Glossary of Japanese Lean Terms

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Lean is a business philosophy that emphasizes efficiency, continuous improvement, and respect for people. This approach has been adopted by many companies worldwide and has been proven to increase productivity and reduce waste.

Lean has its own set of terms and jargon that can confuse those unfamiliar with the system. In this post, we will provide a glossary of common Japanese terms to help you better understand the philosophy and how it is applied in practice.


5S is a Japanese methodology for organizing and maintaining a clean, efficient, and safe work environment. The five S's stand for Seiri (Sort), Seiton (Simplify), Seiso (Sweep), Seiketsu (Standardize), and Shitsuke (Sustain). This methodology is used in many organizations to reduce waste and improve efficiency by creating a well-organized and clean work environment. The five elements of 5S work together to create a work environment that is both visually appealing and functional, which helps to increase productivity and improve overall quality.


Andon is a Japanese term that refers to a visual signalling system used in Lean manufacturing to indicate the status of a production process. The system is typically used to identify and address problems quickly by including lights, bells, or other visual or auditory signals. The purpose of Andon is to provide real-time feedback on the status of the production process and to allow for quick resolution of problems. This helps to ensure a smooth and efficient flow of work and to minimize the impact of problems on the overall production process.

Chaku Chaku

Chaku Chaku is a Japanese term that refers to a smooth and continuous material flow in a manufacturing process. The term "Chaku Chaku" comes from the Japanese words "Chaku" (to load) and "Chaku" (to unload), and it is used to describe a process that flows smoothly without any delays or interruptions. In some places, you would find the translation of this as "load-load."


Gemba is a Japanese term that refers to the actual place where work is performed. By visiting the Gemba and observing work processes, it is possible to identify opportunities for improvement and implement changes that will make the work more efficient and effective. The idea behind Gemba is to go to the source of a problem and observe it directly to gain a deeper understanding of the situation and to find the most effective solution.

Genchi Gembutsu or Genchi Genbutsu

Genchi Genbutsu is a Japanese term that translates to "go and see for yourself." By visiting the Gemba and observing work processes, it is possible to gain a deeper understanding of the situation and find the most effective solution. The idea behind Genchi Genbutsu is that the best way to understand a problem is to go to where it is happening and observe it directly.

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Hanedashi refers to the process of automatic unloading of a workpiece from one operation or process, providing the proper state for the next workpiece to be loaded. The aim of Hanedashi is to ensure a smooth and continuous flow of work in a manufacturing process, which is essential for a "Chaku-Chaku" line. Hanedashi involves using devices or means that automatically unload and orient the workpiece for the next process without the need for manual intervention.


Hansei is a Japanese term that refers to the act of reflecting on and learning from mistakes. In Lean manufacturing, Hansei is an important part of continuous improvement, as it helps to identify areas for improvement and to learn from past mistakes. The goal of Hansei is to identify the cause of a problem and to prevent it from happening again in the future so that continuous improvement can be achieved.


Heijunka is a Japanese term for production levelling. Heijunka involves analyzing the demand for a product and adjusting the production process accordingly so that the same amount of work is performed daily. This helps to minimize the impact of fluctuations in demand and ensures a stable and predictable production process.

Hoshin Kanri

Hoshin Kanri is a Japanese term that refers to strategic planning. The goal of Hoshin Kanri is to align the activities of an organization with its overall strategy and to ensure that everyone is working towards the same goals. Hoshin Kanri involves setting long-term goals and objectives and then breaking them down into smaller, more manageable steps. This process helps to ensure that everyone in the organization is working towards the same goals and that the organization's activities are aligned with its overall strategy.


Jidoka is a Japanese term that means "automation with a human touch." It refers to a system where machines are designed to stop automatically when a problem is detected, allowing a human operator to address it. This approach allows for problems to be addressed quickly and efficiently, and it is seen as an important aspect of the Lean philosophy, as it allows for the integration of automation and human intelligence to improve processes and eliminate waste.


