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What Are Those Japanese Backpacks Called?

The Indestructible Japanese School Bag!

japanese school girl randoseru
By Nesnad - Own work, CC BY 4.0

I don’t know about you, but I have way too many backpacks. One for weekend getaways, one for hiking and adventuring, one specifically for photography…

The list goes on…

It was a little strange then, when I travelled to Japan and saw the majority of children wearing a single type of backpack.

Long story short, these Japanese backpacks are called ‘Randoseru’ (ランドセル) and are usually given to students in their first year of school and kept normally up to 6th Grade. They’re solidly built, able to carry papers, books, laptops, and food, without damaging anything. This makes them a very popular choice for younger and older school students alike.

Of course, as always, there are a few more questions I want to answer about these Japanese backpacks before I put the subject to rest.

So let’s get started!

What are Randoseru backpacks?

randoseru at school
These classrooms look far cooler than mine was…

Quick vocab lesson: Backpack – バックパック(bakku pakku)

Randoseru, or ランドセル in katakana, are popular backpacks in Japan, most often used by young school students.

They are commonly made from either leather, or a similar alternative, which ensures a robust design.

Perfect for adventurous children!

According to nttcom.jp the bags will usually be red for girls, or black for boys. Though this is always specific to the school at which they attend.

As of recent, there’s been a slight relax in the rules (in general), which allows many of the companies to produce a variety of colours. Of course this is still dependant on whether the school allows different colours, but if they do it’s a good way for students to express themselves whilst still adhering to tradition.

The history of the Randoseru backpack

The history of the Randoseru backpack is more than worth discussing as it sheds light on the few reasons why they’re cultural icons of Japan.

Around 1836, just before the start of the Meiji restoration which saw Japan adopt many western institutions, was also the first time the Randoseru were used.

Political, economical, and social reforms were all happening synonymously, but so was a military change.

A hard wearing and multi-use backpack called a ‘Ransel’ was introduced from the Netherlands and subsequently adopted by the Japanese army for their foot soldiers.

Fast forward to 1885, and the Japanese government promoted the idea of randoseru for new school students.

Though, for the next two years the bag still looked more like a normal backpack than it did the randoseru we know today.

In 1887, after the crown prince was given a randoseru once he enrolled at Gakushūin, the shape of the backpack was changed to look more like the Ransel to honour fallen soldiers.

A formal portrait of Emperor Taishō, Crown prince at the time he enrolled at Gakushūin

It’s popularity as schoolwear quickly increased, and later even as fashionwear for both students and non-students.

Why do Japanese kids use Randoseru ?

One of the main reasons children in Japan use randoseru as opposed to ‘normal’ backpacks is utility.

Japanese school children often have many text books, bento boxes, umbrellas, and school supplies to carry from a soon as first grade. So the bag they carry has to be able to cope with it.

The average size randoseru weighs around 1.2 kilograms when it’s empty, and obviously a lot more when all these supplies are in the bag.

But that weight comes with a bonus of strength and stability. Key for coping with the daily life of a school student.

Why are Randoseru backpacks expensive?

By Kanko* from Nagasaki, JAPAN – Flickr CC BY 2.0

So you might be wondering after all you’ve read, just how expensive are Japanese randoseru backpacks?

Well, I would say the absolute minimum you could look to pay for a randoseru would be around ¥20,000 ($170) but they could easily go up beyond $1000 depending on where you’re shopping.

I found the one for ¥20,000 on Nitori.net, a relatively cheap, but very good online Japanese store.

Utility & Comfort

As we’ve just gone over, the randoseru backpack is fit for purpose. You’ll be hard pressed to find any other rucksack that can carry all those supplies and still fit comfortably onto a child’s back without hurting.

Just like the many camera bags I own, when something is built for a purpose, it generally commands a premium price tag.

Durability & Construction

As I’ve said before, Randoseru are intended to survive throughout a childs school years.

That’s six years of abuse, so it’s vital they’re high enough quality to survive!

This ensures the children can be carefree and worry more about how to climb the tallest tree in the village rather than the state of the books inside their bag.

…Or whatever kids get up to nowadays, I have no idea!

