Japan – A Reflection

It’s been several weeks since I got back from Japan, and I cannot believe how fast the time has flown.  Life is hectic as we start to wrap up the semester and head towards our summer internships and full time jobs.  But many, like me, will kick off Summer with some more traveling.  But before I do, it wouldn’t be right to not first reflect on Japan.

I had an amazing experience on my Chazen Japan trip.

I talked earlier about how Kyoto was breathtaking…The gardens and temples were serene.  Walking through the Geisha district felt like you were stepping back in time, or walking onto a movie set.  It was so picturesque I would gladly visit again.

You could tell by my gushing that I have a love affair with Toyota.  I can’t help it.  Not only was my first car I purchased a Toyota (her name was Betty, and she was sooo bad a#$!), but the operations blow my mind.  The floor of the machine shop was flawless.  Production ran smoothly and seemlessly.  A lesson in how Kaizen and a focus on continuous improvement can yield amazing results.  Now if only I’d adopt Kaizen in my own life and get my butt to the gym!!!

After Kyoto and Toyota city we visited Tokyo for a few days.  First stop was Uniqlo where we learned how they use volume to produce your closet basics cheaply, but with high quality.  It was such a different business model than what you think about when fashion first comes to mind, but clearly it is working for them.  It goes to show that there are many different ways to service a market, and it pays to think differently.

A visit to CITI left me with a life lesson I hope I never forget.  In managing your career, think of it like a sport.  In order for you to win, you need to solicit the top players for your team regardless of background, race, and gender.  Surround yourself with top players and career opportunities will come.  I have seen this in my own experience, but to hear about how CITI uses this philosophy in such a large bank and corporate setting was inspiring to me.

DeNA was another company visit, and they blew me away.  If you are a gamer, and like to play games on your phone, check them out now!  They offer freemium games that you can download and play for free, but you can pay to accessorize your game if you want to.  They have a gaming community to let you connect with other people gamers, and challenge each other to…say an epic ninja battle…?  It was really interesting to hear how DeNA adapts their games for style preferences in different markets (did you know that a Japanese ninja eats rice in seaweed, but an American ninja eats sushi?).

With each company visit I learned something new about operations or globalization.  Lessons from those who have learned/are learning first hand what it is like to work for an expanding company across multiple boarders.

Outside of company visits, I could not speak more highly of my “free time” in Japan.  Everywhere I went everyone was exceptionally nice, and went out of their way to accommodate me and my fellow classmates.  It was interesting to see how many people did not speak English, but where very willing to communicate by other means.

Walking around the city of Tokyo I was in awe of the beautiful gardens.  They are everywhere, and the Japanese do a great job of pulling in nature into even the most urban of areas.  I think NYC could learn a thing or two!  To top it off, Japan is exceptionally clean. I saw once piece of litter on the street the entire time I was there!  And it stood out because I thought it wasn’t normal.  This is true even on the subway.  In addition to a spotless train station, you walk on a train and it is silent.  It is silent most places.  Noise is an invasion of people’s space, and I have to say, there is something to be said for a little bit of quiet time every now and again.

In culmination, Japan is amazingly peaceful.  The people are exceptionally helpful and nice. Both the old parts of the city, and the new, are just breathtaking…It was the first trip I had in a long time where I just didn’t want to go home.  I would jump at the chance to go back if offered.  Japan was life changing…

Life Lessons from Toyota

Chazen Japan visits ToyotaAfter an amazing day in Kyoto we left the city to head to Nagoya and Toyota City to visit their manufacturing plants.  Now as I mentioned before, I am super psyched to see Toyota after a semester of listening to Professor Joe Hall about the wonders of this firm.  And let me tell ya…Toyota did not disappoint.

To get to Toyota from Kyoto we took the Shinkansen (bullet train).  Now I don’t know if you know how fast one of these trains can go, but it was literally shocking.  The bullet train can reach over 200 mph, and they just fly past you at a whistle and blurr.  I kid you not when I tell you that you had a platform full of 41 New Yorkers, who all frequently ride the subway, went into stunned silence when a bullet train entered the station and we heard the sound.  After it blew past it took us a moment to recover and then an eruption of talk as we couldn’t believe what we just saw.  This train is wicked fast, roomy, and exceptionally clean.  In other words, I wouldn’t mind riding one of these from the Upper West Side down to the Financial District if I had to #justsayin.