Kaikaku is a Japanese term that means "radical change." Unlike continuous improvement, Kaikaku is a more drastic change that involves breaking down traditional working methods and completely rethinking and redesigning processes. Kaikaku is implemented when small incremental improvements are no longer enough to meet the changing demands of a business and is often used to achieve significant cost savings, increase efficiency, and improve quality.


Kaizen is a Japanese term that means "continuous improvement." It refers to a philosophy of always looking for ways to improve processes, products, and overall business performance. Kaizen is the backbone of Lean, and it encourages all employees, from the CEO to the factory worker, to continuously seek out ways to eliminate waste and streamline processes.


A system of visual signals used to manage the flow of materials and information within a production process. Kanban cards are used to signal when more parts or products are needed. The Kanban system helps to reduce waste and improve efficiency by ensuring that only what is needed is produced.


Mizusumashi is a Japanese term that refers to the role of a material or supplies replenisher in a Lean manufacturing environment. The Mizusumashi ensures that materials and supplies are available at the right place, at the right time, and in the right quantity. This is an essential component of the Lean philosophy, as it helps to prevent disruptions in the production process and to minimize waste and inefficiencies.


Muda is the Japanese word for waste. It refers to any activity or process that does not add value to the customer, such as waiting, overproduction, excess inventory, defects, unused talent, etc. Muda is considered to be the root cause of inefficiencies in a manufacturing process, and reducing or eliminating Muda is a key goal of Lean manufacturing.


Mura refers to unevenness or inconsistencies in a manufacturing process, such as fluctuations in demand or production rates. Mura can lead to overproduction, excess inventory, and other forms of waste, and it is important to eliminate mura in order to achieve a smooth and consistent flow of work.


Muri refers to overburden or unnecessary effort, such as overworking employees or using equipment beyond its capabilities. Muri can lead to burnout, errors, and other problems, and it is important to eliminate muri in order to achieve a safe and sustainable manufacturing process.


Nagara is a Lean manufacturing term meaning the smooth continuous flow of work. It aims to eliminate waste and improve efficiency. Work flows seamlessly from one process to the next. This reduces buffer stock, increases throughput, and minimizes inventory. A Nagara system leads to a responsive, efficient production process.


Poka-yoke is a Japanese term for a mistake-proofing technique. The goal of poka-yoke is to eliminate defects by preventing mistakes from happening in the first place. It involves designing processes and systems that make it difficult or impossible for errors to occur. For example, this can be done by adding sensors, alarms, or other systems to detect and correct errors before they occur.


Shojinka is a Japanese term for continuously optimizing the number of workers in a work center. Workers must be trained in multiple disciplines for Shojinka to be effective. The work center layout should support variable worker numbers. The manufacturing process must be adaptable to fit demand. Shojinka leads to flexible, efficient work centers that respond to changes in demand.

Takt Time

Takt time is a Japanese term that refers to the pace of production that is necessary to meet customer demand. It is calculated by dividing the total available production time by the number of units that need to be produced in that time. Takt time is used to help set the pace of the production process and to ensure that work is performed at the right tempo to meet customer demand.


Yokoten is a Japanese term that refers to the practice of spreading and sharing best practices and improvements across different parts of an organization. The goal of Yokoten is to leverage the collective knowledge and experience of the entire organization to drive improvement and achieve business objectives. By utilizing Yokoten, companies can gain a competitive advantage, as they can learn from each other's successes and failures and continuously improve their own processes.


Japanese TermEnglish Translation
5SOrganizing and maintaining a clean work environment
AndonVisual Signalling System
Chaku-ChakuLoad and Unload
GembaGo See and Verify
Genchi GenbutsuGo and See for Yourself
HanedashiAutomatic Part Unloading
HeijunkaProduction Volume and Mix Leveling
Hoshin KanriStrategic Planning and Deployment
JidokaAutomation with Intelligence (Autonomation)
KaikakuRadical Change
KaizenContinuous Improvement
KanbanVisual Demand Signal
MizusumashiMaterial Delivery
MudaUnnecessary Work
MuriExcessive Demand (Overburden)
NagaraFlawless Production Flow
Poka-yokeError Prevention
ShojinkaWorkforce Balancing
Takt TimePace of Production to Meet Customer Demand
YokotenBest Practice Dissemination

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