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Mieko Sato: Innovations Inspired by Everyday Life Challenges

An 89-year-old woman demonstrated that no specific knowledge or abilities are required to begin inventing by designing a hit product that now sells in the tens of thousands each year.

Who is Mieko Sato?

Mieko Sato, a native of Machida, Tokyo, invented a gadget to open plastic bottles with minimal force eleven years ago. Rubber instruments known as “Akeru-kun Plastic Bottles” are sold at cooperative stores throughout Japan for 400 yen (approximately $3) each, with 30,000 to 40,000 pieces sold each year.

Mieko Sato
The plastic bottle opener is widely accepted. Photo: store.shopping.yahoo.co.jp

Mrs. Sato, 89, smiled and said, “I don’t have time to die,” because she has dedicated her entire life to her beneficial inventions. Akeru-kun is made from a rubber tube that has been coloured and punched holes before being threaded with a string.

Sato was inspired to create this instrument as she noticed herself struggling to unscrew the cap of a plastic container and knew her health was failing. The tool was originally made of a flat piece of rubber that held the bottle cap from slipping out of the hand, allowing the bottle to be readily opened.

Ms. Sato obtained a patent for her bottle opener in 2011 after consulting with the Tokyo-based Hatsumei-gakkai Foundation, which promotes inventors. Sato eventually built the definitive version, which is now a 2.8 cm rubber tube that has been successfully commercialized, after many attempts and failures.

This photo shows a tool named “Kanzume akeru-kun,” created by Mieko Sato, in Machida, Tokyo, on Nov. 24, 2022. The tool makes it easy for people to open cans without hurting their hands or nails. (Mainichi/Shota Harumashi)

Ms. Sato and her companions organized a display of their products at a supermarket event in 2013, and her products sold out so quickly that further production was urgently required.

She sold 280 units in 5 days, exhausting all of the materials she had produced before. She received orders of up to 5,000 pieces each month this spring, so she and her husband worked hard to meet the demands of clients.

“All you need to invent something is motivation and the capacity to act quickly when an idea strikes,” Ms. Sato explains. It doesn’t matter that I have no academic background or talents. It is worthwhile when my things can assist someone.”

Her approach demonstrates that when entering the field of inventions, the first step is to solve the problem, the inconvenience that people are suffering in their daily lives.

Mrs. Sato also designed a can opener, “Kanzume Akeru-kun,” which was commercialized. Recently, the 89-year-old grandmother has been working tirelessly to market Zori slippers with straps made from Geta wooden clogs.

Ms. Sato will join the Hatsumei-gakkai organization, which has roughly 3,000 members who have made invention their main business, and 100 companies that collaborate in the intention of earning by assisting members. Although some members used to be engineers, the majority of them, including the elderly, are still amateurs.

Hatsumei-gakkai advises members on how to market products, register patents, and register trade names, as well as direct them to small and medium-sized businesses that use a variety of technologies such as metalworking, plastic, and plastic molding.

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