The tour of Toyota started with an interesting story about a loom.  The story goes that a Sakichi Toyoda wanted to contribute to society and at the same time earn a living.  I can respect that.  So he thought that a good way to do so would be to invent something useful.  At the time the Nagoya area had been known for textiles and Sakichi’s mother owned a loom that was hand-operated.  Her machine required her to both push and pull levers with her hands in order to get the loom to go back and forth.  Sakichi had the idea to add a push lever for the foot to help make this movement easier.  Apparently the invention worked and it became a success.  Sakichi went on to create over 100 inventions and became the “King of Japanese Inventors”.  As it so happens, each invention was for the loom.  Welcome to the concept of Kaizen.

Kaizen is the practice of continuous improvement, and it is one of the pillars of Toyota Motors.

After being exposed to Kaizen in his father’s loom business, Kiichiro Toyoda applied this principle to cars and opened the Toyota Motor Corporation in the 1930s.  Today Toyota has over $350,000 employees worldwide sells over 7 million new cars each year.  While the Toyota brand has clearly gained name recognition for the cars they sell, it is the operations of Toyota that blow me away.

In addition to Kaizen, the second pillar of Toyota is Jidoka.  This is the balance between man and machine.  The goal of Jidoka is to make sure that problems are taken care of in real time to ensure that they do not cause bigger problems later on down the production line.  One of the key outputs of this philosophy is the Andon cord.  An employee of Toyota pulls this cord any time there is a problem to signal that they need help.  A supervisor will come to the station that issued the call, and if they cannot fix the issue within a certain period of time, the entire production line stops.  By fixing problems in this way Toyota has been able to identify trends in errors, and greatly reduce the amount of re-work they have to do on their vehicles, especially when compared to other car manufacturers.  While machines are clearly instrumental in the Toyota plant, I thought it was interesting that management was clear that you can just point out a problem and say lets add a robot or automation to fix it.  They strive for balance between man and machine to achieve maximum output and quality.

You can see how Kaizen and Jidoka work hand in hand together.  Toyota has successfully created a culture in which their employees want to ensure efficiency and the best possible product possible.  It is this focus that allows Toyota to employ Just-in-Time inventory.  What I mean by Just-in-Time is that Toyota doesn’t house rows and rows of headlights sitting around.  Instead they can order inventory from their suppliers and have it delivered within hours to their plant.  The result is that they order as needed, greatly reducing the cost of unsold/unusable inventory.  Just-in-Time isn’t a crazy concept, it is just that Toyota does it really really well.

But maybe you already knew all this about Toyota.  Perhaps you read an article about Kaizen or Jidoka and you aren’t surprised by Toyota’s business.  I get it.  These are things I already knew about.  So why was I so excited to see the Toyota plant?

I was excited because I found the plant surprising.  The plant itself is remarkably quiet.  And I mean quiet.  Everything is exceptionally clean with a defined space and process for all parts in the production process.  There is a boat-load of automation with unmanned “cars” moving around the shop transporting various pieces of equipment.  The assembly line handles multiple models at once in any given order.  You might see a red sedan followed by a silver SUV, and all of the parts are delivered to the different stations in the exact order that they will be worked on.  We couldn’t take pictures in the plant, and perhaps it is hard to imagine, but it was truly a lesson in logistics.

So what’s the take away?  Look for balance between men and machines.  Practice Kaizen and aim to continuously improve.  I think it is this mindfulness of the process that allows Toyota to excel in the many areas that they do.  These are principals we could apply to both our business and our personal lives.

Lacy Pierce ’14

First Day in Kyoto

We kicked off our first day in Japan playing tourists in Kyoto.  For me it was a great way to be introduced to Japanese culture, and also a great opportunity to get to know 39 of my fellow classmates.

Entirely jet-lagged, I was in for a full day.  On the agenda:  4 temple visits, a traditional tea ceremony w/lunch, a tour around Kyoto’s Geisha district, and a shabu-shabu dinner (complete with Geisha entertainment).

First stop, the Golden Pavilion.  This temple is incredible.  It is entirely gilded with a gold paper, and the building itself incorporates three styles of Japanese architecture that eventually melted into a style of its own.  After taking a few pictures we had the opportunity to walk around the gardens.  Let me tell you, after being cooped up in NYC this winter, it was an absolute treat to walk around.  The garden at the Golden Pavilion is in the traditional Muromachi style garden.  Clearly gorgeous.

Golden Pavilion - Kyoto

Apparently this is one of two of the traditional types of gardens seen in Japan, the other being the kare-sansui or Japanese rock garden.  We were able to see a great example of the rock garden at the Ryoan Temple.

Ryoan Temple Rock Garden - Kyoto

Our guide (who was just amazing) was able to explain that the garden plays a central role in meditation.  When you meditate you face the garden, so simplicity of design is key so as to not cause distractions.  Both styles are designed with this in mind.

