Tour Report | July 2023 Lean Japan Tour
The Shinka Management Lean Japan Tour is a one-week intensive lean management training program held several times annually in Japan. The program is led by one of our lean sensei out of the Toyota Group supported by our bilingual lean consultants, and is designed to provide participants with the correct understanding of the Toyota Production System theory and implementation approach.
July 2023 Lean Tour Program Overview
The July 2023 Shinka Management Lean Japan Tour was held on the 2nd through 8th of July 2023, with lean training and factory visits held in Tokyo, Inuyama and Ashikaga. The training program was attended by 16 lean professionals from Canada, Australia, Saudi Arabia, United Staes, Qatar, Chile, Germany and Lebanon.
Members of the Shinka Management team hosting the tour were Kaji Sensei (Senior Consultant, Japan), Hyodo Sensei (Senior Consultant, Japan), Ben Sparrow (Director, Australia), Eri Dennis (Consultant, Australia) and Juan Manuel Bertero (Senior Consultant, Italy).
Sunday 2nd July – Tour Briefing and Japanese Business Etiquette Seminar
We commenced the program on a warm Sunday afternoon in Tokyo, bring the participants together for the first time. Ben Sparrow led the group through a tour briefing session, and Eri Dennis ran a seminar on Japanese Business Etiquette to prepare the group for their week ahead in Japan.
Monday 3rd July – Toyota Production System Seminar and Toyota Body Seiko Site Tour
An early start this morning for our shinkansen journey from Tokyo, with Hyodo Sensei waiting to pick up our group on our arrival in Inuyama. Hyodo Sensei kick-started our classroom training at the training center with a seminar on lean leadership, sharing his thinking and views on the fundamental qualities and skills expected from leaders while drawing on the lessons from his time as factory manager and director of the Toyota HiAce plant. We then had our first TPS seminars exploring the rationale and fundamental thinking around lean manufacturing and kaizen from the viewpoint of Kaji Sensei’s experience during his career in the Toyota Group.
In the afternoon we had the opportunity to explore the inner workings of the Toyota Body Seiko Kakamigahara Factory, an impressive facility responsible for producing automotive seat tracks for an array of popular vehicle models. This includes not only the Toyota HiAce, but also models such as the RAV4, and several others. The factory, initially owned by Gifu Auto Body, was incorporated into the Toyota Body Seiko network in 2014.
Our immersive tour of the factory floor granted us an in-depth, operator-level perspective of the intricate operations carried out daily. Emphasis was placed on uncomplicated yet potent visual management tools, standard work, the utilization of Automated Guided Vehicles (AGVs), and various economical improvement concepts that have considerably boosted productivity. Despite its workforce predominantly comprising of short-term contracted labor from hiring firms, the factory has surmounted quality assurance challenges impressively. We witnessed first-hand how they’ve managed to maintain an extraordinarily low defect rate amidst these potential hurdles.
The day concluded with a shared meal back at our hotel, where some of our group took the opportunity for a hot Japanese-style bath before getting some well-deserved rest after our early start today.
Tuesday 4th July – GI Service Factory Tour and Standard Work Seminar
We continued our TPS training with Kaji Sensei, with a focus on just-in-time production and the role of kanban in the morning, and a seminar on standard work in the afternoon.
During our afternoon visit to GI Service, Director Chikamatsu showcased an impressive operation specializing in manufacturing automobile body parts. The company’s product range encompassed insulators, supports, wheel mounts, and a variety of bespoke parts tailor-made for Toyota models such as HiAce, Crown and Land Cruiser. With a team of approximately 40, half of them full-time permanent employees and the remainder comprising contractors and temporary workers, the company demonstrated an effective employee structure, with Director Chikamatsu explaining the company’s method for optimizing staff allocation according to production requirements.
GI Service operates as a satellite facility to the neighboring Gifu Auto Body plant, and uses the Toyota Production System to achieve just-in-time production and delivery to its key customer. The efficiency of this approach was apparent as it allowed the plant to precisely match production with demand, effectively maintaining a stockpile of zero finished products, a concept that was fascinating to witness first-hand.
We concluded the day in discussion over a delicious Japanese shabu-shabu dinner.
Wednesday 5th July – Suzaki Industries Factory Tour and Kanban Simulation
The focus today was on the implementation of just-in-time and jidoka.
During our visit to Suzaki Industries, an SME supplier for Gifu Auto Body, we were introduced to a facility dedicated to the manufacturing of pressed, welded, and assembled components for the automotive sector. We had the privilege of being guided around the factory by the former Chairman, and a long-time favourite of participants on the Lean Japan Tour. He shared with us the various enhancements implemented over time to retain their status as a supplier to the Toyota Group.
The tour included an explanation of the kanban system, a methodology which underpins the factory’s production workflow. We witnessed poka-yoke (error-proofing) mechanisms, underlining their commitment to maintaining high-quality standards. The demonstration of their SMED (Single-Minute Exchange of Die) efforts was also explained which served as a testament to their dedication to efficient processes. Furthermore, Mr Suzaki showcased a production cell where layout and process improvements were undertaken, facilitating a captivating and informative discussion about the effectiveness of these alterations.
