

Check out the overview video of Day 1 below!

Day 2 – Tuesday – Greater Nagoya Region – Toyota Supplier, Elementary School, and Tea Ceremony

“Holding precious what it means to be human.”

This is real “Respect for People” and was the resounding theme of today’s Japan Study Trip Day 2 (October 2023) through diverse experiences. 🇯🇵

It’s a focus on people, purpose, hospitality, and community that connects our hearts 💜 and minds 🧠 to make the world a better place.

First, we visited a 3rd generation metal manufacturing company that has survived and thrived through COVID and economic challenges by putting their people first … with a long-term view and through a commitment to innovation, people’s growth, and in-house improvement and machine maintenance… to achieve growth and prosperity.

Then to a local elementary school – that I’ve visited many times before – but this time we were invited to not only observe how the children serve each other lunch and clean the school … but also to participate!

There are no janitors in Japanese schools – the children and staff do all the cleaning each and every day. And the children serve their healthy meals to each other each day – no one eating more than they need and no one leaving any food behind. The respect for community and respect for each other – and regret for waste –  that is instilled in the school system is one factor that enables many of the concepts of what we consider to be “lean”.

We followed this by a traditional Japanese tea ceremony — my first! — to experience the hospitality and rituals that have been honed for centuries. The genuine love and respect that shines through is contagious. Our sensei shared that our smile is our humanity. 💜

We wrapped up the day with a discussion — and dinner — with my friend and mentor Isao Yoshino.

It’s always incredible to believe we are not quite halfway into an incredible week of learning and human connection. I’m grateful to share my experiences and relationships cultivated over eight years of living in and returning to Japan, but also for the wonderful connections and shared learning that happened through the relationships deepened with my trip participants.

Check out the highlight video of Day 2 below!

Day 3 – Wednesday – Nagano Prefecture – Sake Brewery, Ina Foods, and Ryokan Experience

“Leaders should not focus on how to DO, but rather focus on how to BE.”

This comment from the managing director of Ina Foods on Day 3 of the JapanStudyTrip this week was the key highlight of our incredible day of learning and culture.

We journeyed into the Nagano Prefecture in the mountains to visit a special company and have a traditional Japanese cultural experience of staying in a ryokan, relaxing in yukata (robes), onsen, and karaoke!

“Happiness is our purpose” and longevity of “Tree Ring Management“ of growing like a tree, growth year after year — some years more successful and some during hard times, but growth nonetheless. (Check out a few of my past posts about this company).

Ina Food’s commitment to people’s happiness and growth — employees, customers, and community — is inspiring and is consistent from the managing director to plant manager to front-line staff.

The uniting theme of our learning in all aspects – from company visits to interactions with leaders to cultural experiences … is a deep grounding in purpose about people and learning and process.

Outcomes will be the result if we can get back to the heart. As the Chairman of Ina Foods wrote in his (highly recommended by me!) book “Tree Ring Management” (and I paraphrase) :

“Profit is excrement. It is the natural byproduct of a healthy company.” Focus on what you put in, not what you get out.

And the contributions and community developed with our October 2023 cohort make my heart 💜 full.

Following our visit to Ina Food’s factory and gardens, we traveled to a local ryokan (Japanese guest house) for a traditional meal in our yukata (Japanese robes) and some karaoke!

Check out the video for some highlights and photos from Day 3!

Day 4 – Thursday – Daruma Temple and Ashikaga Experiences

On Thursday we had a packed agenda of so much rich learning and experiences. We left our ryokan in the Nagano Prefecture and drove a few hours to my favorite temple in all of Japan – the daruma temple in Takasaki.

For those of you who know me, you know that I’m a bit obsessed with daruma dolls, so this is a special experience to be able to share with my trip participants. You can see some of the daruma temple in my video below.

We then traveled to the town of Ashikaga. First, we had lunch and a discussion with the former President of the Ashikaga Red Cross Hospital (you can see some highlights of visiting the hospital from my tour in 2019, as well as read about my gemba visits to other Japanese hospitals like Toyota Memorial Hospital and others when I lived in Japan).

We then visited Mrs. Ogura and a tour of Ogura Kinzoku. I’ve written many blog posts about their company – where joy and a commitment to people is paramount to their company’s success. You can check out some of my early posts about Ogura and how they bring joy and whimsy to a manufacturing environment.

And finally, we wrapped up at Tokyo Foods – a sweet potato manufacturer, to see how they use a high-energy morning meeting to inspire and align their people to a greater purpose.

The positive high energy at sweet potato 🍠 Tokyo Foods re-energized us all on Day 4 of the Japan Study Trip.

Several years ago, I took part in a “chorei” – or morning meeting – at a Japanese restaurant called Teppen with Tim Wolput – you can read about that experience and see a video in this blog post.

Tokyo Foods President has learned from Teppen and now brought a high-energy meeting to their company – focused on positive greetings, declarations think of personal dreams and purpose, and ending with a two thumbs up and saying “ii ne!!” – which means “it’s awesome” / “it’s great”.

Ii ne has been the rallying cry of our group this week bringing positive energy wherever we went.

Take a glimpse into some of the contagious energy at Tokyo Foods! We literally enjoyed a feast of sweet potato delights – and a delicious vegan veggie burger!

Ii ne! 👍👍

Check out some highlights from Tokyo Foods below!

Day 5 – Friday – Tokyo – Accounting Firm, Graduation, and a Martial Arts Dojo Experience

How do you make the impact as a leader that you really want? How can you focus on “being” as the way to motivate the “doing” to achieve your company goals and purpose?

This was the focus of our wrap-up discussions on Friday as we reflected on 5.5 days of site visits, discussions with Japanese business leaders, interactions with employees, and enriching cultural experiences. (And of course, the delicious food that was throughout).

On Day 5 we also ventured to an accounting firm — that I had visited in 2018 with Tim Wolput and Christoph Roser — to participate in their actual morning meeting (or chorei). We had an opportunity to PDSA our “number one goal” and share again as we went around and enthusiastically shared it.

And then we returned to a conference room to reflect and synthesize key takeaways – and define concrete steps everyone will take starting next week when they return.

Japan Study Trip Highlights October 2023 with Katie Anderson

After our final wrap-up and graduation, Tim hosted some of our group for a Brazilian Jujitsu dojo experience and local dinner in his neighbourhood with his sensei!

KA-Japan study Trip Oct 2023 Dojo Experience

This Japan Study Trip  October 2023 has come to an end … but the impact of this incredible and intense week of learning, culture, and connections is just beginning.

I’m always a bit sad when these trips come to an end because of the special time we have all gotten to spend together.

I get so much joy from sharing my connections and insights from living and spending time in Japan with leaders around the world. And I’m so grateful for the wonderful leaders of diverse backgrounds and industries who join me — all committed to making the world a better place and learning how they can continue to make a positive impact.

Join me in Japan in 2024 for the next Japan Study Trip!

While this second and final tour for 2023 has come to a conclusion, I’m already excited to return in May 2024 for the 5th installation of the Japan Study Trip.

Apply today and join me for the experience of a lifetime!

Spaces are limited and the program always sells out!

Check out other videos from Japan

Here are some other videos I recorded from this recent trip to Japan. For more videos and highlights be sure to subscribe to my channel on YouTube and check out the videos in the Japan folder.

Japanese Shinkansen “7-Minute Miracle” Turnover

Visual Management and Lean Concepts at a Barbershop

What it’s like to stay in a Japanese ryokan and wear a yukata

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