29th May 2015

Lean Japan Tour Report

Well we are back from our Lean Japan Tour hosted by Shinka Management and Simply Lean Business Solutions and yet again this was a huge success. Twelve kiwis joined participants from Australia and Europe and were treated to exciting factory visits and inspiring lectures from our Sensei, Akinori Hyodo, who coincidentally led our Lean Master Class in Auckland earlier this year.


Following our orientation session on Sunday afternoon in Tokyo and our welcome dinner in the evening we woke to an early start to catch the bullet train to Kakegawa for our tour of Ito En. They are the world leader in the production and distribution of green tea products and are renowned for their innovations in the green tea market. They also produce their own coffee under the Tulleys brand which can be found throughout Japan. Their business model is based on constantly asking “what can be done better”, hence their extensive R&D department works tirelessly to keep them ahead of the market.


No tour would be complete without a visit to one of Toyota’s manufacturing plants and the Motomachi Plant was host in the heart of Toyota City, providing a great insight into the Toyota Production System – seeing it in action was one of many highlights for the tour participants. A short visit to the Toyota Kaikan Museum capped off a great first day.

Toyota Training Centre and Sue Factory

An early train trip took us to the outskirts of Nagoya to commence our extensive training sessions at Toyota’s Training Centre. The Centre was established to provide training for Toyota employees in the principles and application of the Toyota Production System (Lean Thinking) and we are fortunate to be able to bring this same training to our tour participants. Hyodo Sensei’s inspiring and focussed lectures opened the team’s eyes to understand how Toyota applies the TPS principles in practice, including seeing them in action as we walked with him on the shop floor at the Sue seat track factory. Navigating our way whilst the factory was in full production was a great experience for all to see and understand TPS in action including watching AGV’s, materials movers, production people, and leaders respond to the needs of the customer.

We also spent an afternoon in Toyota’s Practical Activity Centre undertaking a training session and simulation of their Kanban System and Visual Control Systems. Our primary task in the Centre was to conduct a Kaizen activity on their spot welding line using Standard Work concepts to transform the line from the current state to a future, more productive, state. There was a little competition between the two groups – Kiwi’s vs The Rest of the World – and needless to say who came out on top!

Suzaki Industries

As a smaller supplier to Toyota and a number of others, Suzaki supplies pressed, welded and assembled components for the automotive industry. President Suzaki’s focus here was a full explanation of their Kanban System and the continued improvements they have made particularly in Poke Yoke and SMED using ideas from their staff and simple low cost materials and methods.

Metal One Isuzu Group

This site within the Isuzu Group specialises in the processing and sales of cold rolled steel and cuts bulk coils of steel into smaller width coils and sheet. They have several slitting lines and whilst it is an automated process, the standard of their 5S is outstanding as is their Just-in-Time processing and logistics to meet customer demand in short lead-times. Their attention to safety is paramount in their desire to keep all their employees safe at all times and currently have had 2519 accident free days! The care of their employees is also embodied in their vision of being “A high performing company with a good working environment that enables personal growth”.


The Nissin group of companies are focused on flour milling and own two plants in New Zealand – Champion Flour Milling in Christchurch and Tauranga. These are part of Nissin’s global network of mills in The Americas, Asia, China, Europe, Middle East, Africa and of course Japan. From humble beginnings in 1958 with the development of the world’s first instant noodles, they continue to pursue original value for customers around the world. 

Operation Analysis

Our final official engagement was to discuss and understand the purpose and application of operation analysis, providing the group with an insight into time and motion studies and work sampling activities.


The tour provides an immense opportunity to learn from the founders of Lean Thinking. The importance of capturing the key messages and challenges these bring is critical to formulate the “how to” when participants return to their respective companies. Our debriefing session consolidated these learnings and provided time to reflect and contemplate everything learned and experienced during the week. Whilst definitive plans are not made in these sessions they provide participants with consolidated thoughts to take back to their teams to formulate their unique strategies.

Cultural Experience

Its obvious Japan has a very different culture to New Zealand and the experiences for the tour participants in this week bring new insights into daily life in Japan. From the language, the sheer number of people, the transport system, the crowded but orderly train stations, their humble attitude to others, their politeness, the cuisine…..the list goes on. They are different but one of the most welcoming and respectful cultures in the world – much can be learned from the way in which they live their lives – new insights that will be brought back to the participating companies.

Next Tour

We will again be conducting our next Lean Japan Tour in November 2015 and details can be found directly on the Simply Lean website. Absorb the content of this report, read the testimonials from participants and seriously consider joining us in November for what some have said is a life changing experience.