One of the key highlights of the visit was Mr Suzaki sharing his story in implementing TPS to save his company and how his encounter with his TPS mentor changed him and transformed his life. His story inspired and captivated us all and highlighted the importance of the people-to-people engagements in a lean journey.
In the afternoon the team got hands-on with kanban through a kanban simulation in our training dojo, before taking time out to climb the nearby Inuyama Castle, which dates back to the 1400’s.
Thursday 6th July – Kaizen Team Challege and Toyota HiAce Factory Tour
We were put to the test this morning with a team improvement challenge in the training dojo. We were tasked to analyse and improve a spot weld process using our learnings from the week. Kaji Sensei guided the group to ensure we applied the correct thinking and steps as we worked through the kaizen process. The difference between the before and after states were significant, and we experienced a number of ah-hahs as we worked through challenge.
In the afternoon we visited Gifu Auto Body, one of the 14 final assembly plants of Toyota in Japan, responsible for manufacture of the Toyota HiAce van and Toyota Coaster bus. The factory prides itself on its dedication to 5S, and consistently receives the award for quality within the Toyota group. Here we completed our journey through the Toyota supply chain, having visited first and second tier suppliers earlier in the week.
The operational methodology at Gifu Auto Body, referred to as the Good Production System (GPS), was observed as an exemplar of the Toyota Production System (TPS) in action. We were shown instances of an advanced electric kanban system, Just-In-Time delivery, specialized equipment, and error-proofing (poka-yoke) procedures. Notably, Gifu Auto Body has ingeniously utilized space throughout the plant, a necessity borne from the expansion of operations within existing building constraints. Moreover, through the effective implementation of 5S and Total Productive Maintenance (TPM) programs, they have significantly prolonged the life of older equipment, demonstrating a clear commitment to efficiency and sustainability.
In the late afternoon we farewelled Kaji Sensei, Hyodo Sensei and Inuyama, and boarded a bullet train for our return to Tokyo.
Friday 7th July – Ashikaga 5S Town
Today we ventured out to Ashikaga City, Tochigi Prefecture, where we learned about the impactful 5S activities that have been revitalizing the Ashikaga community since 2003. The city, known as the “5S Town,” has been conducting the 5S World Summit since 2012, with more than 200 organizations across diverse sectors such as manufacturing, tourism, and education having implemented the Ashikaga-style 5S so far.
We were joined by Mr. Hiroya Suzuki, a staunch advocate and expert on this philosophy, for a seminar on Ashikaga-style 5S. It was intriguing to learn how their approach, although not directly stemming from the Toyota Production System (TPS), effectively drives company and organizational improvement through its unique approach to kaizen.
The first company tour for the day was held at Kikuchi Gear, a participant in the Ashikaga 5S Program. With about 160 employees distributed across their head office and six factories, the company produces quality gears for a range of sectors including aerospace, automotive, construction machinery, and printing. It was enlightening to observe how their flexible production facilities met the demands of wide-ranging customer needs. Kikuchi Gear’s emphasis on 5S Kaizen as a means to foster a resilient and stronger organization capable of consistently generating profit was inspiring.
Our afternoon tour took us to Fukai, a producer of pressed and welded automotive components for brands such as Subaru, Nissan, and Mitsubishi Motors. Established in 1938 as a supplier for Nakajima Aircraft Industries (now known as Subaru), Fukai demonstrated a strong commitment to their Fukai-style 5S program. This initiative is woven into their integrated functions of R&D, die/jig design, and manufacturing (press, weld, assembly). As members of the Ashikaga 5S School network and maintaining their own 5S Committee, Fukai conducts a robust, year-round 5S program that effectively delivers tangible outcomes to improve the organization. During the shop floor tour, a representative from each department explained and demonstrated the 5S Kaizen activities they conducted to improve their operations. Throughout the tour, all Fukai employees welcomed the tour groups with warm Japanese hospitality and courteous greetings.
We were joined during the day by a journalist from the local Shimotsuke Newspaper, with an article on our visit being included in the print version of the newspaper the following morning.
During our return to Tokyo we discussed plans for implementation of our learnings on our return home, and held our farewell dinner in the evening.
Saturday 8th July – Tokyo Sightseeing and Farewell
Our final morning together was dedicated to recovery and seeing the sights in Tokyo. We commenced our sightseeing in Asakusa, with a visit to the ancient Buddhist temple Senso-ji – often regarded as one of the most significant and oldest temples in Tokyo. The iconic landmark is famous for the large red lantern hanging at the Kaminarimon or “Thunder Gate”, which serves as the main entrance to the temple.
We then traded the old for the new, with a visit to glitzy Ginza, before heading back to start farewelling those departing for their flights.
We look forward to sharing stories of how each of us have implemented our learnings from the week.
Thank you to the group for providing the following feedback on their experience on the July 2023 Lean Japan Tour.
