Tips for Lean Managers

What is a Kamishibai?

By Jon Miller Updated on September 3rd, 2020

I heard the term kamishibai (紙芝居) used in the context of the Toyota Production System for the first time in 2006. It was at a LEI seminar by a former Toyota manager. At the time I thought it was a gratuitous use of a Japanese term for a simple visual management auditing in the factory. But there’s more to it than that. Kamishibai is a method of process confirmation that plays an important part in a daily management system. Here is some background.

The Origin of Kamishibai

The kamishibai “paper theater” storytelling is common in Japan. They were a feature of my Japanese kindergarten experience. Looking into the origin of kamishibai, I was interested to learn that this paper theater began in the 12th century as Buddhist moral dramas for the illiterate. The audience of the kamishibai saw and heard what happened to characters in the story. They could compare their lives to the “standard” in the kamishibai story. Were they living their life in a moral way? It was a “self audit”, if you like.

The Kamishibai in TPS

In TPS, the Kamishibai system is 21st century equivalent of audits of the kaizen culture. Kamishibai cards are like cue cards or work instructions for auditing a process. Here is an example of a card used in the kamishibai process.

Kamishibai as a form of Preventive Maintenance

If you’re familiar with TPM (Total Productive Maintenance), you can make an analogy. Think of kamishibai as Autonomous Maintenance daily, weekly, monthly checks. These are performed by the different levels management. Instead of checking places on the machines, kamishibai audits management systems and standards. In TPM, the regular equipment checks prevent machine breakdowns due to machines wearing, overheating, etc. Kamishibai audits detect slipping standards and prevent breakdowns of the Lean management system.

Auditing Key Processes Daily, Weekly, Monthly

The kamishibai board is a visual management tool. It is similar to hour-by-hour production status boards used by supervisors and line managers. Hour by hour boards are used intra-day, during the shift and on an hourly or bi-hourly cadence. Kamishibai boards are used for inter-day, for once-daily, weekly, monthly and even quarterly audits.

kamishibai board

Kamishibai Standardizes How We Audit Standards

The standardized approach of the kamishibai board and audit routine minimizes difference between individual managers. It also sets a minimum expectation for attention to detail in what to look and listen for. This reduces variability in outcomes of audits between different people. This is an example of Toyota building brilliant processes that anyone can perform flawlessly. This is in contrast to relying on brilliant people and hero behavior to get by in broken processes.

Where is the Kamishibai Board Located?

Kamishibai boards are located at or very near the workplace. They are normally within visible range of the process in scope of audit. The kamishibai audit items are placed on a visual board. If a card has not been turned over to indicate “complete” it is obviously an abnormality. Just as taking corrective action based on an end of shift production report is not Lean behavior, auditing based on a book or instruction manual on a bookshelf is not Lean behavior. Kamishibai builds in the genchi gembutsu principle to audits.

Kamishibai Adds Structure to Gemba Walks

Gemba walks are a powerful way to bring leadership attention and support to frontline issues. However, without strong visual controls and clear standards, the walk can feel aimless. The kamishibai board is one way to structure part of every gemba walk, so that leaders perform process confirmation of key standards every day.

The kamishibai boards focus the attention of the management on the gemba. In order to do your job properly you need to go to the gemba, go to the boards, take the cards, and follow the instructions. It’s quite humbling when you think about it.

The kamishibai process standardizes and prescribes the weekly, monthly and quarterly “standard work” for managers to check and audit. I wonder many directors and VPs of manufacturing in North America would arrange their schedules around making trips to the kamishibai board?

What Information is on Kamishibai Cards?

Kamishibai systems specify the 5W1H (who, what, where, when, why and how) for confirming process integrity. This information is on the the cards on a visual board. Part of the daily management routine in a Lean organization is to audit existing standards. As a result, this exposes deviations so that they can be addressed. The kamishibai is a way to make this process standardized, visible, and easy to do on the gemba.


    May 27, 2007 - 2:57 am

    I want to put in place a kamishibai board in my workshop in order to substitute my plan of preventive maintenance. But, I would like to have documentations on the principle of operation of this system and, if possible an example of board.
    Thank you in advance for the attention paid to my need

  2. David Jones

    July 4, 2007 - 8:01 am

    Very interested in Kamishibai boards, does anyone have a practical example or more detailed information

  3. Nathan Never

    January 23, 2009 - 9:22 am

    I’m very interested in Kamishibai techniques: could I have some pics as exemple of their applications?! thank you very much!
    Best regards,
    Nathan Never

  4. Bohuslav

    March 11, 2009 - 2:10 am

    I would like to ask about some presentation about system Kamishibai in production.
    Thanks a lot
    Bohuslav Hlubucek

  5. Steve Royle

    July 6, 2009 - 3:20 am

    Please can you forward any presentations or hardware needed to set up system. Thanks

  6. Jon Miller

    July 6, 2009 - 7:17 pm

    Hello Steve,
    Here is a one point lesson on the kamishibai system.
    As far as hardware, a board, paper, tape, pens, scissors, etc. can all be found at an office supply store near you I am sure.
    Best wishes,

  7. Luis

    September 7, 2009 - 2:24 pm

    I am very close to implement kamishibai cards at my gemba place to check quality items. Even supplying initial training and trial at several stations,. My concern know is to find a way to keep the workers self motivated in order to follow strictly the rules. Someone has guide lines for that? Do you have background / experience on this? Thanks a lot for your attention,

  8. Ruzanna Tantushyan

    August 10, 2011 - 2:30 pm

    Hello John,
    I am a freelance journalist working on a story about Kamishibai. I am reaching out for a comment regarding your post. I will be glad to give more information in a private e-mail. I would appreciate your prompt response.
    Thanks much,

  9. Christiaan - Green Belt

    September 1, 2020 - 2:14 am

    Thank you for sharing this article. I didn’t hear about this specific method before but reading about it now makes total sense. Origins of some of these Lean tools are fascinating, reading how you mentioned it’s Buddhist origins and use.

    Is there more to find on how to implement this?

    Kind regards,


  10. Tristan Bailey

    September 14, 2020 - 7:33 am

    I really like these boards and the simplicity of the system.

  11. Seb - Lean Black Belt

    May 27, 2021 - 1:36 pm

    Thank you for sharing this article. It’s very insightful, however as an experienced Black Belt, this subject is somewhat new to me.

    Kind regards,



    July 5, 2021 - 10:54 am


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