Concepts and Ideas

The Japanese concept of 5S

I have always been impressed by the Japanese. I don’t know much of their history but the way in which they reacted after the atom bombs devastated two of their major towns is extremely impressive. Any other country would have got so angry and engaged all its military might and tried to develop a bomb that would destroy at least four more towns of their enemy. The Japanese also got angry. But they let all their anger flow in a totally different direction. They were the first country to engage the experts in their own game (I hope you get the pun J ).  And boy, weren’t they hugely successful!

When I was very young, I saw the photo of a notice board outside a Japanese Factory (It was published in a major Tamil magazine called Ananda Vikadan) reading something like – “Pay would be cut for those workers who would be coming to work on Saturdays and Sundays” They are so committed to work that even on weekends they tend to go to factories and offices. Talk about Job satisfaction! Around the same time, one of my English teachers was back from a short teachers exchange program in a Japanese school.  She was all praise for Japanese student’s discipline and decorum. It seems they were so quiet and attentive throughout her class. And if they went out, say for sports hour etc, they actually formed a line! ( I can understand her agony given the fact that she was telling all these things when she was shouting at all of us for doing exactly the opposite!). There were some more incidents that I came to know – The Toyota cars in Japan don’t come with the tool kit it seems (The company says there cannot be any problems at all, and when one was reported, right from the CEO to the employee who assembled the car were involved in sorting it out and making sure it doesn’t occur again – But I don’t know how far this is true). And one more incident which I read some where as a true joke – The Japanese don’t boycott work if they want to strike. They just do more work than allotted to them so that their marketing managers find it tough to sell all of it and huge stock piles up in the factory!

I later read in a book called “Made in Japan” by the co-founder of Sony Corporation – Akio Morita about the concept of Inheritance Taxes – If you inherit your parent’s property then you are taxed. In fact, there is a saying in Japan that wealth made by forefathers doesn’t last beyond three generations because the taxes are so high after each generation. (I know you want to fight this point out in the comments section, but I just think they are wise enough to bring in such a concept. Wise is the word I used.) He also goes to say that the salary of a CEO may be about 10 times that of a fresher and nothing more. Once again, they impress with their wisdom. When he wanted to expand his operations in USA, he says that he was quite upset about the legal formalities that need to be completed to do business there. In Japan, he says, if the head of an organization commits to the head of another organization even verbally, it is as good as any written contract and the words will be kept (And look what happens here – hmmm!). Do read the book when you get time.

Coming to the title of this post, the 5S is a Japanese management concept which can apply to anything, not only shop floors and manufacturing facilities. They are so simple but yet insightful that you can use them for organizing, say your folders in PC or Email, or your kitchen, etc.


Seiri – Put things in order. Arrange, sort. Keep only the essential items – Discard the unessential ones.

Seiton – Proper arrangement. Set in order. There should be a place for everything and everything should be in their place. They should be reached easily when needed.

Seiso – Clean. Keep things clean and polished so that you would love to work with them. This cleaning should be a part of daily work – not after things get messed up!

Seiketsu – Purity and Standardization. Operate in consistent fashion to yield consistent results.

Shitsuke – Sustaining the discipline. Maintaining and reviewing standards. Once the previous 4S have been established, they become a new way to operate. But if there is a suggested improvement or a new tool, then a review of the 4S is appropriate.


Simple and effective.


Destination Infinity

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  • Biju Mathews

    A very informative post! Thanks.

    The information Sony's co-founder gives out in his book seems a little far fetched – "…He also goes to say that the salary of a CEO may be about 10 times that of a fresher and nothing more…" We have been doing project staffing for a few companies in Japan and it tells a different story. They really earn a lot and their salaries are par with what other organizations give out in other countries. Maybe he just meant in "theory" 🙂

    Keep blogging!

  • kanagu

    A really informative post.. Even I have read the book of Akio Morita.. ver nice one.. but now JApan also fell to their own practices.. even though they are good

    • Destination Infinity

      That "Japan also fell to their own practices" is an interesting concept to explore. Though I don't know much about macro-economics, I think they followed the United States too much. And the cycle of depression and prosperity is there for every country.

      Destination Infinity

    • Destination Infinity

      That book was loads of information. He starts from right during the second world war and then goes for a long period after that. He doesn't go into the details, which is understandable, but I would love to read another book which is detailed account of Japanese – preferably an auto biography.

