Lean Japan Tours, or lean trips to Japan, are becoming more popular. Does going to the gemba today mean going to Japan? Some have mixed feelings. Mark Graban, in his lean blog questions if it’s necessary to travel all that distance, the expense, and time. I have not gone on any of these trips and cannot recommend any of them. So what does it mean to go to Japan to see lean?

Lean Japan Tours

Lean Japan tours are typically one week long. Each lean trip visits multiple facilities and provides time to discuss each visit as a group. At the end of the week long tours you have time to shop and sight see. The tour guides speak Japanese and have years of lean experience to draw upon to translate and explain what you are seeing. Overall it sounds like a great lean learning experience.

A Japan lean tour is not cheap, but niether is Japan. It usually includes all hotels, meals, misc. expenses, domestic transportation, a certificate and mission study package. Note: these tours do not include airfare to Japan so you will have to arrange that yourself.

What will you see? If you are going to Japan to see lean then of course, everyone goes to see lean at Toyota, also known as the Toyota Production System. Most go to the Toyota Museum and some of the Toyota suppliers or a Toyota owned company. Yes, Toyota is the lean company that everyone wants to see and Toyota’s version of lean is exactly what you will see.

What Lean Japan Tours Can You Go On?

lean japan toursEnna Lean Study Mission to Japan, $7,995 USD per person

Enna tries to go to Japan four times a year with a group of up to 20 participants. The trips include stops to seven facilities (three are Toyota facilities) plus the Toyota Museum. Supply chain solutions says “What a sensational trip.”

Gemba Research Japan Kaikaku Experience, $6,500 USD per person

Gemba claims to have conducted over 65 lean tours over the years. They go twice a year (November and January). The trips include stops at at least four companies. Gemba Research will schedule private trips for 15 or more. Their Gemba panta rei blog contains highlights from their Japan Kaikaku Experience.

The Japan Management Association Group Japan Lean Tour, $6,000 USD per person

They have a tour once a year (October). The trips include stops at four facilities (two are Toyota facilities) plus the Toyota Museum. Trips are for 15 participants.

Lean Sensei International Japan Lean Tour

They have a tour once a year (May). The trips include stops at six facilities (three are Toyota facilities) plus the Toyota Museum.

Poppendieck, LLC, Lean Agile Software Japan Tours

They had, what I believe is the first lean agile software development Japan tour. It was dubbed the Lean Study Tour and was chronicled daily on the Bestbrains blog. The tour included stops with:

  • the manager for Toyota automotive (embedded) software
  • the CEO of Fujitsu Applications Ltd
  • representatives from the Agile community in Japan
  • Agile pioneers such as Eiwa and Azzuri
  • chief engineer of Lexus and Supra program, Katyama-san
  • the former IT manager of Toyota, Kuriowa-san
  • 2013 Agile Alliance “Gordon Pask” award winner, Kenji Hiranabe and his co-workers.

Lean Accounting Summit hosts a Lean Accounting Study Mission to Japan. $9,200 USD per person. Yes, it costs more than the others but it is also a longer trip – ten days – and has nine visits. The trip is hosted by Norman Bodek, the founder of Productivity Press, who is well known in the lean community and no stranger to Lean Japan tours.

INTERNATIONAL hosts are getting into the act too. Some are acting as affiliates for those mentioned above and others are doing their own.

The KAIZEN Institute (Switzerland) hosts a one week Benchmarking Lean Tour to Japan.

Shanghai MESC Business Consulting (China) hosts a one week TPS Trip to Japan.

KPC (Germany) hosts a Kaizen Management Study Tour in Japan.