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January 2007

Young Inventor Gets Patent for His "Umbrella Ghost"

Ryota with his invention (Yamamoto Chieko)

"When I was concentrating and trying to come up with a good idea, our cat was right next to me. I didn't notice he was there until he moved. That was when I figured it out - people wouldn't leave their umbrellas behind if the umbrellas moved!"

This is how Yamamoto Ryota, a sixth-grader at Okuda Kita Elementary School in Toyama City, explains what he was thinking when he developed a warning device to stop people from leaving their umbrellas behind in shops and restaurants. Thanks to his invention, Ryota has become the first elementary school student in Japan to be granted a patent.

The "umbrella ghost," as the device is called, is placed at the entrances to buildings. When people walk by a sensor, a motor is triggered, and a plastic umbrella opens slowly. This serves to remind passersby not to forget their umbrellas. Ryota's unique idea of having an object move to trigger people's memory was so original that he became the first elementary school student to receive a patent. Ryota was thrilled when he found out and hopes that this is the first step on the road to becoming an inventor.

He has enjoyed making things since he was in kindergarten, and he joined his school's "inventor club" in the second grade. Whenever he notices some inconvenience in everyday life or discovers a need for something new, he comes up with an idea and tries to create a new invention. In addition to the "umbrella ghost," he has developed a device for chasing off stray cats from the yard and an instrument that alerts people when the bathtub has become full. He has won numerous awards, including the first Toyama Junior Science Award, the Noyori Science Prize, and the Junior Inventor Award.

Ryota has also made a Christmas tree using light-emitting diodes. (Yamamoto Chieko)

Yamamoto explains the fun of inventing: "When I see people in need, I think about what I can do. While I sometimes make mistakes during the process of developing something, I try to consider what has gone wrong. I'm so happy when I come up with a solution or a new idea! I wonder why I didn't think of it before."

A year ago Ryota started a handmade toy club in his school called Maple Leaf Club, and once a month the club members make original toys designed by him. As many as 100 students attend the club, and while this young inventor is very busy, he is currently working on new projects. He explains: "What I'm working on now is secret. In the future I'd like to be an inventor and create something that makes everyone happy."

Inventor clubs have spread to many elementary schools across Japan in recent years, and the number of students wanting to join vastly exceeds the number of spaces available. These clubs are popular everywhere, as kids want to enjoy making things and the sense of achievement that goes along with it. Look out for more great ideas from young Japanese inventors in the future!

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