This year’s Japan Study Tour was based mostly in the Tokyo/Yokohama area with one trip by bullet train up to the Sendai area. After a delicious and authentic sushi lunch, the group visited the Meiji Shrine and the Imperial Palace. The first two days of the tour were spent in the classroom discussing the Shingo Model and how it applied to the specific challenges being faced by the tour participants. It included presentations from Mike Martyn, Dominic Bria, and Ken Snyder.
Most companies ask that we don’t take photos; however, below are a few authorized photos with brief descriptions of each site we visited.
Toyota Motors East Japan
The first company on the tour was a great one. We took the Shinkansen (bullet train) up to Sendai and a private bus north from there to the Toyota facility. If you’ve ever visited a Toyota plant, you know they have gotten very good at handling a lot of tours. We had the opportunity to have a nice question-and-answer session with one of the leaders there in addition to the normal catwalk tour through the production facility. Toyota is Japan’s number one car maker and this particular site employs 7,391 employees.
Coca-Cola Ebina Plant
Given Coca-Cola’s size and prominence in the business world, it seems like they might not be able to give a very personalized tour but that was not the case. The VP of Operations for Coca-Cola bottling was our tour guide and answered all our questions after the plant tour. They focus heavily on eliminating the eight wastes.
This up-and-coming company processes metals for automotive, railway, and other industries. Its operations use a system similar to TPS. It is in the early stages of its Lean journey but it was impressive to see how open its leaders were to ideas for improvement. They openly acknowledged they had a long way to go. That acknowledgement alone is the mark of an organization that takes its improvement seriously.
TESSEI Tokyo Station
This visit was particularly impressive because we got to see the “7-minute miracle” in action. TESSEI is the company that services the Shinkansen—bullet trains—in Japan. When a train comes into the station, workers turn it around in seven minutes or less. It’s impressive to see. The company took its employees from being cleaners to being performers. When the work is done, workers exit the train and bow to passengers. We had a great question-and-answer session with the people who made TESSEI what it is today.
Sanden Vending Machines – Akagi Plant
The tour at Sanden began with a bus tour of the forest that surrounds the plant from the work they’ve put into it over the years. One of the ways the company engages its employees and the public is through their strong efforts toward the cohabitation of the environment and industry. Then we toured the area where Sanden associates build vending machines on an assembly line that is customizable by associates for work comfort. The company also manufactures air conditioning compressors for cars as well as display cases for refrigerated products.
We began the tour at Misawa by having a look at the construction supplies they use in a single day. It was impressive and gave us a good idea of the volume of projects that go through that facility. They manufacture homes that are assembled by components on the building site. They don’t begin creating a home until they receive an order, so it is truly a one-piece flow operation. That’s one of the main reasons we chose to include it on this tour.
Shingo Study Tours to Japan are popular with attendees. Here are some comments from them:
“Our tour in Japan with the Shingo Institute was comforting, inspiring, and rewarding. We discovered that many companies are facing the same challenges we are, and how Kaizen has allowed them to overcome those challenges. It was truly inspiring, and I have never been more motivated to get to work!”
“With the Shingo Study Tour to Japan, we realized that the Lean tools we are using will only take us so far. Instead, we need to make the link between culture and systems. The Shingo Model ™ encouraged our understanding that the behaviors of people are what drives the sustainability of the Lean transformation. The systems we design drive people’s behavior-good systems encourage good behavior. The site visits showed us ‘real world’ examples. The Tour was a great learning experience to advance our Lean transformation to the next level.”
“The Shingo Institute Study Tour changed my perspective and approach to LEAN after a 5-year journey. The expertise of Shingo personnel combined with access to high profile Japanese companies provided a week-long immersion into understanding the Shingo Model™, the evolution of Lean, and Japanese culture. All aspects of the tour were extremely well done.”