Top 10 Experiences from Japan Lean Study Trip – May 2018 – #JapanLeanStudyTrip

A vision realized

So happy to have put together and led a great learning experience in Japan

When I moved to Japan in January 2015 I knew that I wanted to learn as much as possible about Japanese culture and Lean thinking and practice and to share my insights broadly – which was the genesis of this blog 3.5 years ago.

Now, nearly two years after moving back to the U.S., it was a thrill realize the vision to lead a study trip to Japan and to be able to share my experiences and insights with others in the actual place.

Writing this post has been on my mind ever since I wrapped up an exciting, fun and engaging week of learning in Japan with my inaugural week-long KBJA Japan Study Trip (follow us in hashtags #japanleanstudytrip and #KBJAJapan).

Come to Japan with me!

Update: I had so much fun on this trip that I’m organizing regular trips now. 

Click here to learn more about the next trip, including logistics, itinerary, highlights, testimonials from past trip participants, and enrollment process.

Katie Anderson and Rick Guba

Special Thanks

I want to thank Rick Guba, of the Ohio State University Fisher School of Business’s MBOE program, who shared my vision of taking people to Japan to learn about the people side of Lean and wanted to collaborate to offer a trip for MBOE alumni.

I also want to thank Mami Takeda, our invincible co-leader and boots-on-the-ground coordinator, and Isao Yoshino, a 40+ year Toyota leader who was John Shook’s first manager, who spent over three full days with our group. The program was a collaboration with them to make a complete experience for our group.

And of course thanks to our 15 amazing participants who all were engaged in learning and discussion – and fun! – each and every day of our 5.5 day program.

Two-thirds of participants on the May 2018 trip were graduates of the OSU MBOE program, and the other third were open enrollment participants from my network around the world (United States, Argentina, Australia, and Canada).

Everyone on the trip was a seasoned Lean partitioner and was ready to tune their eyes and ears to learn more deeply about the human dimensions of Lean concepts and Japanese culture.

Mami with our group waiting for the Shinkansen to take us from Nagoya to Tokyo on Wednesday.

Focus on Respect and Kaizen Culture

The focus of this learning experience was about “respect for…” (people, craftsmanship, precision, engagement, learning, improvement, and more).

Of course we wanted participants to see examples of the technical aspects of lean thinking and practice in action, but more importantly, we wanted everyone to come away with an appreciation of the human dimensions that are essential to Lean and customer service.

As I reflected on after my visit to Japan in January to prepare for the May Japan Lean Study Trip, Lean thinking is not inherently Japanese . However, there there is a richness of experience and learning that is hard to get anywhere else (for example, these stories of respect and customer service experienced in everyday life on that same visit).

Ten Highlights from Japan Lean Study Trip – May 2018

In no particular order, here are ten of the standout experiences from the #JapanLeanStudyTrip 2018 from my perspective and based on feedback from participants. Each experience is deserving of its own blog post or two.

I plan on writing more about the many amazing learning experiences on this trip in more detail, but I wanted to get something out to you before more time passes. Enjoy – and come join me in Japan in May 2019! 

1. Many days with Isao Yoshino

Usually on study trips like this one, participants get to hear from and learn from business leaders from Toyota or other companies. But it isn’t common that someone like Isao Yoshino spends many days with the group, going to the sites, talking on the bus, and joining for meals and generally hanging out.

Mr. Yoshino offered two formal lectures to the group on Toyota leadership and hoshin kanri, but the real highlight for most participants was the opportunity to spend time with and have casual 1-1 conversations with Mr. Yoshino.

I’ve written about the leadership lessons that I’ve learned from Mr. Yoshino and after the past year of spending more time together, it is time to put together a second edition. If you don’t have a copy already, you can click here to get a PDF of the top 10 Toyota leadership lessons that Mr. Yoshino shared me in 2015 & 2016.

2. Visiting a Japanese Elementary School

The unexpected site-visit highlight for most participants was our visit to a Nagoya-area elementary school.

On the bus to the school, I talked about the Japanese concept of “mottainai”, which translates roughly as “deep regret of waste”.

This cultural value of “no waste” is embedded in Japanese children at an early age, as demonstrated on how schoolchildren are taught to serve and eat lunch together. Also, the value of cleanliness and taking care of community, which I have written about previously is taught through all students and staff taking part in daily cleaning of the school.

This was my second visit to the school in the past year (twice to the elementary school and once to the middle school). It is wonderful to see kids just being kids (excited for foreign visitors, goofing off a bit, and laughing) , no matter the culture, but also how different cultures teach different values to children based on expectations set for them.

