Year-end Review: Reflections on 1 year in Japan

Emblem outside temple in Kyushu

It’s hard to believe that I moved to Japan exactly 12 months ago this week. The time has flown by quickly and I have enjoyed my experiences here, both personally and professionally.

Buddha at Senso-ji Temple in Tokyo

I am grateful for all of the experiences this past year has granted me.

When I arrived to Tokyo in January 2015, I set out four major goals for my time here. I wrote about my reflections on these goals 6 months ago as well, and shared some the of highlights about what I had learned to-date about leadership, Lean and life in Japan.

I revised these goals to three major ones. Now that 2015 is coming to a close, in the spirit of practicing what I coach others to do, I want to spend some intentional time reflecting.

Goal 1: Connect and explore Japan (and beyond) and seek answers to my questions about leadership, Lean, and culture

This first goal has been easy to keep! Exploring and connecting across Japan is a top priority of mine and one that I actively make happen.

Around the world

View of Mt. Fuji on a sunset flight to Korea in December.

For the second half of the year, I spent only roughly 3 out of 6 months in Japan.

I was in the U.S. for two months over the summer and have traveled to the U.S., China, Korea, and Singapore in the fall.

While in the U.S., I was able to attend the Lean Coaching Summit, partner with my friend and colleague Margie Hagene to teach A3 thinking, spend time with colleagues at the Thedacare Center for Healthcare Value, and work with my ongoing healthcare client in the U.S.

In Japan

While in Japan, I have been intentional about connecting with people to learn about Japanese business, leadership and healthcare.

Night view of Tokyo
Night view of Tokyo

In October I traveled to two conferences – the Lean Conference on Healthcare and the Japan-U.S. Medical Device Innovation Summit.

At these events, I connected with many business people with whom I’ve learned some interesting perspectives on culture, as well as set up future site visits, including a site visit to a Tokyo hospital for next week, which I’ll be writing about in a future post.

I visited again with Isao Yoshino, a 40-year Toyota leader who has become my friend and Lean mentor over the past 12 months. Spending time with Yoshino-san has been a highlight of this experience in Japan.

I also have connected more broadly with Japanese business people, joined the American Chamber of Commerce and have been attending events, and have joined on as faculty at Temple University’s Japan Continuing Education department.

Events already planned for 2016

If you are in Japan, come to my next class on Lean leadership and asking effective questions with Temple University in April!

I’m also organizing a trip to a “5S City” with some colleagues from Alpine International. Stay tuned for more information. It should be a fun and interesting day!

Goal 2: Use this blog to regularly share what I’m learning and develop an active community

Writing this blog and expanding my professional community through my writing and social media has been one of the highlights of this past year.

It has been rewarding to me to connect more broadly with others and I value and appreciate the feedback and comments you all share. Please keep it up!

See no evil, hear no evil, and speak no evil. Famous carving at temple in Nikko.
See no evil, hear no evil, and speak no evil. Famous carving at temple in Nikko.

Blogging has created community

Here are my top 10 most popular blog posts from 2015. It’s rewarding to know that people are reading what I’m writing. And I value the connections I’ve made via comments, Twitter, LinkedIn, and personal emails.

Besides writing my blog posts, I have continued to write for the Lean Post and recorded a podcast with Mark Graban in October!

Posting frequency

Now that I got my website set up in the first half of the year, my goal for the past six months has been to write a blog post roughly every week (with caveats to have flexibility when I’m traveling). I have been pretty good about keeping up with this goal with posting new blog articles about 4 times per month.

This summer I fell down on the pace, but there was a lot of travel and I didn’t have the same childcare that I have when I’m home (hence a lot less writing time). I still managed to post every two weeks.

Challenges and intentional tradeoffs

Barriers are cute in Japan.
Barriers are cute in Japan.

I still struggle at times to find the time to write and sometimes don’t keep the pace that I would like, or I don’t write about some experiences.

However, I’ve been intentional that when given opportunities to have the experiences (Goal #1) trumps writing about the experiences (Goal #2).

I’m also a mom to an almost 5 year old and almost 2 year old, which keeps my hands full and makes it hard to write when I’m at home.


As countermeasures,I’m starting to experiment with how to write some shorter pieces or ones also focused on “life in Japan”, which hasn’t been as much of a focus of my writing to date.

I’ve also been frequenting my local Starbucks (like I am now) to find more uninterrupted time to write.

Website improvements

I also want to augment this website. I did updated the theme about 5 months ago, which I hope is an improvement.

I appreciate your feedback on what would make for a better experience – both in terms of content and function.

Goal #3: Learn Japanese

I thought it was ironic that the Japanese-Language Proficiency Test experts used the incorrect English word.
I thought it was ironic that the Japanese-Language Proficiency Test experts used the incorrect English word.

