Japanese Words

By Ron Published on February 20th, 2007

Over the years I have heard American and European employees from many companies grumble when hearing Japanese words. This is most apparent during Lean training.

Personally, I feel it is extremely important to use the Japanese names for things like Kanban, Kaizen, etc. In fact, if you are going to speak on the topic I say you also need to make every effort to learn how to pronounce these words properly.

I remember asking Jon Miller how to pronounce Heijunka the right way since I had heard so many people butcher it. For the record, Jon tells me it is “Hey-Joon-Kah” instead of the “High-Junk-ah” as so many Americans say.

A huge part of Lean is respecting people. I am of the school that says we need to respect the Japanese for the gift they gave the world by using Japanese words and even attempting to say them right.

If you are one of those who hates using Japanese words my advice is to get over it. And as your penance I ask you say 10 Heijunka’s as you reflect on your sinful ways.

Until next time, I wish you all the best on your journey towards continuous improvement.

  1. Mark Graban

    February 21, 2007 - 5:39 am

    You hear it pronounced that way in Toyota online videos, but I trust Jon.

    Many Germans have pointed out that you should pronounce “takt” as “tucked” not “tacked”.

    My pet peeve is “can-ban” instead of “kahn-bahn”. Is one of the two more correct from the Japanese standpoint?

  2. Ron Pereira

    February 21, 2007 - 1:19 pm

    Yeah, it is kahn-bahn as you suggest. LEI’s Lean Lexicon actually has the rules for how to pronounce Japanese vowels, etc.

    I didn’t know the “tucked” thing. I was recently in Germany and never bothered to ask! Shame on me.

  3. Mark Graban

    February 21, 2007 - 6:14 pm

    The emphasis is hard on the first “t” in “tucked” (takt), it’s a harsh sounding german word.

  4. David Wilson

    February 20, 2010 - 3:13 am

    I think the principals are more imortant than the pronunciation

    • Blake Riley

      February 18, 2012 - 8:01 pm

      The principals? Really? Of course the principles are more important but it would still be annoying to see people who spend the majority of their weekday waking lives at their job who can’t pronounce COMMON terms properly. At my job at least, Toyotetsu, a Toyota supplier, the people who can’t pronounce the terms right are the same people who aren’t familiar with the principle’s behind them.

  5. Denny van Liew

    May 30, 2015 - 4:34 am

    My experience is that you should use the expression which has the most easy understanding within the culture you are working. One time, I had a client in France who was worried about job loss. The french term is “suppression de poste”. As a native English speaker – I could see how suppression substituted for loss. But for the French – literally they felt suppression more than loss. So, I have always tried to the best word in the language of the workforce I am involved with. I replace the word sensei for example with expert, for example.

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