3. Ashikaga – the 5S City

The town of Ashikaga is a personal favorite for me, ever since I first visited the town and lead a learning tour there in May 2016. The town of Ashikaga uses 5S priciples as a way to revitalize both the community and industry, and over 150 organizations in Ashikaga practice 5S as a way to engage their people.

You can read about my past experiences in Ashikaga in this series.

On this trip we visited Ogura Metal and Kikuchi Gears, where we talked with the two passionate leaders of these family owned businesses. And, of course, no trip to Ashikaga is complete without lunch at Coco Winery.

Ogura Metal highlights include incorporation of 5S principles with TPS to make the “Ogura Production System”, leadership engagement and support for frontline kaizen, and development of a fun and whimsical manufacturing workplace environment.

Mrs. Noriko Ogura has become a friend of mine over the past three years and I was so happy that our group got to learn from her personal stories and leadership insights.

Kicuchi Gears highlights include technical application of 5S principles in both manufacturing and back-end office areas, engagement of people in kaizen, and respect for people.

4. Shinkansen Cleaning “7-minute Miracle” and Omotenashi

On the final day of our study trip, the group learned about how the Japan Railway East cleaning company TESSEI transformed its business practices to create the “7-minute miracle” changeover of the Shinkansen trains as they come into and depart Tokyo Station.

The passion Mr. Yabe, former president of TESSEI, has for the TESSEI employees and delighting customers through “omtenashi” (Japanese hospitality) was contagious. After a formal lecture and discussion with Mr. Yabe, we went up to the train platform to watch the changeover happen several times, with narration by Mr. Yabe.

5 and 6. Toyota Suppliers – Mifune and Isuzu

Our first full day began by visiting a tier 3 and a tier 2 supplier of Toyota. The value stream view point seeing rolled metal move to pressed metal to what would then be final production of Toyota vehicles coming off the line was a great learning connection of companies working together to deliver value to customers.

Mifune highlights include hearing from their passionate founder and now Chairman Mr. Umemura, learning about the die changeover SMED improvements the employees have made, and seeing the visual management systems that connect hoshin strategy down to daily work.

Isuzu steel highlights include their focus on innovation for the future, visual management, and workplace training.

7. Learning about Toyota – Toyota Plant Tour and Toyota Techno Museum

Learning about the Toyota Production System at the source of where it all began in Toyota City and Nagoya was what many participants thought would be their number one experience on the trip. It was highly ranked and is always amazing to see what Toyota does, but participants reflected that seeing other companies earlier on their journeys and the elementary school were even more impactful experiences.

But all agreed that going to Toyota was a major highlight on their bucket-list and one that they wouldn’t have wanted to miss!

8. “Lean” Sushi – lunch at Kura Sushi

It’s “lean” fast food in two definitions of the word: healthy and great value proposition. Visual management, managing WIP, 5S principles, deep knowledge of customers, and fresh ingredients make for an amazing 20 minute lunch (or longer if you want).

Ordering direct-to-order sushi and have it zip to your table announced by the sound of electronic cartoons never gets old

9. Conversations, enthusiastic greetings and lots of waving

Every day the daily conversations on the bus and at meals contributed to our wider learning.

At the end of each day, we asked everyone to reflect on their top takeaways and insights and to share them broadly. It was a packed agenda full of interaction and learning.

We also started out each morning with our own morning chorei meeting – a warm up of call and response of Japanese greetings such as Ohiyo Gozimasu and Arigatou Gozimasu!

Plus, I appreciated everyone’s enthusiasm and quick learning of how to show respect and gratitude to our hosts by waving *very enthusiastically* out of our bus window until we had pulled out out site. Well done everyone!

10. Enjoying food and cultural experiences together

One of the important parts of leading this trip from my perspective was to ensure that everyone had a chance to experience aspects of Japanese culture outside of the formal program.

Special thanks to Mami for leading this early morning visit to a local shrine in Nagoya!

For more photos, check out the hashtag #JapanLeanStudyTrip on Twitter and LinkedIn.

Extra highlight for me from my trip to Japan in May 2018

Another highlight for me was having my husband and two children join me in Japan for a week. Our children are now 4 and 7 and it had been nearly 2 years since we left Japan, so this trip was a special experience to revive memories, visit friends, and reconnect with a core part of their early childhood experiences. It was like we had never left!

Come to Japan with me!

Don’t miss out on an unparalleled learning experience in Japan!

Click here to learn more about the next KBJA Japan Study Trip. 

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