“Should I Visit Japan to See and Study Lean and Kaizen for Healthcare?”

New!! I’m going to Japan with Katie Anderson in November!

I’m very excited to be part of Katie Anderson’s November Japan Study Trip.

More details will follow, but I hope you can join us. Learn more about the trip and please let Katie know you learned about it through me. Note: This is not a healthcare-centric tour.


Previous Healthcare-Focused Trips with Kaizen Institute:

I am collaborating with them on another possible trip at some point in the future.

Click to download a PDF about the last trip in December 2019:

more info

… it’s the experience of a lifetime and a great way to get inspired and bring ideas home to your team and organization… not just a bunch of tools, but deep (even profound) lessons and principles…

Quick Details About The Trip for Busy Healthcare Leaders

The trips are being organized by Kaizen Institute and Mark Graban.

The trip runs Monday through Friday in various cities in Japan.

The fee, 4900 EUR (convert currency) in 2019, is paid to Kaizen Institute and it’s all-inclusive once you get to our starting point city in Japan (Nagoya) and the trip ends in and departs from Nagoya.

This price includes hotels, in-country transportation (plane and/or train & private bus), meals, tour guides and interpreters, the tours, and other special events – not to mention all of the planning that goes into creating an amazing experience. It’s not an inexpensive trip, but it’s quite a memorable and impactful journey.

Read Mark Graban’s blog posts about the trips.

Details about the 2018 trip (click for a larger view):

more info

Highlights of Past Tours

In the previous tours, we secured three KAIZEN™ minded hospitals to visit, as well as Toyota and much more! The detailed itinerary is still being developed for 2019.

This isn’t just a “study tour” or a “benchmarking tour.” You’ll learn a holistic view and understanding of Kaizen and Lean, not just isolated tools and methods to adopt that might not have the same impact in a different organizational culture. You’ll learn Kaizen Institute’s specific method for how to effectively turn an organization around for sustainable Kaizen.

The tour will visit Toyota companies and multiple hospitals to “learn how Japanese KAIZEN™ minded companies operate in Gemba (the workplace or actual place) and “how to apply authentic KAIZEN™ into healthcare… and your organization.”

The site visits are powerful, but I’ve always been very impressed with the attendees. In the past, they have been very international groups, so you get the opportunity to reflect on what you’re seeing and compare notes about various “Lean journeys” around the world and people’s efforts to create and sustain a culture of continuous improvement.

It’s an incredibly energizing and interesting learning opportunity and experience. Japan is a fun and fascinating place. The tour allows you get a sense of Japanese culture and how that both contributes to a Kaizen culture and creates some challenges that Toyota and other companies have had to work through (see my blog post on this).

Benefits and Key Features of This Weeklong Tour

  • Go and see and learn first hand, from Nagoya to Tokyo and points in between!
    • Lessons from seeing Toyota and one of its plants
    • Ideas and inspiration from visiting multiple Japanese hospitals
    • Visiting another outstanding service-sector company
  • Optimized group size: small enough to be intimate and personal, large enough to have meaningful discussions
  • Creating meaningful shared experiences
  • Nearly every detail for the trip is included in the price; it’s all planned and managed for you (other than flying to and from Japan, your airport transfer, and incidentals)
  • Organized and led by experienced bi-lingual Kaizen Institute guides who are experts in Lean and Japan – they’ve led tours to Japan for a long time
  • Discussions facilitated by Kaizen Institute and Mark Graban, author of the award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen

more info

My Trip with Honsha:

I had a great experience partnering with my friends from Honsha for a different Japan trip last October. It wasn’t healthcare-specific, unlike the Kaizen Institute tours I have helped with in the past.

Read more about this trip via my blog, and contact me if you’d like more information.

Endorsements from Japan Lean Healthcare Tour Attendees

“If you want to go see and feel Lean and its roots, travel with the Kaizen Institute to Japan.” – Peter Kabel, Microbiologist, Holland

“The opportunity to see and deeply reflect on successful Lean Strategy, Culture and Leadership with lean practitioners from around the world was truly beneficial.” – Pat Kramer, Senior Manager, Lean Consulting, Healthcare Performance Partners

“I sure did learn a lot. Specially about different kind of leadership, where empowering the employee is not just another bit of non-implementable jargon. What blew my mind were the host sites and the depth of Kaizen activities done by the small QC circles. My personal favourite moments were our casual discussions on the bus.” – Mayang Anggarani, Indonesia

The trip was a perfect combination of company visits, Japanese cultural understanding, and professional networking. I highly recommend this trip as a way to gain a new appreciation for lean and kaizen concepts and practice.”– Mark Graban, Author of Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen


Click here to see Mark Graban’s photos of nothing but food in Japan

Listen to Mark Graban Talk About the Past Trips

Visit the Gemba Academy Podcast episode page


Listen to Mark Graban & Christian Wolcott Talk About the 2014 Kaizen Institute Trip

Visit the Lean Blog podcast episode page

Mark Graban’s Letter to You

Dear Busy Healthcare Leader or Improvement Professional:

I used to be skeptical about taking a long, cramped, tiring flight to Japan just for the purpose of learning about Lean and the Toyota Production System.