      Destination Infinity

  • An alien Earthling

    The Japanese are certainly a very efficient people. They are the only Asian country in the world's top 10 in terms of the Human Development Index. In sharp contrast, India languishes in the bottom 50, at number 132 out of 173 countries 🙁

    Japanese cars are very reliable, but I certainly don't want a car that comes without a toolkit because Murphy's 1st law is universal:
    Anything that can go wrong, will certainly go wrong.. Also, having a toolkit in the car enables one to replace consumable parts oneself, instead of going to a garage or a mechanic 🙂

    • Destination Infinity

      I want to see what factors this Human Development Index is measured in. The Bhutanese have an interesting concept of "Gross National Happiness" which is quite impressive.

      That's right. The tool kit part was only a reflection of their confidence in their quest for unlimited quality.

      Destination Infinity

      • An alien Earthling

        While HDI is by no means a comprehensive index, it is far, far better than something as one-dimesnsional as GDP or economic growth because HDI takes into account a lot of factors for human well-being:

        Yes, Bhutan's Gross National Happiness is quite unique as compared to Gross National Product. By the way, Bhutan has just managed to better India in terms of Human Development Index as well – out of 179 countries (not 173 as I mentioned earlier) Bhutan ranks 131st and India 132nd.

  • Man of Roma

    Very interesting post. If I remember well they are the only folk who decided to get industrialised at the half of 1800 and actually made it in only a few years! They switched from middle ages to modernity in a snap and the rest of the world didn’t even realise it. But when they defeated the Russian fleet all the world became aware of their qualities, which are special to the extent they thought they were a super race and had to pay for it a big price.

    I'll try to remember those 5 concepts. I'm afraid I'm good at none of them.


    • Destination Infinity

      That is an interesting information that I didn't know earlier – Japanese starting to get industrialize as late as the middle of 1800's!! I knew that they stopped communicating with the outside world for a long time…. but huh!

      Destination Infinity

  • Destination Infinity

    Me too!! I am also not good at any of them 🙂 But we will decide to follow them in principle, and act on them when the right time comes 🙂 But seriously, if I don't follow the second one right now, things will crumble very soon for somethings. Hmmm, necessity has always been the …..

    Destination Infinity

  • Su

    Men make a big issue about patriotism and diplomacy. If not for the political egos and societal laziness, I think it'd be easy for any nation to adopt these policies. Loved the title, and the post. 🙂

  • Destination Infinity

    I think people have huge ego's and are lazy as long as they think that it is going to be beneficial to them/ make them happy. Well, we need to show them that there is something that can make them much more happier and also lead to the development of a nation! But first we must be convinced about that.

    Destination Infinity

  • R.S.Sriram

    An american collegue of mine shared this info with me on Japanese: They once ordered a Japanese company for manufacturing some industrial product. The contract was that the american company would pay for 1000 pieces with 5 defect pieces as acceptable norm. When the sample shipment came, it had 1005 pieces – 1000 pieces and 5 defective ones.

  • Smitha

    DI, That was a very interesting and informative post! Certainly, Japanese did channel their anger in the right direction! Their professionalism and discipline is amazing.. Have to pick up some books by Japanese authors to get some more insight! As for 5S, as you have said
    , can be used anywhere!

  • Destination Infinity

    Actually Smitha, that was the key point of this post – Channeling the energy in the right direction. Everything else was just a reason to post. Thanks for highlighting the key point.

    Destination Infinity

  • sakhi

    I wish we learn from them! I knew a lot what you have written here but not all so thanks for the info. I hope, atleast it will help me build (!) my character even stronger! 🙂

  • neha

    hey…i have 2 make a assignment on the concept of 5 s…can anybody forward the details of the topic…incluing the examples of the companies actuall practising it…thank u…

    • Destination Infinity

      You would see Japanese and Korean companies practising it. I have personally seen Vedanta, Hyundai and some other automobile companies following it. But it is quite hard getting more descriptive details on 5S concept in the internet. I too tried to, while writing this post!

      Destination Infinity

  • RS Mouriya

    5 S Concept is basically is work place culture and management in a organisation.Japanese are following it seriouly but in India industries are trying to adopt it seriously.

  • venkat.s

    japaneese are great,i want to practice their workstyles in my work and also i want to see INDIA also like this work culture for GREATER INDIA than now….

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