So Why is 改善not Kaizen?

To keep myself from watching any of the horrible programming that passes for daytime TV here, I’ve been doing sporadic J-E translation involving ironically  documents from my former employer. Now in the latest batch, there was the word 改善, which I simply just romanized as Kaizen.  

 Come home last night, open up e-mail, and there’s an  odd note to all translators  from the project coordinator reminding us the final audience for our work does not speak Japanese and thus we the translators should not use words such as Kaizen or Genchi Genbutsu in our work as we assume too much in believing that will be understood.

 Perhaps there’s a point about Genchi Genbutsu, but after all these years, I’ve been under the impression Kaizen is now a widely understood word, a word  like many other words of foreign origin, that has worked its way into the English (and dare I say other languages??). So if the audience, whoever they are, doesn’t understand the concept of Kaizen, they what business do they have in dealing with the matter at hand?

Or do I need to have my coffee first?

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9 Responses to So Why is 改善not Kaizen?

  1. I don’t think kaizen is as ingrained into the language as you think—it’s in OUP dictionaries but I rarely see the word in text or hear it spoken.

    I think we would have to actually practice the concept of kaizen here in America to understand it, and judging from cubicle life, we don’t.

    • You have a point. Within manufacturing, any sort of manufacturing, Kaizen is probably a well-understood term. But you are also correct about applying it to the cube farms, I’ve seen it misapplied in trying to use a quantiative measure to judge the performance of white collar workers. An exercise which I believe cause a former supervisor to do someting that cost him his career, though not employment.

      But also, after a few days of thought, if the audinece, whomever they may, be don’t understand the termimolgy, then what business to they have delving into the field?

  2. mizunogirl says:

    Yup, never heard of Kaizen, but then again, i dont work in manufacturing, or with many Japanese speakers. I can say safety Pin and Duck in Japanese, thats it. neither of which has ever proved to be useful….

  3. Hai to your question. 😉

  4. I think that the problem is that Kaizen is too abstract and gets lumped with other management-speak with terms like Six-Sigma, SOx (Sabarnes-Oxley) where most people would recognize more as a Dilbert punchline. LOL

  5. We don’t really have much manufacturing here. What we had is gone, sent somewhere else. I’ve held factory jobs in my life but the concept of improvement as a group effort was not promoted. I had a friend who worked at Sam’s Club (owned by Walmart) and they had to do group cheers at the start of the workday. No personal photos, etc., allowed on desks. Is this part of kaizen? I think it creeps people out, or maybe it’s just US workers’ understanding of it.

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