It was great experiencing factories that have implemented simple and effective processes in the right manner. I enjoyed the stories from each sensei on their journey of kaizen and how they implemented it within their factories. Ben, Eri and Juan were incredible hosts, the whole tour was seamless and the content was really valuable. This tour has really changed my understanding of what great looks like. Thank you.
This was my third visit to Japan with Shinka Management and it is difficult for me to find the right words to express my gratitude for such a well-organized tour and my appreciation for the high quality and on-target content. In my previous visits I received very valuable information related to continuous improvement principles and lean theory. While I received further lean training, my main focus was to gain more skills, tools and strategies on how lean practices can be adapted and introduced into the development of people. As a founder and owner of a newly established company, it is crucial for me to set up a lean culture at the onset of the company’s journey to foster the mindset of continuous improvement. Thank so much to all the wonderful people at Shinka Management that make this amazing experience possible. I highly recommend Shinka Management to any organization interested in lean training and improving their business.
I joined the tour with little understanding of lean. This tour opened my eyes to the possibilities of what can be achieved through continued focus on improvement and team work at all levels. The plant tours showcase the Kaizen and 5S principles perfectly. The surprising thing for me is that safety and quality were paramount in all aspects of work and are a strong focus when implementing improvements. I enjoyed learning from our hosts and others on the tour and would happily recommend the lean tour to anyone considering lean for their business.
The program was well organised and structured. The whole Shinka team were amazing and very accommodating. To be honest I was not certain that lean was the right fit for our business. But the refresher in Japan has opened up my eyes as to how it can be practically applied. The lean tour has prompted me to reignite my business.
I have thoroughly enjoyed the lean tour to Japan. Not only have I learned lots of new concepts that I’m keen to implement in our business, but I also loved the cultural experiences and insight into the people of Japan. The tour organizers bent over backward to make us feel welcome and anticipate our every need. I highly recommend this tour to anyone wanting to gain a better understanding of how lean can be practically applied in their business.
Thank you for the well-organized and informative tour. It can be distracting to read and attend lectures about lean, but when combined with practical training and actual visits to the home of lean, it helps to clarify and connect all the dots. The tour was an eye-opening experience where we witnessed lean manufacturing principles in action. The attention to detail and commitment to continuous improvement were truly inspiring.
Overall, the tour was a transformative experience. It highlighted the power of lean thinking and demonstrated how it can significantly improve productivity, quality and customer satisfaction.
A very valuable and well-organized experience. Getting good access to factories where TPS and lean manufacturing are used as well as the instruction from experienced instructors made this a very worthwhile experience. Participants should leave well equipped to train others as well as conduct kaizen practices themselves.
It was an exciting experience learning about Japan’s culture and industrial mentality. I had the honor of seeing and experiencing the industrial culture in Japan and exploring the reasons for its prosperity based on the principle of “kaizen”, as well as witnessing the work environment in a distinctive way embodied in the principle of 5S. It was a unique experience and I advise all those interested in increasing productivity and sustainability in business in general and the industry in particular to go through this experience. The vision of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is well known by those from industry. It aims to increase the number of factories from 11,000 to 36,000 by the year 2035. Thanks again to the General Authority for Small and Medium Enterprises of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia for supporting my participation, and to the Shinka Management Team for their efforts.
Life changing experience.
The tour was extremely well prepared:
1. In terms of logistics and schedule, everything was organized to provide enough time for full day efficiency without putting too much physical or cognitive strain.
2. In terms of quality of information, the senseis’ knowledge is world-class level and they were more than willing to address all the questions. The quality of the plants we visited was top notch, and always with an overwhelming welcome from the people there.
3. The Shinka Management team is overfriendly and supportive in all aspects of the trip. They made us feel at home half away across the globe.
I must say thank you to the whole Shinka team – very grateful to meet you. The senseis and the Shinka team always cared about integrating us, teaching us and making us feel comfortable.
The planning for the tour was brilliant. All my expectations were met. I saw TPS totally implemented, and it was amazing and very inspiring. Now I will continue to guide and transfer this knowledge to my team.
The TPS methodologies and learnings were exceptional. Shinka management ensured the tour was clearly defined. The teachings from expert senseis were effective, and they shared their knowledge and experience of the kaizen and 5S models. A must attend tour for people who are seeking improvements in business and culture.
Thank you Shinka management!
The Lean Japan Tour was an educational and exciting experience. The Shinka Management team with its impeccable all-round service ensured that the head and heart were free and open the whole time to be able to collect the many impressions. The factory tours, in connection with getting to know the country and culture, have expanded my lean experience in many ways. Thank you for the excellent organization and the exciting learning opportunities.
Join us in Japan!
The Lean Japan Tour is run several times annually as an open-registration program, hosting participants from various countries. Positions are made available on a first-come first-served basis.
Shinka Management also makes the Lean Japan Tour available to companies wishing to send a large group of staff on a dedicated program. The timing, length, content and delivery language of these programs can be customised.
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