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Japanese Lean Term Index

With Lean tracing its roots back to Japan, it is not surprising that it is chock full of Japanese Lean Terms.

This Japanese Lean Dictionary gathers up all the terms Japanese terms in one place for your convenience.


  • Andon (+7-min MP3, +6-Page PDF)

    Andon Lean Term on PDF

    Making a workplace visual is an important part of continuous improvement. Andon lights are one method of providing visual warnings that drive action.

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  • Baka Yoke

    Baka yoke is the Japanese term for ‘foolproofing’ or ‘idiot proofing’. Needless to say, it is not the most politically correct of terms, and has been replaced in common use by poka yoke, or ‘mistake proofing.’

    The principle is the same for both terms. Prevent mistakes rather than correct defects. The subtle difference between baka yoke and poka yoke is that the focus changes from the person (fool or idiot) to the process or action (mistake).

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  • Chaku-Chaku

    A chaku-chaku line has a series of machines, each equipped with a hanedashi device, or autoejector. This enables the operator working a chaku-chaku line to

    • walk up and immediately insert the part he is holding into a machine
    • press a start button, and then
    • pick up the previously ejected part.

    Because the chaku-chaku operator is running several machines, she relies on jidoka (autonomation). If there is a problem on a machine while the operator is away, jidoka stops production, preventing further defects or damage to the machine.

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  • Concrete Head

    A concrete head is someone who is resistant to the changes that Lean brings. Obviously this is a derogatory term. The term “concrete head’ is the result of a translation from Japanese.

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  • Gemba (+4-Min MP3, +6-Page PDF)

    Gemba Lean Term on PDF

    You can’t really understand a process until you see it at gemba-the real place where the work is done. Learn about this term, answer a poll question, listen to a short audio program, and download a FREE 6-Page PDF on gemba.

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  • Gembutsu

    Gembutsu is a Japanese word meaning ‘real thing’. It is one of the components of the ‘Three Reals‘ meaning go to the real place (gemba) to see the real thing (gembutsu) and collect the real facts (genjitsu).

    This term simply means that there is no substitute for seeing something with one’s own eyes. Far too often, people hear about a process or problem, and take what they hear as fact. Watching an actual item being made or form being processed gives an increased level of insight that helps with problem solving as well as making improvements.

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  • Genchi Genbutsu

    Genchi Genbutsu is a Japanese term that loosely translates to “go and see”. Essentially, it means to go to the actual spot where actual work is happening on the actual product to confirm your conclusions.

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  • Hanedashi

    A hanedashi device is an automatic part ejector. It reduces waste when an operator approaches a machine to load the next part. In a machine without a hanedashi device, the operator would have to set down the new part that he would be carrying to the machine, pull out the completed part and set it down, pick up the new part, load it, and then pick up the completed part again.

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  • Hansei

    Hansei is a Japanese term that loosely translates to self-reflection. In practice, though, it is much more than that. Hansei requires several things.

    1. A person must recognize that there is a problem in personal performance. Hansei is not a run-of-the-mill assessment tool. It looks at personal failings rather than system or process problems.
    2. The person must take responsibility for the shortcoming. Being called on the carpet is not the same as hansei. Owning the mistake is a critical part of this form of reflection…
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  • Heijunka

    The common heijunka definition, production leveling, means transforming the typical peaks and valleys of customer demand into something flatter. That flatness, in turn, makes standardizing production processes easier.

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  • Hoshin Kanri

    Hoshin kanri is a Japanese term meaning policy deployment or strategic planning.

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  • Jidoka

    The most common definition of jidoka is ‘autonomation.’ It is Japanese in origin, as are many specialized words in Lean. Jidoka traces its roots back to the early 1900’s at Toyota in Japan, then a textile manufacturing company. Sakichi Toyoda, an inventor and the founder of Toyota, developed a device that could detect broken threads in a loom and stop the machine from producing defective material. This concept, in which intelligence was added to machines, enabled companies to greatly increase the number of machines a single operator could run—with very little extra effort on the worker’s part! With jidoka, production becomes much easier for operators and much more profitable for companies.

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  • Kaikaku

    Kaikaku is revolutionary change. Where kaizen is generally evolutionary in nature, kaikaku requires radical shifts in thinking.