For a break between temple sightings, we headed to Tondaya for a traditional Japanese tea ceremony.  We were told that the tea ceremony also played an important role in meditation, because the tea was used to keep you awake (as a student, I totally understand). This was really an entirely new experience for me.  Prior to drinking the tea they give you a few sweets.  The tea is made of matcha powder (which is powdered green tea), and you eat the sweets first to make it less bitter.  When the tea is presented to you they present the best face of the bowl.  To be polite you need to turn the bowl first to drink out of it.   I don’t think I have all the rules down yet…but I’ll keep practicing.

Tea Ceremony at Tondaya

Fueled and now fully caffeinated from our green tea we headed out to the Sangendo Temple.  Words cannot describe how amazing this temple was.  But unfortunately, no pictures.  Just know that the main hall of the temple is filled with 1001 Buddha statues.  Each were meticulously hand carved hundreds of years ago, and gilded.  Each Buddha has a dozen or so hands to help all of the people, and several faces to see all of the people.  Each hand and face a different detail.  Hard to explain, but truly a sight to see.

Next on the agenda was a trip to Kiyomizu Temple, which is a really popular temple to visit.  After taking the trip, I can definitely see why.  It is built on a hillside overlooking Kyoto.  Leading up to the temple are dozens of cute little shops carrying souvenirs, pastries, tea houses…and luckily umbrellas, because it was pouring.  Undeterred by the rain I had the opportunity to walk all around the temple.  Behind the main temple building there is a Shinto Shrine dedicated to the God of Love (at least I think that was it…or maybe Good Marriage).  Anyway, there were tons of ladies lined up at the steps of the shrine.  Apparently there are two rocks, and if you touch one of them and then turn around and find the other one with your eyes closed you will find your love.  Well, I am married and the line was too long to see it, so I just headed down to the waterfall.  The water of Kiyomizu is said to be completely pure.  Here people line up to take a drink from the fountain.

Kiyomizu Temple Kyoto

After touring Kiyomizu we headed back into the city.  We had a few hours to kill before dinner, so our guide graciously offered to show us a few areas that might be of interest.  The tour included a covered shopping center, complete with food market and a walking tour of some of the preserved Geisha districts of Kyoto.  By this point I was tired.  I was soaked head to toe from all the rain, and the last thing I wanted to do was trek around the city…so of course that is what I did.  It was fascinating to see the districts and to hear about the training and apprenticeship process of becoming a Geisha.  Even better was the opportunity to talk to a few Geisha performers at dinner to ask further questions about why they became Geisha, how long it took to move from apprentice to full-blown Geisha, and what the work is like throughout the different stages.

Shabu Shabu Dinner at Ganko in Kyoto

All in all a great day.  Kyoto is beautiful, and I learned a lot about Buddhism, Shinto, Geisha and a few old traditions.  I think the day raised as many questions as it answered.  I am now hooked on Japan.  I want to continue to research and learn about the culture I have now witnessed.  And this is just day one!  I can’t wait to see the rest of what Japan has to offer!

Chazen Japan: The Adventure Begins

After two weeks of doing nothing but prepping for exams, I am finally prepping for my Chazen Japan trip!  And there is a lot to prep for.  To kick things off my fellow classmates and I will have the opportunity to take in the sights of Kyoto (our friendly guides/classmates are keeping our exact destinations a secret so that we don’t ruin it with pre-trip googling), and experience a traditional Japanese tea ceremony.

From Kyoto we head to Toyota for a complete factory tour.  I think I speak for everyone who had Professor Hall for Operations Management when I say that I cannot wait to see their just-in-time inventory in action (#epic)!

Then it is on to Tokyo for a few days.  On the agenda: Uniqlo, DeNA, Citi, and Mori.  It’s going to be pretty jam packed with company visits, group dinners, karaoke, and all of the many ramen shops that that are circulating around the group Facebook page (I am planning on visiting at least two…at least…).

Yuzu (Japanese citron) Salt Ramen is good. Light taste Ramen shop

Now you may be wondering, how on earth I am going to be able to keep up with such a crazy schedule.  And I don’t blame you.  I was wondering that myself…But as it turns out that isn’t going to be a problem.

Introducing the Chazen Japan 2013 Yapp Ap:

Chazen Japan Yapp Cover                       Chazen Japan Yapp Schedule

One of my awesome trip-mates put this together so that we not only know where to be when, but it is also packed with useful tips such as what to wear, Japanese phrases, phone numbers for our hotels, and more.

So as you can see, this trip is going to be amazing.  Companies, culture, and new friends.  Get excited.  The adventure kicks off tomorrow.

-Lacy Pierce, ’14 (Follow my travels: https://twitter.com/lacypierce)