Lean Sushi Restaurant in Japan

One might expect that all restaurants in Japan are operated with lean principles, but as I quickly learned when my family moved to Japan nearly four years ago, lean thinking and practice is not synonymous with Japanese culture.

New Lean Post Article: “‘Roll’-ing Out Lean at Kura Sushi”

In my latest article for LEI’s Lean Post published last week, I write about one of the most “lean” practicing restaurants that I’ve been to in either Japan or elsewhere in the world: Kura Sushi.

It’s fast food that is both “Lean” (in delivery) and lean (in fat)! 

Check out the article: “Roll”-ing Out Lean at Kura Sushi

The lean geek in me was thrilled to first encounter Kura Sushi after many months of living in Japan – where, somewhat surprisingly, Lean thinking and practices are not the norm in most restaurants (or elsewhere)! See below for some other examples of this from previous blog posts.

I’ve been back to Kura on three of the four visits I’ve made back to Japan in the 2+ years since we returned to the U.S., and it was high on my kids’ bucket list for when I took them back to Japan in May.

Fast service, high quality, low price

At Kura Sushi, you can dine with a group of 20 in under 20 minutes without feeling rushed. Or go with your young kids and have an enjoyable meal with everyone entertained, and fed quickly! The efficiency is that good!

When dining at Kura Sushi, you’ll notice Lean process principles such as:

  • Pull-systems to order food
  • Visual controls and 5S principles throughout the restaurant (even a 4-year old can find the correct table)!
  • Mistake-proofing (poka-yoke)
  • One-piece flow
  • Data to understand demand and anticipate waste
  • And more!

Plus Kura Sushi is just a fun place to be with the gadgets, computer gaming system to place orders, and the special conveyor belt that shoots your food out directly to your table.

The “Sumimasen” pull-system at restaurants in Japan

Just another restaurant when “Sumimasen” is encouraged to be shouted. Yaki-niku (grilled meat) is my kids’ favorite.

While I mentioned earlier that most restaurants in Japan are not operated (at least from an outsider’s perspective) with many Lean concepts, there is one ubiquitous “Lean” practice that I miss tremendously outside of Japan: the *shouting* of “sumimasen” (“excuse me”) when at a restaurant or bar to signal service is needed. And no, it is not considered rude to shout this out.

What a great pull system to eliminate unnecessary hovering by servers OR not being able to track one down when you need one!

I lament this lack of a shouting pull system often.

Just like TPS, best thinking from the West and Japan

The Japan Times also recently published an article about the Kura Sushi founder that describes how Kura sushi was founded and continues to innovate!

Like many things (including many ideas for elements of  Toyota Production System), the idea came from the Japanese founder’s visit to the United States, which inspired him to improve upon the traditional sushi restaurant operations:

It was the 1970s, and the sushi industry was set to boom. But Tanaka thought it was seriously flawed in how it operated. Artisan chefs presided over restaurants with poor quality control. They charged different prices to different people for the same meal, and bills weren’t affordable to the average person, except for special occasions.

Tanaka decided to establish his own sushi restaurant. But he would do it differently. And so, with ¥3 million that he’d borrowed, he opened his first restaurant in 1977, setting out on a path that would eventually lead to the founding of Kura Corp.

Unlike traditional sushi restaurants where chefs go through a decade(s) long apprenticeship – a la Jiro Dreams of Sushi – Kura Sushi builds about automation.

Kura’s restaurants are about as far removed as it gets from the notion of artisan sushi-making. The chain uses robots in the kitchen for some tasks instead of expensive and sometimes erratic chefs handling the food with their bare hands, and an express delivery order lane above the revolving conveyor belt that speeds dishes to customers’ tables.

Check out my Lean Post article – and related comments – to whet your appetite for delicious sushi, and be wowed by the Lean concepts in action at Kura Sushu! Lots of photos included.

Experience Kura Sushi yourself on the Japan Study Trip with me!

Participants on the KBJ Anderson Japan Study Trip 2018 enjoying a “fast food” lunch at Kura Sushi

A visit to Kura Sushi is on the itinerary for the upcoming Japan Study Trip that I’m leading in May. Come join the trip for this and many other amazing learning, cultural, and culinary experiences that I’ve line up fo you!

You can read more about the top highlights from the May 2018 trip, and some of the planning that is underway for the trip I’m organizing for May 2019.

Full trip details – including itinerary and how to apply –  can be found on the KBJ Anderson Japan Study Trip website.

More Japanese service and food-related posts

In honor of this Lean Post article on lean practices at a sushi restaurant, I thought I’d pull together some of my other blog posts related to food delivery, preparation, or consumption in Japan for you. You may be surprised with with I discovered.

Enjoy the rest of the articles and let me know what you think in the comments below!

Rules are not made to be broken

Toyota Leadership Lessons: Part 6 – Coach like you are making sushi

Life in Japan: Wrap it up! – Value or Waste?

Life in Japan: Where clean is beautiful, but 5S is still hard

Washoku – “the harmony of food”

You haven’t seen a start-up meeting like this one before: Teppen’s “Honki no Chorei” in Japan

Only in Japan! – 3 stories of Japanese “omotenashi”, service and respect in 1 day

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