On my first visit to Rinnai Corporation, they were surprisingly nervous. Official groups visiting the company had been very rare. They also knew that our Lean Japan Tour group was visiting the likes of Toyota, which is a benchmark for manufacturing in Japan and set up for mass numbers of tour groups. But the quality of the Rinnai tour was first-class, not only because of their genuine willingness to share their story, but also because of the level of lean that their shop floor exhibited.
As a high school student, I was fortunate enough to experience a one-year exchange program to Kumamoto, Japan. During the course of the year, I lived with a number of Japanese host families. I have managed to remain in touch with them over the years and visit them every so often when I travel to Japan. Since one of my host fathers retired a number of years ago, I noticed that his city home and mountain shack were starting to become quite visual.
Walking through factories in Japan, you can visually pick up on the concepts of lean being implemented. Reading through English books on lean, you can generally understand the concepts of lean being implemented. However, some of the essence of lean is hidden behind a veil of Japanese language, customs and culture. It is not generally visible to a foreign eye and not easily translated into a foreign language.
Sam Walsh AO, Executive Director of Rio Tinto gave a keynote address on lean mining at the 40th Anniversary of the establishment of the Australian and New Zealand Chamber of Commerce in Japan. Sam talked about his own background with Japan and Rio Tinto’s iron ore business and discussed how his previous 20-year experience in the automotive industry and lessons learned from lean manufacturing have been critical to Rio Tinto’s mining operations.
The Lean Japan Tour has been an annual initiative of Shinka Management, with support from the Australian Industry Group, since 2007. It is a fully arranged opportunity to experience first-hand the world-class application of lean thinking at some of Japan’s key manufacturers. Generous time is allocated for open-topic discussions with managers of these companies, allowing participants to uncover how the Japanese have approached sustained productivity improvement efforts successfully over many years.
Since establishing formal Australia-Japan trade relations through the 1957 signing of the Agreement on Commerce, Australian exporters have enjoyed a rewarding relationship with Japan. Australian exporters are, however, at risk of forgetting this loyal partner market as the focus shifts to rapidly developing China and its large population. For the best part of four decades, Japan has been Australia’s most important export market, and just because there is a new player in town does not mean that Japan is any less attractive.
FOODEX JAPAN is the largest food and beverage trade show in Asia. Since 1976, it has been providing the opportunity for exhibitors to promote their products to the expanding Asian markets. In 2012, FOODEX JAPAN had almost 74,000 visitors pass through the gates over four days. Over ten per cent of visitors were from overseas, and exhibitors came from 73 countries and regions. It is held at Makuhari Messe located close to Tokyo and Narita Airport.