With new toe-operated fan, students put their best feet forward

Chunichi Shimbun

Three students at Aichi Prefectural Toyohashi Technical High School have designed a new type of standing fan that can be operated by using one’s toes — and it’s set to be produced and sold nationwide this spring.

The idea originally came from a previous graduate who had been scolded by his mother for “bad manners” when he used his foot to operate a fan.

The resulting design is likely to prove popular with seniors and people with back problems, as it allows users to operate the fan without having to bend over.

Mothers likewise are unlikely to take issue with the new design.

The three student designers, Junichi Imahara, 18, Takahiro Suzuki, 17, and Takumi Imaizumi, 17, who are taking electronics classes at the school, built the standing fan as a senior project.

Unlike most fans, where the operating buttons are on top of the base, the Ashimoto Switch Fan (Foot Switch Fan) has buttons on the front side, allowing users to press them with their toes.

By marketing it as “foot-operated,” the students hope to make the fan more acceptable to sticklers for good manners.

The trio got the idea for the fan from Shuichiro Suda, 19, who graduated last year.

The scolding by Suda’s mother prompted him to build a standing fan with a foot-shaped base in order to make it immediately recognizable as a toe-operated appliance. There was a button on each of the fan’s toes.

His teacher, Toshiya Kokubo, 50, showed the design to a few manufacturers, drawing a response from Yamazen Corp., a general trading company based in the city of Osaka.

The company said that while the design would likely be well received by children, it would face trouble passing a safety review.

“Step-on buttons would also require more strength from users compared to existing designs,” Yamazen concluded.

Ultimately, that design was not commercialized.

Later, the three students took it upon themselves to figure out how best to resolve these issues, focusing on a new design similar to a body composition scale. Such scales allow users to operate the device with their toes using switches on its front side.

Using the scale’s outer frame in a new prototype, they realized that the buttons could be tapped easily while also simplifying the design.

Last June, the trio brought a prototype to Yamazen, this time to its Nagoya branch, where the company agreed to help sell it.

According to Kazuma Kawabe of Yamazen’s household appliances division, even when fans come with remote controls, many people still use the manual buttons, often with their toes.

“This is a novel design and was widely talked about in the company,” Kawabe said. “I think we can make quite a profit with this.”

In line with the original design, there are five buttons at the base.

“We have also included elements of the foot-shaped design,” Imaizumi said. “We decided to continue developing this because the foot-shaped design left an impact on us. I’m glad (Suda) came up with this.”

The fan will be available at electronics stores and DIY centers nationwide starting next month.

Due to open pricing, the three students still do not know how much it will sell for.

“I want to see it on store shelves as soon as possible,” Suzuki said, laughing. “I’ll probably end up checking sales floors regularly.”

This section, appearing Tuesdays, features topics and issues from the Chubu region covered by the Chunichi Shimbun. The original article was published Feb. 25.