Randoseru are the large, sturdy backpacks used by Japanese elementary school children to carry books and supplies while they commute to school. Maybe you’ve noticed them accompanying school kids depicted in anime or manga. Or maybe you’ve seen them on the backs of Japanese students as they commute to school in towns and cities across the country. These stiff leather backpacks are a traditional part of an elementary school kid’s ensemble in Japan.
The name “randoseru” is adapted from the Dutch word “ransel” which means backpack. Randoseru were introduced to Japan during the 19th century and their use as the bag of choice for elementary school kids became widespread during the latter half of the 20th century. These ubiquitous bags are an iconic part of the Japanese elementary school experience. Kids start using a randoseru at age 6 – the first year of elementary school – and are expected to use the same bag through sixth grade.
Traditionally, girls have used red randoserus, and boys black. However, in recent years, a wider variety of colors have become popular. More than half of new randoseru purchases for girls are pink bags. Boys favor black, brown navy, green, and marine blue.
Private school students often have randoseru embossed with the school insignia. Kids also attach safety reflectors, personal alarms, mobile phone cases, and charms to their randoseru. You can buy clear plastic covers that slip over the bags to keep out rain and to protect the bags from scratches. Schools also distribute bright yellow randoseru covers so motorists can better see the kids.
These quality bags do come at a price. The average cost of a leather randoseru is about JPY 36,000 (about $360). You can pay as much as JPY 60,000 (about $600). Synthetic leather randoseru are increasingly popular, and can also be had for a lessor price.
As familiarity with Japanese culture increases around the world, awareness of randoseru is also rising. Today randoseru can be found for sale outside Japan on websites such as Amazon and ebay. If you are visiting Japan and happen to be interested in procuring this unique souvenir, they can also be purchased at major department stores such as Seibu, Isetan, Takashimaya, Marui and Mitsukoshi, as well as at school supply shops across the country.