It’s become a veritable symbol of Japanese elementary school students — the satchel, known locally as a randoseru. Come April everywhere you look there seem to be first grade boys and girls walking with their shiny new satchels on their backs. So, why is PingMag doing an article about them now?!
Well, there’s a reason for that.
Have you been to a department store recently? You’ll find a section for selling satchels. It seems more and more grandparents are buying their soon-to-enter-school grandchildren satchels during the summer holidays when families often visit their hometowns. Some go on sale as early as July and sometimes are sold out by the end of the summer. So it’s right now that the satchel market is super busy!
Though we won’t ever wear one again, there’s no better time for us grown-ups to take a proper look at Japanese school satchels.
Something used daily for six years
What’s important when it comes to something you will use for six years? Being lightweight and robust! Grown-ups buy new bags and use different ones depending on their whims. But elementary school kids can’t do that so you need to choose a good quality satchel that will last for a long time.
Some may ask what’s wrong with a regular handbag or rucksack — but put heavy textbooks in them and they will break. You may well have seen a broken rucksack but have you ever seen a broken randoseru? When I was in school I put holes in my satchel with pins, only for them to close up by themselves! For this I was grateful to my parents for picking such a great bag for me.
The History of the Satchel
The haino army rucksacks imported from the west during the Bakumatsu period are the origin of today’s randoseru. The latter’s name is actually derived from a Dutch word, ransel.
The box-shaped design used today were originally made under decree from the first Prime Minister, Hirobumi Ito, to commemorate future Emperor Taisho entering the elite Gakushuin school in 1887. However, in certain regions of Japan both before and after the war many kids would carry their school things in a furoshiki (Japanese wrapping cloth). Randoseru satchels spread nationwide fully in the late Fifties. Today’s design is actually hardly changed from the original, making it a bag with history of over 100 years!
Almost all are Made in Japan
A school bag worn on your back in the shape of a box? It’s a uniquely Japanese design. Of course, overseas there are also backpack-style school bags but they aren’t usually square.
What’s happening with randoseru recently?
Satchels are evolving! It used to be that boys had black while girls had red, but these days there are all kinds of colors. In particular, girls might have blue, pink or purple. The designs are much more individual than before, with greens and all sorts of colors now available.
For really individual randoseru, try these!
Chic canvas randoseru that even grown-ups can use!
Herz leather randoseru
Think back to your childhood days and your own randoseru — stepped on, written on, used any old how. It may be tucked away inside the closet somewhere.
Don’t throw out your satchel — there’s a recycling service!