There are healthcare organizations that send many people on study missions to Japan each year — Virginia Mason Medical Center and Seattle Children’s Hospital are two of them. These are both great Lean organizations, so they must be onto something. I’ve heard a few people say that you MUST go to Japan if you’re going to understand Lean. Hmmm.

But, wait a minute. Back in 2012, I thought…. I’ve been studying and practicing Lean for twenty years and I’ve never been to Japan. I’ve had mentors who came from Japan, mentors who visited Japan, and mentors who worked in Japan. I mean, I don’t know everything and I’m not perfect, but I think I’m doing OK. There’s always room to get better, but we have books and video courses and all sorts of ways to learn about Lean (did I mention mentors?) without going to Japan.

On the fourth hand, people also come to visit Virginia Mason and to learn from them.

So, maybe you can be successful with Lean either way – go to Japan or don’t go to Japan.

I had always thought that going to Japan might be useful, but it wasn’t necessary. It’s not a “must do” trip. I thought one would probably learn a lot by going, and it could be fun, but it wasn’t necessary. You could do a great job in Lean without that experience, I said. I didn’t encourage it, and I didn’t discourage it.

Maybe I was rationalizing that I didn’t have a big gap in my Lean understanding because I’ve been learning and practicing this for 20 years without going to Japan. But, I’ve learned from many who came from Japan, visited Japan, and worked there. Maybe that was good enough.

I decided to give it a try – and loved it!

But, I tell you, I became tempted and wanted to go to Japan. I didn’t feel like I NEEDED to go to Japan to study Lean. But, I decided I WANTED to go. I was curious about the country, especially Tokyo. I wanted to see the rural surroundings of Toyota City. I wanted to learn the differences, if I could, between “Lean Culture” and “Japanese Culture” (and our guides helped us understand the difference).

In 2012, I decided to go on a trip led by Kaizen Institute. I loved it so much, I went back in 2014 and a total of five times through December 2019. And I can’t wait to go back again post pandemic.

I knew and trusted them through Masaaki Imai’s work and the great work of others on their team. I went on a week-long all-inclusive trip where everything was amazingly well organized. We had bi-lingual guides who knew Japan and how to help us get around. We toured Toyota, another amazing factory, and two hospitals. We had lectures and discussions that put it all into context. And, we had amazing cultural experiences that I’ll remember for a lifetime. 

I’m happy to have the chance to go back with Kaizen Institute in November (if we can find enough attendees). This time, I will have a more formal role of facilitating some of the discussions. I started my career in manufacturing, so I can help the healthcare attendees put things into context. Last time, we had attendees from five or six different countries, so what we learn from those discussions, was great too.

I hope you’ll consider coming. I’m now in the camp of “you should go to Japan — if you want to.” This trip is targeted toward “Lean Healthcare” professionals, but that’s not a hard requirement. Maybe you’ve gone to Japan before, but from a manufacturing perspective, and this would be an interesting way to learn about Lean Healthcare, if you’re considering a career switch or otherwise.

There are many benefits of a trip like this – personally and professionally…

…ideas and inspiration you can bring back to your organization. Memories for a lifetime. As with many things, it’s not cheap… but it’s worth it.

If you’d like to learn more, click here to contact me or click one of the big blue buttons on this page.

I hope you will join us, wherever you are flying from.


Mark G 1308 square

Mark Graban
Author, Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen
Two-time Shingo Research Award Recipient

more info

Reasons to go to Japan

  • You’re inquisitive about Lean and its application as a management system in different industries
  • You want to learn the differences and similarities between “Lean Culture” and “Japanese Culture”
  • You are up for adventure and a new culture and completely unfamiliar surroundings
  • You would like some time to explore Japan and its sites before and after the Lean tour
  • You want to take your Lean education and understanding to the next level

Reasons NOT to go to Japan

  • Because it’s a trendy thing to do and other hospitals are doing it
  • Because you want a vacation
  • Because you want to learn more Japanese words to impress and befuddle other people with
  • Because Lean is a new concept to you (you’re probably better off reading a bunch of books and getting some experience first)

Talking to Your Boss About the Expense

This is not an inexpensive trip… it’s going to cost about $7,000 in fees for the all-inclusive time in Japan (plus your airfare there and back. Your boss might focus on the cost, but try to think about the value of such a trip.

Some tips and ideas:

  • Invite your boss to come along with you (especially if they are a senior leader). You’ll see and learn together and this can help launch the next phase of your Lean journey.
  • Use frequent flyer miles for your airfare or pay for the airfare on your own, if you can and your organization will allow it. That shows your financial commitment to the trip.
  • Put together a solid action plan (an A3, even) that talks about the goals and expected outcomes of the trip — what are you going to do when you get back? What are you going to teach to others upon your return?
  • Timing might be short, but see if you can find a foundation or local healthcare-focused charity to sponsor your trip.
  • What other ideas do you have to share that have worked or might work? Contact us and share.

Some of Mark Graban’s blog posts about the trips will give you a sense of what you’ll see and what you’ll learn: