Randoseru: Japan’s Ubiquitous Backpack

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.

Colorful randoseru

Randoseru, available in multiple, bright colors!

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.

photo credit: Stefan Schlautmann via photopin cc
photo credit: hiromy via photopin cc

39 comments
Tani Toshiharu
Tani Toshiharu

i had used a black randoseru when i was kid. it was 1970.

Justyna Dworczyk
Justyna Dworczyk

Dorota Slusarczyk takich nie było ani w Pradzie, ani w come de garson ani nawet w isey myake... :) a poważnie to bardzo żałuje...

Elisabeth Pisa
Elisabeth Pisa

i want 1!!!! Next time i'll go to Japan maybe.... gambarimasu

Jennifer Butters
Jennifer Butters

<3 We saw MANY grandparents buying their grandchildren their 1st randoseru at Takashimaya... so sweet to watch them continue this tradition!! <3

Aisa Ramos
Aisa Ramos

It can correct posture and staighten shoulder blades as they grow

Voyagin
Voyagin

Yes, basically we use them for 6 years :)

Nancy Keller
Nancy Keller

My grandchildren in Japan have these backpacks.

Teresa Lavoie
Teresa Lavoie

I always wanted one of these but my Mom never got me one because I went to an American school on base in Japan. My cousins however had one !!!

John P. Thiel
John P. Thiel

It's not merely ubiquitous. You completely left out the origins of the the bag. These bags are quite expensive, made of leather, and very high quality. The tradition was started with the future Emperor Taisho when he entered elementary school. Since then it has been a tradition that parents give their children a similar bag to start off their academic life. The bags typically go for about $150 but can easily top $300.

Samantha LaPorte
Samantha LaPorte

Let's not forget really expensive. :) But at least they get many years from them.

Camilo Moya
Camilo Moya

It was amazingly cute when I first saw those the first day I came to Japan. Saw those things every where in Chiba lol

Jennifer Madonia Bogucki
Jennifer Madonia Bogucki

I saw these when I was in. Japan a few months ago. They even sell them at Tokyo Disney....very pricey but very nice!

John Mella Medina
John Mella Medina

Iconic shape. Ridiculous prices. The only reason many parents buy these is to keep up with the Joneses, so to speak. [Warning: Rant ahead] Instead of spoiling their kids, they should teach their children to be open-minded, tolerant, and compassionate. Some districts are particularly infested with teachers and principals who do ABSOLUTELY NOTHING about this growing problem of bullying. Children of foreigners or mixed families, special needs students, and kids from low-income families who send their children to city schools have it especially rough. Some people think bullying is bad in North America. Children in Japanese schools go through hell. So, yes the bags are iconic, but they underlie a severe problem with materialism, one-sided kindness, insincere courtesy, racism, and ignorance.

Jennifer Stecker
Jennifer Stecker

My "obachan" bought one for my daughter "Momoko", 3 years ago. Sometimes I borrow it. It's wonderful!

Agnes Casem
Agnes Casem

my son had that knapsack too when he was in school quite expensive but definitely lasts for years

Eriko Sakurai
Eriko Sakurai

日本らしい景色を演出するために、漢字の入った立て看板と一緒に撮影したのかな?

Jessica Chelton
Jessica Chelton

My son will enter 1st grade in April so I will buy a cheaper one for him (since we will move back to the states soon after he starts. But... I also want to buy my 2 year old daughter one too!! They are so cute !! And very "Japanese" ; )

Loek van Kooten
Loek van Kooten

語源はオランダ語(私の母国語)のranselです。

Mayumi Matsuoka
Mayumi Matsuoka

空き巣・事務所荒らし多発の警告に目が行く  犯罪多発地帯なのね・・・

Anaguma
Anaguma

"Lessor price?"  You can lease them?"  Try "lesser."

Lily Lesson
Lily Lesson

Let's start online Japanese lesson with me!

Han
Han

I've seen them also at Costco.  

SeiKyo Ahern-davidson
SeiKyo Ahern-davidson

I have one...hand made with flowers on it. My bank manager didnt like me very much that month....but they are sooo iconic I had to do it

Miaka Provost
Miaka Provost

I've seen these mostly in anime and manga. I would love to get one for my kid, when I have a little one in school...

Brian Kelly
Brian Kelly

I have a black one, and purchased a red one last September in Tokyo.

Emily Mancuso
Emily Mancuso

I remember seeing these in a Kyoto shopping store and wanting one just as a souvenir (b/c hey.. they look awesome) then i saw the price tag and slowly backed away... XD

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