This goal has ended up dominating a lot of my time the past three months. Upon returning to Japan after our summer in the U.S., my Japanese teacher suggested that I sign up for the Japanese Language Proficiency test in early December.

Despite having a LOT of grammar, vocabulary and written language to learn, and not having much time to devote to studying (see goals #1 and #2, plus family life), I signed up and decided it would be good incentive towards my larger goal.

Signing up for the test was a huge incentive and I redoubled my efforts – including spending more time outside of my twice a week tutoring sessions to take practice tests and memorize vocabulary.

Remember the end goal is more important

I just like this giant sumo store-front. The legs move!
I just like this giant sumo store-front. The legs move!

Passing the test was not the end goal, but rather has been an incentive to study along the way. Taking the test (yes/no) was a process measure on the way to achieving my outcome goal of learning Japanese.

I have to remember this as I am uncertain if I passed (the test day did not go my way…). My understanding, my vocabulary and my ability to read Japanese (including some kanji) have all increased dramatically. This is what is important.

I now want to spend the next six months continuing to solidify the grammar and become better at conversational speaking. Japanese is like talking like Yoda all the time. But I’m having fun and can chat a bit in Japanese now, which is fun!

Goals for 2016…Forthcoming!

As I reflect, I realize that many of my goals have not been easily measurable. I want to improve upon this for next year. A post soon will be about my new hoshin (plan) for the new year! For now, my time at the cafe is up and I need to get back home.

Start your own reflection now

If you are working on your own reflection process, I recently shared 12 questions that might help you in your process.

Sign up join the community

If you enjoy what I’ve been writing about, sign to be notified of new posts as soon as they are published (if you haven’t already). I have some great plans for 2016 and would love to share what I’m learning with you.

As always, I welcome your comments of what you are thinking about or what questions you have as I explore Leadership, Lean and Life in Japan.


Katie Anderson
About Katie Anderson 128 Articles

Lean thinker and coach. Passionate about developing people. Healthcare change agent. Living in California again after 18 months in Tokyo. Writing about lean and leadership.

  • Barry

    Hi Katie, I truly enjoy reading your blog, it’s engaging and refreshing. I have been fascinated by Japanese culture for some time and was fortunate enough to visit Tokyo a few years ago.
    It is pleasing to view your images of Kamakura and Nikko in your recent posts. One of the most peaceful moments of my life was stood on The Sacred Bridge at Nikko, and nothing will ever take away the moment when the Buddha at Kamakura first comes into view.
    I describe myself as a Systems Thinker, if not necessarily a Lean practitioner and like many others came to this through the works of Taichi Ohno and Deming. I work in ‘Business Change’ whatever one calls this in the public sector in the UK. However, a recent stay in hospital really opened my eyes to systems thinking and hospitals.
    I saw wonderful practice by people who care so very much. However, the system conditions prevented excellent service. I will never criticise those working and dealing with an underdeveloped and under resourced service but there is part of me that thought, ‘just give me five minutes here!’ – so much waste, sub optimisation, duplication and queuing of work!
    I’ll look forward to reading your blog in 2016 and I enjoy and appreciate your reflections.
    Kindest regards

  • Hi Barry – Thanks for the kind words and feedback. They made my night! I’m glad that my photos and writing has taken you back to some wonderful memories of your time in Japan. I use the word “Lean” for lack of a better term. I consider myself a systems thinker as well. Labels do not matter to me, but rather the process of thinking and the philosophical approach one has to developing people. Something that stands out to me here in Japan is that the term “Lean” or even reference to “Toyota Production System” (outside of Toyota) is limited, but people are practicing and demonstrating the mindset that we call “Lean” in the Western world.

    As with any industry, healthcare is ripe with opportunity. I have always valued working in healthcare organizations as my primary focus, as we can all relate to being a patient or family member, and the impact of small changes for the better can have such a profound impact on lives – both of the people delivering the care and those receiving it.

    Thanks again for your comments. Keep them coming in the new year! Happy 2016!

  • Charles Intrieri

    I’m glad you enjoyed your year in Japan. It is a great place to live and gain excellent insight into their culture and Lean initiatives. With all of your priorities, Katie, you should use Pareto’s 80/20 principle. I know he was Italian, like me, :), but I use his system daily to set my priorities. Thank you for sharing your insights and experience..

  • Hi Chuck – thanks for the positive feedback and comments. Yes, I intuitively use Pareto’s principles every day too. There are so many things that come my way. I have to decide if they fit into my top goals – the professional ones I’ve mentioned here, or the personal ones of spending time with my family, travel and exercise. Some things don’t make the cut, and I’m okay with that. Including some possibly good blog posts….but I’d rather be having the experiences than missing new ones because I was writing. I do however really enjoy the writing process – it both commits me to reflect and I enjoy interacting with people like you! I look forward to more of your comments in 2016!