What is kaizen in Japanese? It Can Help You.

There is a Japanese word that often gets used in both Japanese and American business. That word is kaizen. But what is kaizen in Japanese? Have you ever heard this word before?

I actually first learned about this word in Tony Robbin’s second book Awaken the Giant Within when he talks about it. He explains in the book how the word kaizen means “constant improvement” and it applies to a lot of different aspects in life: relationships, production output, business profits, etc.

But it’s more than just a word in Japanese, rather it’s a practical philosophy – an attitude.

By making simple, gradual changes and improvements each and every day you will eventually attain huge change! And hey, that’s an attitude that you can apply to learning Japanese too!

A Breakdown of the Word

The word 改善 (kaizen) is composed of two separate kanji that form a new, compound word. The first kanji is  (kai) and it means “change.” But not just any kind of change like changing your socks. This kanji is used for big kinds of change like revolutions and such. For example, it is in the Japanese word for “reform” which is 改革 (kaikaku).

The second kanji is  (zen) which means “good” as in virtue. So a literal translation of it would be “change-good” or more naturally in English: “a good change.” OR you could also interpret 改善 (kaizen) as “a change for the better” which is a pretty common saying in English.

There is actually a really interesting and short video (4:33 long) that goes into the break down of both of the kanji in 改善 (kaizen) even further. What does whipping yourself and sacrificing sheep have to do with it? You’ll have to watch it to find out!

Using kaizen to Learn Japanese

The Japanese have a saying that relates to 改善 (kaizen):

“If a man has not been seen for three days, his friends should take a good look at him, and see what changes have befallen him.”

And it makes sense. Most major changes in a person’s life, like losing a lot of weight, building a successful business, or getting an advanced degree take a long time. But there is only a small amount of change that occurs each day.

The more you can adopt this attitude of constant improvement, and implement it into your Japanese studies, the better off you will be as time goes on. Here are a few ways that you can apply it to studying Japanese to get better:

As you can see, these are just some little things that you can do each day in addition to your regular studying so that your results will compound over a longer period of time (say a few months).

After a few days, you probably won’t see much of a difference. You need dozens or hundreds of days for it to add up to something meaningful.

But the good news is that they are all easy to do.

Kaizen Examples:

  • 改善 (kaizen) = betterment, continuous improvement
  • 改善点 (kaizen ten) = points of improvement
  • 状況は改善の余地がある。
    (jouyou wa kaizen no yochi ga aru)
    The situation is capable of improvement.
  • 2国間の貿易上のアンバランスを改善しなければならない。
    (ni kokukan no bouekijou no anbaransu o kaizen shinakereba naranai)
    The trade imbalance between two nations should be improved.

Thank you guys for reading! Hope you enjoyed this post on kaizen, leave a like if you did.

And let me know what you think of the word kaizen. Or your favorite Japanese word if you’ve got one. Leave a comment below!


  • Deep

    Learning new Japanese things has always fascinated me because some of their mindsets have helped me to grow as a human being. And kaizen is no exception. You have to admire their persistence in getting better all the time. Thank you, your post was very helpful!

    • Nick Hoyt

      Yeah, it’s always cool to learn some of the philosophies of other cultures and incorporate anything that can help you out in your own life. What I like the most about kaizen is that it’s really just taking baby steps, each and every day, and then never stopping.

      I think that’s something that everyone can do since it’s so easy. But over the course of time, it becomes very powerful!

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