Reflecting on Hansei:


In today’s post I will be looking at “Hansei”. “Hansei” is a Japanese word and has some significance in Toyota Production System. Generally I have seen this to be translated as “introspection” or “self-reflection”. I will be looking at Hansei from the Japanese culture standpoint and will try to add to the understanding of this concept.

Hansei in Japanese Culture:

The term “hansei” is related to the word “shame” in Japanese culture. However, the term does not have the undesirable emotion that we might associate with in the Western world. The term does not result in undermining oneself in the Japanese culture. The meaning speaks to making you aware that there is room for improvement and humility. There is a positive notation behind the term hansei. It is an action of criticizing oneself so that one understands the gap in their performance and thus corrects this in the future. In Japanese schools, the children are trained to perform hansei on a regular basis, generally daily. The following section is taken from the paper, “Condoned or Condemned: The Situational Affordance of Anger and Shame in the US and Japan” by Michael Boiger and Batja Mesquita;

Although shame is perceived as an unpleasant emotion in Japan, its negative valence is less pronounced than in the US (Romney, Moore, & Rusch, 1997)—possibly because it is considered conducive to self-improvement and perspective-taking (cf. Heine et al., 1999). Shame is encouraged in children: For instance, schools foster shame by the practice of hansei (critical self-reflection), a scheduled time to think about areas of self-improvement at the end of the school day (Lewis, 1995). Being aware of one’s shortcomings, and actively correcting them, affirms interdependence and helps individuals re-align with social norms and expectations.

When children do something bad, the parents say “hansei shinasai” or “do hansei”. Although this is done as part of scolding, the child is also made to realize that he can improve as an individual and this is a motivation for him to do so.

This is an opportunity for them to do the following in the correct order;

  1. Feel really sorry about what they did (recognition of what you did)
  2. Assume responsibility
  3. Understand what went wrong
  4. Correct their thinking, so that this does not repeat (desire to improve)

Through hansei we understand our shortcomings so that we can improve ourselves to be better. Kaizen (change for the better) can happen through hansei. Daily practice of hansei helps us to assume responsibility to see problems and keeps us open for improvements. Humility is one of the cherished virtues in the Eastern world. Daily hansei is an exercise to promote humility and be a life-long learner.

Hansei Shimasu” is one of several forms of apology in the Japanese language. This is used when someone has done something pretty bad and is used to show sincere apology, deep regret and determination to not repeat the act.

In the adult life, hansei also includes an introspection of “what went right” along with “what went wrong / what could be improved”. At the end of projects, they hold “hansei-kai” – meetings to do hansei. The purpose is to learn from each other what went wrong, and what went right. These two perspectives allow an opportunity for everybody to learn. They learn from others mistakes, and they also learn from others about how to do things right – sort of a benchmarking process. There might be slightly more focus on what went wrong since they provide the real opportunity to learn.

Toyota and Hansei:

Toyota has become a learning organization and this is one of the reasons why Toyota has become so successful. Hansei has a strong role in being a learning organization. In Toyota, hansei is often viewed as a precursor to kaizen, and a pre-requisite to being a learning organization. This is best explained as below (taken from Toyota-Global website);

Hansei is both an intellectual and emotional introspection. The individual must recognize the gap between the current situation and the ideal, take responsibility for finding solutions, and commit to a course of action. The examination involves a review of successes and failures, to determine what works and what needs to be improved. Hansei leads to ideas for kaizen and yokoten, the sharing of best practices from one location to another.

“Yokoten” can be translated from Japanese as “horizontal deployment”. This is summarized in the graphic below:


Final Words:

It is true that hansei forces us to look at what went wrong. However, the intent is not to place the blame, the intent is to make the person aware of the problem, and make him motivated to address the problem and not repeat it. Hansei is seen as a good thing. In the process of doing research for this article, I came across a book in Japanese titled “How to deal with Americans who don’t do hansei?” 🙂 It is an interesting title for sure!


I will finish this post with an anecdote on road rage in Japan. (Source: Asia Pacific Memo).

Psychologists working for the National Police Academy in Japan have incorporated a personal inventory test in the curriculum of the officially certified driving schools. This inventory was adapted from the Minnesota Personality Inventory, which was developed as a means to evaluate military recruits during World War I.

The purpose of this test is not to fail anybody due to their specific traits. Nobody can fail this test. The purpose of the test is to make them aware of the traits so that they can do hansei. The point is to encourage self-reflection (hansei), according to psychologists at one testing company. They believe that self-reflection among student drivers will allow them to modify their behavior or take special precautions. Those who score high on the “sensitivity” scale may be expected to adopt a zen-like attitude of tolerance and not assume that the acts of other drivers are provocations. Those who score low on the “emotional stability” scale are exhorted to focus on driving only.

There has been no evidence that this has worked. But this shows the cultural significance of hansei in Japan.

Always keep on learning…

In case you missed it, my last post was Improving the Understanding of Kaizen.

3 thoughts on “Reflecting on Hansei:

  1. Oh my goodness. I was a Japanese housewife, mother– and later I was in interpreter imparting lean. I have led many transformations myself. The word hansei and I are not friends. The shame culture has too many detriments.


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