KAIZEN CONFERENCE – JAPAN, from the Warehouse to Japan

My name is Martin Martinek and thanks to my improvement initiatives, I was selected to join the Kaizen Conference in Japan. 

Various representatives from Nippon Kayaku (NK) subsidiaries present their improvement projects at the conference. In connection to our company, the “Rainwater Harvesting and Waste Water Utilization at KSE” project, presented by Junior Engineering Department Manager, Mr. Štěpán Kopecký, was chosen this year. Other members of our group were Mr. Miroslav Labaj from the Engineering Department and Ms. Soňa Havrilová of Corporate Planning, who also served as our guide and interpreter.

My nomination came as a very pleasant surprise, which left me a little overwhelmed as well. I had never imagined that submitting improvement proposals could transport me to the other side of the Earth. Those few moments that I spent pondering and writing down proposals to facilitate our work or enhance quality and safety not only proved to benefit the work we do in our team, but also benefited me on a personal level in the form of trip to Japan. I must admit that, for a while, I was worried about how a storeroom worker could fit in a city of 33 million. In spite of my initial apprehensions, after colleagues from the Improvement Sector had explained in detail the purpose and the agenda of the event and told us what we to expect, the worries disappeared and I really began looking forward to the experience.

Hurray! We set off for the journey. We travelled 20 hours. Upon landing at the Haneda airport in Tokyo, the sun was rising and an amazing view of Tokyo’s endless skyline awaited us. A “quick” journey to our hotel (22 stops) followed and, finally, we could start exploring the city. Our first observation – crowds of people – but nobody bumped into you. We tried the public transportation. The “three-story-stops” took us aback a little; subway, underground and aboveground railroads – but with the help of maps and mobile phones we made it. We admired the dominant Tokyo Skytree building (634 m) then we went to a park and sampled some local cuisine. After exploring our hotel rooms, where the toilet was outfitted with about 20 different buttons, we wound up our amazing, but exhausting, day. 

We spent the following days as scheduled. We boarded the Schinkanzen (250-300 km/hour Bullet Train) and headed to Himeji, where a planned visit of our parent company awaited us. We enjoyed absolute comfort during the 3-hour, 600-km journey. While travelling on the Schinkanzen, we were able to admire Mount Fuji (3776 m.), which had been an active volcano until 200 years ago. The train was not delayed and stopped precisely on the marked spot. I could not understand it, but it worked.

At NK, colleagues showed us the factory and explained everything we wanted to know. Of course, I was interested in how the storage system functions as well. Our helpful colleagues provided us with in-depth answers. It was different there; the high level of standardization and adherence to defined procedures was evident. It was very interesting to witness this first-hand. 

In Himeji, we visited the largest 14th century Japanese castle. It was the first place in which we experienced the Japanese customary shoe removal. Luckily, I was prepared for it. Then, we headed back to Tokyo for a traditional Japanese dinner at a traditional restaurant with the colleagues from the Safety Division. The dinner had been planned to be on the eve of two days of presentations. Again, we had to take our shoes off J. The management warmly welcomed us, helped us order our meals and wished us good luck with the presentations. 

On the following day, the Kaizen Conference was held in two delightfully decorated halls. Štěpán Kopecký presented the realization of the tanks (of 739.5 m3 volume) for rainwater and waste water from reverse osmosis harvesting, which have been installed at all of KSE’s locations. Through this undertaking, KSE significantly saves on the usage of drinking water. From 2021, this system will function at 100% capacity and we expect that, by recycling, we will save 5,040,000 litres of drinking water, which corresponds to the annual fluid consumption of about 5,523 people, or to the volume of two Olympic swimming pools per annum. Soňa Havrilová translated everything to Japanese. The presentation was very well prepared and it went off without a glitch, and within the given time limit. The fact that the content was interesting was evidenced in the questions from the audience. We ended the first day by meeting the participants at the banquet – for me, there were lots of unknown and strange dishes.

As we did on the first day, we were able to select our topics of interest on the second day and move from one hall to another. The announcement of, and awards for, the best topics ended the official programme to thunderous applause. It was obvious from the conference’s atmosphere how strongly Nippon Kayaku’s management emphasizes the improvement movement, how seriously everybody takes this movement, and how important it is to think about how to “move forward”.

We tried to spend our remaining time in Japan exploring this beautiful country. We visited the Samurai Museum, a traditional sushi restaurant where the food was moved on a conveyor belt and we could choose any of it, and the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building with amazing and indescribable views from the 45th floor (202 m) at sunset. 

Our plane’s departure was scheduled for the evening, so we made a trip to Yokohama District on the last day. We walked along the coast, we observed the old customs building, we witnessed a running race, and we also visited Chinatown crowded with people where we tried various tasty dishes. We got lost while weaving through the skyscrapers. None of the apps, not even maps could get us to our destination, however, a very nice old man who spoke English, French and Spanish pulled a stack of printed maps out of his pocket, found the right one, turned us twice around the street and said “Go”. We were amazed. Then, transport to the airport and the 11-hour, 9,500-km flight was ahead of us. 

The journey itself and the week spent in Japan were very demanding, full of numerous new discoveries, feelings and experiences. Life in Tokyo is “fast”, but well ordered. When you need help everyone finds time to give you a hand. Despite the high population density, which could terrify some, I would like to go back to Japan and explore more of this beautiful country together with its hospitable people. 

Martin Martinek, PUR STOR Team Leader

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