Rules are not made to be broken

Rules are not made to be broken

I had been cautioned prior to my arrival that the Japanese are very firm rule followers. Tonight was a prime example, though I’ve had multiple other experiences with this in my limited time in Japan.

take-away gelato

On the way home this evening from my son’s swim lesson, we stopped at the local gelato store. He got a small cup (allowed one flavor) and I was asked if I wanted it “take-away”, which I did. The server then meticulously packed the gelato deep into the cup, leveled the top and wiped away any drips, before placing a domed plastic lid on top. I then ordered the larger cup (two flavors allowed) and was told that take-away was not allowed with two flavors. I would be allowed to walk out of the store with the gelato, but could not be given a lid. I ordered my two flavors anyway and was handed a mounded cup of gelato. I proceeded to pack the mounded gelato down myself, but had to put a napkin on top as the server wouldn’t give me a take-away lid (despite no extra charge for the lid).

Granted, this interaction was completed via broken English and Japanese and lots of gesticulation, but I’m fairly confident that we both understood what the other intended to say. At least it was near freezing outside so my gelato didn’t melt under the stroller on the remaining 6 minute walk home!

Visual cues

IMG_1638Update: I went into the gelato store tonight (March 23, 2015) and saw that they have a visual representation of this rule. I hadn’t noticed this earlier when I tried to get my lid for two flavors. I still am curious to the real genesis of the rule. I have a theory it is because they don’t want the flavors to get mixed on the spatula when they pack it down to put the lid on.

What do you think is the reason for the rule?

Other examples of rules from our first weeks in Japan:

  • We stored our three bags while we went skiing one day. Bags had to be of a specific larger size to be able to be stored in the location. Two of our bags were smaller than the required size, but not by much. My husband asked if they could just store them in the same location, but no such luck. So, he consolidated one bag into the largest bag, and then had to go find a locker in another location to store our medium sized bag.
  • A restaurant had a minimum charge for credit card usage. We were under the minimum charge by the equivalent of about $0.15. We asked if they could just round our bill up to their minimum requirement or keep the money. This was not acceptable and we didn’t have sufficient cash, so we ended up buying a bottle of water so that we could pay by card. We laughed that this would never happen in the U.S. – a merchant would always take the free money!

Impact of rules on Lean management and innovation

I’m curious to how this cultural trait helps or hinders Lean management practices in Japan. I would imagine this facilitates adherence to standard work – whereas more Americans or other people of other Western cultures might question standard work more readily. However, perhaps it also hinders out-of-the box thinking and innovation, which I have been told is a weakness of the Japanese as a whole-society.

What do you think?

What do you think? What experiences have you had about cultural norms in relation to rule adherence impacts standard work or innovation in Japan or elsewhere?

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.