To help prolong their life, the randoseru are made from leather (or equivalent hardy material), and great care is taken in their construction.

Add this on to the significance of the product, the fact that every child in Japan pretty much needs one for when they start school, and you start to understand why they’re so much.

Yes, it’s still a lot of money, but you’ve also got the possibility to pass the bag down to multiple siblings or family members. So when you look at the cost spread out over a few years, maybe it’s not so bad.

Randoseru’s popularity in the west

western randoseru
I dig this style, a lot!

Just like many old or vintage products, someone, somewhere, has (or will) try to reinvent it.

In this case, randoseru have been reinvented into high end fashion backpacks.

Most of them seem to be aiming at the luxury market, or at least targeting luxury product buyers in the west.

I’m yet to see them being widely adopted anywhere in Europe, but perhaps my bank account balance and sense of style doesn’t allow me to run in the circles that wear them… Who knows!

Who should wear a Randoseru?

As you’re about to find out, randoseru backpacks aren’t just available to Japanese school children.

So why would should you consider buying one?

Well, for many of the same reasons they’re so widely adopted in Japan.

Size

The average size of a Randoseru backpack should measure around 30cm high, 23cm wide, and 18cm deep. That’s plenty of room for even the busiest of uni, school, or work days.

Durability

These things can seriously take a beating, all while keeping their inner contents completely intact.

So, if your job or lifestyle requires you to transport things from A-B without damaging, these backpacks deserve some serious consideration.

Personally I like the idea of using them as picnic bags. You could store so much food in them and never have to worry about anything getting crushed.

Perfect for はなみ!

Style

The final reason you may consider buying and wearing a randoseru backpack is purely for fashion.

You know I love my minimal Japanese clothing, and these rucksacks wouldn’t look out of place in a minimalist wardrobe.

The moral of the story is there are hundreds of styles, both traditional and modern, so you’re bound to find something to suit your tastes.

Can a randoseru fit a laptop?

This depends on what type of bag you get. Some of the older versions won’t have a dedicated laptop compartment (but may still be able to fit one in), but a few of the new ‘Fashion’ style randoseru have got dedicated compartments to fit them.

One such bag is from Hako One, we’ll talk more about them in a minute!

Where can I buy Japanese school bags in Tokyo?

Screenshot of randoseru shops in Tokyo – Spoilt for choice!

Almost any department store in Tokyo, like Isaten, will stock randoseru and they’ll probably be the most affordable place to purchase one other than finding them second hand.

…Until Daiso bring out their own range! …Yeah, never going to happen…

If you’re looking for something a little more upmarket, you’ll find many boutique and independent stores dotted around the city.

Randoseru Sudo – Katsushika City

Tsuchiya Randoseru – Adachi City

Fit her school bag – Chuo City

Where can I buy Japanese school bags online?

I’ll give you three places to buy Japanese randoseru online, and then you can chose the one that suites your situation the best.

Tokyo Bags

Vegan, modern, and extremely fashionable Japanese randoseru to fit any style and any occasion.

You have the option to chose between ‘Classic Black’ and ‘Dark Brown’ which in my opinion are both equally as good looking. And they’ll ‘only’ set you back $328, not bad at all!

Well, for randoseru, anyway!

Tsuchiya Kaban

A wide selection of backpacks, but definitely more traditional than the other two websites. So it’s a great place to shop if you want to stick to the original design.

The price is a little on the high side, even getting up to over $900 for the premium bags.

I want a randoseru, but even that is a little much for me 🙁

Amazon

I can’t not include amazon in the list, even though I kind of don’t want to. It seems like it keeps popping up recently!

Anyway, you can buy them off amazon, pretty cheaply but probably with varying quality. Not the place to go if you want to buy a bag to last 6 years, but maybe the place to go if you want the style for as cheap as possible.

Conclusion

So that was a quick introduction of Japanese randoseru backpacks.

Extremely versatile, practically indestructible, and very fashionable (if you ask me!!)

Jonny Gleason

Photographer, Magazine owner, Matcha drinker. One of these is definitely the most important, just unsure which...

Instagram: @jonny.gleason

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