    Revolutionary changes tend to be far more challenging in nature and much less common than incremental improvement. Because of the broad, sweeping changes that kaikaku brings, it is generally driven by higher level leaders, and requires the commitment of greater continuous improvement resources than everyday improvements. It can also be hard for frontline employees to embrace the major changes that kaikaku brings.

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  • Kaizen

    What is the meaning of kaizen? No translation is perfect, but kaizen is a Japanese word that roughly translates to ‘change for the good’.

    Learning how to implement kaizen concepts properly goes a long way towards improving your job satisfaction in a Lean company. Why? Because you might be asked to participate in a kaizen blitz, a Lean event, a rapid improvement workshop (RIW), a rapid improvement project (RIP), or something else with a similar name. These all fall into one big bucket that covers the most common way people think of kaizen concepts: putting together a team of people from several work areas to do a week-long project to reduce waste or improve a process’s flow.

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  • Kaizen Charter Form

    Kaizen Charter

    The Kaizen Charter Form helps team leaders organize for rapid improvement projects. It contains team information, the scope, and the targets of the kaizen event.

    Format: XLSX

    Regular Price: Free for Registered Users

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  • Kaizen Event (+ 11-Page PDF)

    Kaizen Event Lean Term on PDF

    Kaizen events are typically week-long, focused projects in which a team makes substantial changes to a process. Learn more and, and download a FREE 11-Page PDF on kaizen events.

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  • Kanban (+ 11-Page Lean PDF)

    Kanban Lean Term on PDF

    Kanban is a powerful inventory management tool that provides the stability required to improve operations. Visit this Lean term page to download a FREE 11-Page PDF about kanban.

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  • Muda (Waste)

    Many Lean terms originate from Japan. Muda is one of those terms. It really translates to ‘wasteful activity’, but in common practice most people simply use this definition: muda = waste.

    Since one of Lean’s main goals is reducing waste to improve flow, it is no surprise that muda had a major role in Lean. If there was a single battle cry for Lean, it would be ‘No Muda!’

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  • Mura

    Mura is one of three Japanese terms meaning waste. The others are muda, the traditional form of waste in which resources are not effectively used, and muri, meaning overburden or overexertion.

    Mura means inconsistency or excess variation in either processes or demand. When processes are not standardized, each different method adds wasted movement to a process. It also creates a large potential for quality problems.

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  • Muri

    Muri is a Japanese term for a specific form of waste. It means unreasonableness or overexertion. It is often referred to with two other Japanese terms, muda (the traditional view of waste in which resources are used without adding to output) and mura (variation in methods and demand).

    When people and machines are pushed beyond a reasonable limit, they tend to have diminishing performance, as well as increased costs. In the case of machines, muri causes faster wear and tear, quality problems, and catastrophic breakdowns.

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  • Nagara

    Nagara is a Japanese term meaning ‘while doing something’. It simply means to do more than one thing at a time. For example, a two parts may be fitted together as they are clamped into a welding fixture. Or, a person may be able to assemble two parts while walking.

    In practice, though, the application of the nagara principle is limited. In most cases, a process takes a person’s full attention. Operating a piece of machinery while doing something else can even be dangerous. It takes some careful process design to combine tasks.

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  • Poka Yoke (+ 8-Page Lean PDF, +Video)

    Poka Yoke Lean Term on PDF

    The best way to eliminate defects is to prevent errors in processes. A poka yoke is a mistake-proofing device that ensures that it is impossible to make a mistake in a process. Visit this Lean term page to learn more and download a FREE 8-Page PDF about using poka yoke in your in Lean operations.

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  • Shojinka

    Shojinka is a form of flexible manufacturing, where the number of workers vary to match demand requirements. This is obviously superior to a static system that staffs work areas without consideration to fluctuations in production requirements. Being able to reassign people to exactly where they are needed will help keep production areas of falling behind. This form of flexible staffing also releases people to work on improvement projects when demand is low across the board.

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  • Water Spider / Water Strider / Mizusumashi

    A water spider or ‘mizusumashi‘ in Japanese (see our listing of Japanese Lean terms), is a person who has a prescribed set of tasks to keep materials in stock at the point of use in production areas. (Note that the water spider is alternately called a water strider.)

    This differs from a material handler in that the sequence of operations and the way the tasks are performed are specified.

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  • Yokoten

    Yokoten is a Japanese term that loosely translates into “horizontal deployment.” Essentially, it is the spreading of information across the organization. A key point to this is that it is not just the result that is shared, but also the process that led to the result.

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