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Short stories about Kaizen 2



In my previous post, I wrote about the background of Kaizen.

This blog is about when Kaizen was translated, some words or concepts that this word swallowed.


1. Did you know that when Taichi Ohno’s book “Workplace management” was translated, two Japanese words were translated as “Kaizen”? One is obviously “Kaizen”. The other word is “合理化”, which is typically translated as rationalization.

  • Chapter 14; Do Kaizen When Times Are Good

  • Chapter 27; We Can Still Do a Lot More Kaizen

Both of the above “Kaizen” are translated from “合理化”. The word “Rationalization” means a lot and Ohno & Toyota use many Japanese “-Ri (理)” words that probably require additional explanations on what they mean. One meaning of “Rationalization” is to become more efficient by cutting (firing) extra labor & machine. This is not how Ohno is using the word (obviously he wants to take out extra labor & machine but not necessarily fire them). He probably wanted to say “match (合) science/logic (理)” and shop floor in both ways. The shop floor follows science/logic (deductive reasoning) and science/logic improves based on Kaizen on the shop floor (inductive reasoning). Here, the reasoning is not excusing. Very often an answer to the question “why are we keeping the inventory here?” is “because we want these.” Such reasoning is an excuse and not necessary. The reasoning needs to be systematic and scientific.

Both translated messages are not necessarily bad, they are one of my favorites quotes from the book. Translation does generate good changes. Yet, it is important to note what was originally mentioned. My father was always challenging the science & logic on the shop floor. Kaizen is not just about implementing fancy tools. It is about science & logic.



2. Another word that the English version of “Kaizen” has eaten is “創意工夫(Soui-Kuhu)” meaning originality (creativity) and ingenuity. I observed this word frequently in Japanese, but never saw an explanation in English.


  • When we talk about originality (creativity) one thing we need to talk about is “Karakuri (Automata)”, which are Kaizen that helps the worker, designed by workers, using mainly gravity & simple devices to reduce cost without impacting nature. The original idea comes from old Japanese ceremony dolls. The area where Toyota originates is famous for Dasi-Karakuri, the gods' vehicle that marches around the town during festivals. Karakuri Kaizen can eliminate external expensive electrical or pneumatic devices. If trained the people on the shop floor correctly, they can take ownership and have fun. What’s more, factories can save money.


  • “工夫(Kuhu)” means ingenuity, well thought out or perfection to accomplish the objective. This word comes from Zen for the following meaning;

  • Focus on training

  • Think about the question asked by your master

We use this 工夫 in the following sentence.

“The Kaizen is good, but there is room for improvement(工夫).”

An implemented Kaizen work perfectly from the moment of implementation is rare. In many cases, the Kaizen requires additional adjustment, perfection, etc. Very often we see people giving up on a great idea. We should not forget that “Kuhu” is part of “Kaizen”.

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