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Genba


Translating a symbol is tricky.

Translating a word is difficult.

Translating a sentence is complex.

Translating a philosophy is a journey.


“Genba” is such a philosophy.

Yes, I typed “Ge-N-ba” because this is how Japanese learn in school.


There is a reason why “Ge-M-ba” is used outside Japan.

But most use it without understanding the rules. If we discuss the rule, you will notice a mistake or need for more standardization.


But what is important is that “Genba” is a more profound philosophy. I am on a journey of comprehending it.



Sometime in the mid-fifties, the Japanese government made a directive on translating the Japanese alphabet into English. This rule, called the “Directive style, " is probably the simplest translation method. Since the order was made, the Japanese learned this style in school.


When we use this rule, the correct type of 現場 is Ge-N-ba.


To add a note, I use an English keyboard in Japanese mode to type. When I type Ge-M-ba, it will become “げmば,” some mysterious combination of Hiragana and the alphabet. To get to 現場, I need to type Ge-N-ba unless I teach something to my iOS or Windows.


Also, my understanding of ISO3602:1989 is that “N” is the proper use.


So why does “Ge-M-ba” exist?


There is another method of translation called the Hepburn romanization. An American, James Curtis Hepburn, developed his Japanese alphabet translation method. He was a doctor and also a Christian. He and his wife significantly contributed to developing Japanese healthcare and the Christian church.


In this method, there is a rule as follows.

【When the “N” is followed by “B, M, or P,” the N becomes “M.”】

According to this rule, “Ge-M-ba” happens.


But as you look into the rule, you will recognize something.

What about “Kanban”? Ka-N-Ba-n”???

It is the exact same “NB” combination. Yet, I never seen “Ka-M-ban.” And I probably heard thousands of non-Japanese say “Kanban” in my life. I never had anyone who I thought they were pronouncing something wrong. If “kanban” is good, then why not “genba”?

They say we can choose the translation method, but it should be standardized inside a book or set of publications. At least my blogs and comments are all standardized. (Of course, errors are everywhere. Need more Build-In Quality.)



But what is frustrating is the simple translation of “Genba” as the production shop floor.

I posted before that “Genba is the mirror of management.

And most will agree that it doesn’t mean “production.”


But “where” requires deeper understanding. Here are some examples.

  • A manager was on the phone on the production shop floor. (It shouldn’t, but it happens in many places.) Is this person at the “Genba”? NO. It is on the phone but not at “Genba.” Mentally or attention-wise, it is not at “Genba.”

  • I was standing in a line. My coach walked by and said, “Where you are standing is not Genba,” and walked away.


Both cases happened on the production shop floor.


“Genba” consists of two symbols.

“現” means real, actual, appear.

“場” means place, location. Actually, “Ba” means far more. I’m still in research. It is close to my post on “Ma.


To understand the “Andon system” might be a good example. There’s a board that lights up as someone pulls the Andon. When that light is on, the manager checks the board and immediately walks towards the station that pulled the Andon. Why? At that moment, that station is the Genba for that manager. Even if it is at a production line very close to the station, if it does not look at the station, it is not at genba. There is a joke in Japan called “Daytime Andon.” Andon was originally a lantern or a lamp. So, in the daytime, we don’t need it. “Daytime Andon” means useless. And if I am not standing at the right spot at the right time, I am a “Daytime Andon,” as the above example shows. This means that the exact location of Genba can change.


Ohno used the word “recognize【認識】.” (English version translated as “Understand.” There’s room for discussion about the difference between these two words for Japanese and English). He explains “to recognize” as a “stringent thing (Mono), actively approaching the object, understanding the essence.” And, he is saying to “recognize” the Genba. To understand, our brain must recognize something, mainly waste, at the Genba. Just walking around the production floor or looking at reports is not a Genba visit since that information is someone else’s recognition. It is important to see those as a reference to understand how others recognize the Genba. Genba needs to go directly to your brain.


Yes, there is a use to mean “Genba” as “Production shop floor,” like corporate and genba. But the philosophy of Genba is much more profound. It is very philosophical to me.


At least, every time I post “Genba,” I get some message that I need to take some online Lean courses. I am not in need of that. I am on my journey of “Genba.”

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