So I learned about kaizen at school, and we defined the word as meaning "continuous change and improvement for the better".

The word kaizen seems to have a bigger and deeper meaning than this simple definition implies. Does this word have a significance or meaning that one might not be able to learn from a dictionary definition?

I love the word and idea behind it, but I was wondering what the exact meaning was so that I could use kaizen for my college essay, which asks "what word in another language cannot, or should not, be translated from its original language?"

  • 4
    Did you try to look the word up before you asked here? For example on Wikipedia: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kaizen
    – Earthliŋ
    Sep 1, 2014 at 23:00
  • 1
    Yes, I did. Just was looking for a secondary opinion! Sep 1, 2014 at 23:50
  • 3
    Then why didn't you tell us in your question? This way of asking questions is based on the false premise that asking is free. It costs the time and attention of the person reading and answering your question!
    – Earthliŋ
    Sep 2, 2014 at 0:11
  • State that I knew the definition from Wikipedia? I guess that I thought Wikipedia would not have the true definition accepted by all people. I would then hope that someone here might have a better idea of to define kaizen. I do understand that I should not waste other people's time, so I apologize for that and plan to change the way I ask a question in the future. Sep 2, 2014 at 3:57
  • I made a little addition to point out that this is a little more than a pure translation. It might not be enough to appease the other voters, but feel free to change it if you like!
    – ssb
    Sep 2, 2014 at 4:55

4 Answers 4


From my research, I believe that Kaizen ((改善) refers to the continual betterment of an activity, be it healthcare, banking, or education. But it must include all employees, from the CEO/President to the janitor to make things better for everyone. Is this close to what you were looking for? The basic premise is that by making things better, or more efficient, it will reduce waste.

It appears to be an idea that was implemented after WWII. Simply the word means "good change". But it has taken on a very business oriented definition since WWII.

I think this link has a really good explanation of the term: http://lifehacker.com/207029/practice-your-personal-kaizen

I hope this helps! Best of luck with your essay!

  • Choose a word, tell us what it means, and then explain why it cannot (or should not) be translated from its original language. Thank you so much LizladyNinja. This was helpful for me, so I think I will focus on Kaizen as a part of my essay. The question was posted above, and I wanted to get an opinion on you whether or not there should be something mentioned about Japanese culture on why it cannot be translated. I guess that my essay would fall along the lines of Americans not wanting change when it is not needed. Also, Change involving everyone is hard to follow. Thanks again! Sep 1, 2014 at 23:49
  • 1
    No problem. Another word that might be difficult to translate is the term: たてまえ (tatemae). The idea is that there are two faces, one is your true face, and the other is the face that you show to the world. So our personal face has many desires and holds our true feelings. But in public sometimes we have to have a different face to get through the various situations in our day to day lives. I think this is a subtle term that we have the actions for in English, but not the term. Our ほんね(honne) is what we present in private. Hope this gives you more to think about. :D Sep 2, 2014 at 5:13

In Japanese, usually 改善【かいぜん】 is no more than a neutral and simple word that corresponds to "improvement" or "refinement".

The only fact I know as a piece of knowledge, which make this word somewhat "special", is that some companies like Toyota love this word as a slogan.

Apparently, Toyota's special method of 改善, also written specifically as "カイゼン", has been introduced internationally, and gained deeper meaning outside of Japan. I personally didn't know that, and I'm surprised to see the lengthy English Wikipedia article about Kaizen. I would say Kaizen of that kind is a (English) buzzword, only known to part of the Japanese population.

  • Yes, in the world of software development and Agile, it is definitely a buzzword.
    – jarmanso7
    Oct 18, 2019 at 23:24

改善 merely means improvement, but the Toyota management concept others have mentioned - often written in katakana as カイゼン to disambiguate it - is prevalent in Japan, as well as Japan's overseas development assistance programs.


I read an article written by a linguist, who agreed with Naruto, but added that continual improvement, always seeking to improve, is so embedded in Japanese culture that no additional qualifiers are required to confer meaning.

However, For the U.S., and many other cultures, there is not necessarily the implied richness around the ongoing nature of improvement inherent in the word's meaning, so continual helps to bridge the gap.

  • 3
    Do you have by any chance a precise reference for this "article written by a linguist"? I'm sure people here would like to read it.
    – Earthliŋ
    Dec 16, 2016 at 18:52

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.