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  • Writer's picturehidet77


In my last post about “Genba,” I mentioned this concept called “Ba.”

“Ba” is an ancient concept. Some claim that this is equivalent to Plato’s “chora.” But that’s beyond my blog. Instead, I would focus on “Ba,” highlighted in Japan.

  1. “Ba” of respect

  2. “Ba” of trust

  1. “Ba” of Respect

The symbol for “Ba” is “場.” The left is soil. On the right side is the sun on the top and the hand at the bottom. This means the soil is an artificial mass-created to pray toward the sun. In ancient Chinese, “場” originally meant a holy or sacred place.

When this concept traveled to Japan, we, the Japanese, made a twist. The twist is that the place where we work has become a sacred place. This is because, in Sinto, God (or those holy things) work. Many natural phenomena are explained as the result of holy things work. And even today, Tennou, the emperor of Japan, plants, harvest, and offer rice to the holy things. The entire rice-making process is part of the ceremony, not just the final offer. (Of course, we know that officials do in-between real works.) All those actions are acts of sacred; therefore, we should consider all those places where we work as sacred. This is why even today, when we open a new factory or office, we invite a Sinto priest for the ceremony. Most factories and offices have a small shrine somewhere.

You might feel Sinto impact on TPS, too. Think about 5S, especially the Seiketsu and Seisou. To enter the Into Shirine, we must “purify” the hands. Seisou is like training in Sinto. The foundation behind “Respect for people” comes from here, too. Since we were kids, we were told to eat every grain of rice because that is “one year work of a farmer.”

Here, I am not trying to promote Sinto. I am just talking about the potential root of the word “Ba.”

And I changed the word “worship” to “respect.” “Respecting people” is not “worship.” Sometimes there are people “worshiping” 5S. No. 5S comes with standardizations and problem-solving. “Worshiping” keeps waste. Most Sinto ceremonies are full of wasted motion and waiting. Respect means to let people focus on the core values, not the waste around them.

Sometimes, I wonder if my preference for a “clean” workplace is based on my Sinto bias or universal things. I feel that it is a universal human nature, but that might need more understanding.

  1. “Ba” of trust

From religion, “Ba” became a common thing in Japanese society. We have many idioms which contain the “Ba.”

  • 場の空気; Air of “Ba.” The atmosphere of “Ba.”

  • 場の雰囲気: Ambiance of “Ba.”

  • 場の流れ: Flow of “Ba.”

  • 場の勢い: Momentum of “Ba.”

Note that most of these idioms describe some peer pressure within a group. Instead of openly discussing something, it's better to pretend (?) to agree. We value peace inside a group. We have this " Nemawashi " activity to eliminate disagreements before it is apparent at the “Ba.” This is one substantial negative aspect of Japanese culture. And it is accurate even today. In 2007, the abbreviation “KY” became popular, which means “Can’t read the air.” Most Japanese know that this abbreviation is tied to the first idiom, the air of “Ba.” Also, other idioms represent similar concepts. “The stake that sticks out will be driven down. (出る杭は打たれる),” “Better bend than break. (長い物には巻かれろ)” etc. The Seventeen-article constitution of Japan (published in 604) starts with a sentence, “Respect with peace, it is a doctrine to obey.” Some say that this aspect makes it difficult to change.

As I learned about this aspect of Japanese culture, a question arises.

Taiichi Ohno, or TPS, does not match this Japanese culture. Ohno’s actions and comments are “Ba” destroyers. He wasn’t seeking peace at genba. He fought against typical thinking inside his group. The fact that his approach was called the “Ohno method,” or in the back, he was called the “devil,” highlights that his behaviors weren’t typical Japanese. And not just Ohno, but several of Ohno’s students claimed they openly confronted Ohno, meaning disturbing the “Ba.” But surprisingly, Ohno (and Suzumura) liked such folks and collected such “rebels.”

Then, why was Ohno allowed to exist in such a society?

The simple answer is the trust. Ohno earned the trust of leaders such as Taizo Ishida, Eiji Toyoda, and Shoichi Saito. These leaders are always committed to their commitments, and Ohno is thankful for that. Ohno also talks about the importance of gaining the trust of workers. He is saying that such “trust” is visible on genba. If people trust the manager, they will come to ask about problems. If not, they will hide problems.

Based on working globally, this kind of “Ba” pressure is everywhere. It is not just a Japanese thing. A typical example. During TPS training sessions, people will say very nice things. Once they are back at their genba, they keep the same way. People know what is better to speak at different “Ba.” It’s a human psychology.

Is the “Ba” filled with fear or some negative energy? Or something more positive? One thing to note is that the quantity of waste at “Ba” equals the negative energy at “Ba.” The two are connected. Nobody will agree to reduce inventory when they think they will be blamed for something they are not responsible for. Waiting will be kept when they believe they will be pushed later. Doubts and confusion justify overproduction. And it is not easy to gain trust.

[“Ba” continues…]

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Oct 31, 2023

Hi Hajime,

This is my first encounter with your website and postings on LI. From what I've observed, I'm a bit disappointed that I did not encounter your postings earlier. Nevertheless, let me state that this concept/notion of "Ba" has captured my attention. The reason for that is that its origins and meanings (both past and current) resonate with me. It's my impression that the notion of "Ba" is synonymous with the notion of an "ENVIRONMENT;" one which is fertile (when properly nurtured) in its ability to promote and sustain growth and creativity.

Over the course of my decades-long career, I have had the opportunity to observe and study and interact in numerous work ENVIRONMENTS... some of which proved to…

Nov 02, 2023
Replying to

Hi jjbsack25

Thank you for your great comment.

I thought about translating "Ba" as environment, but I felt that the border line between environment and individual is clear, while "Ba" is unclear. But we need to focus on environment is the same.

By the way, Hajime pasted away three years ago. This site is updated by his son. Thanks.

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