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A randoseru (ランドセル?) is a firm-sided backpack made of stitched firm leather or leather-like synthetic material, most commonly used in Japan by elementary schoolchildren. Traditionally it is given to a child upon beginning his or her first year of school. The term is a borrowed word from the Dutch "ransel" meaning "backpack", a clue to its origins nearly 200 years ago as used in the Netherlands.
In more conservative schools the color, brand and design is mandated, typically with red as the traditional color for girls and black for boys. However, due to changing attitudes toward gender stereotypes, more colorful versions such as pink, brown, dark blue, green, blue and even two-tones are more widespread. These varieties have existed since the 1960s but sold poorly due to the lock-step mentality of the education system that gradually began changing in the early 2000s. The increased variety of colors is partly as a compromise for parents to retain some tradition within modernized schools which no longer require the use of traditional uniforms or the randoseru.
The use of the "randoseru" began in the Edo era. Along with a wave of western reforms in the Japanese military, the Netherlands-style rucksack called "ransel" (Japanese: ランドセル randoseru) was introduced as a new way for the foot soldiers to carry their baggage. The shape much resembled the "randoseru" bags used today. In 1885, the Japanese government, through the elementary school Gakushūin, proposed the use of a backpack as the new ideal for Japanese elementary school students. At Gakushūin, the practice of coming to school by cars and rickshaws were banned, promoting the idea that the students should carry their own equipment and come to school by their own feet. At this time, the bag looked more like normal rucksack. This changed, however, in 1887. The crown prince of the time was gifted a backpack upon entering elementary school (at Gakushūin). To honour the soldiers of the country, the shape of the backpack resembled the backpacks used in the military, in other words a "randoseru". This quite immediately became the fashion, and the shape have continued to become the "randoseru" used today. However, at this time most of the Japanese people could not afford such an expensive bag. Until the dramatic rise of economy in Japan in the past-WWII period, the main school bag in Japan was simple shoulder bags and furoshiki (square folding cloths).
It is a popular saying that the metal clip on the side of the "randoseru" was used in the military to carry grenades. However, this is not true. The metal clip was introduced in the past-WWII period, as a means to carry lunch boxes, change of clothes for P.E., etc.
Most randoseru production is carried out by hand. A randoseru is constructed of a single-piece body and around 200 fittings, a combination of die-cut materials and urethane backing plates. Assembly involves crimping, machine-sewing, walnut-gluing, drilling each shoulder strap, and riveting. The bag's materials and workmanship are designed to allow the backpack to endure the child's entire elementary education (six years). However, the care usually given to the randoseru throughout that time and afterwards can extend its life and preserve it in near-immaculate condition long after the child has reached adulthood, a testament to its utility and the sentiment attached to it by many Japanese as symbolic of their relatively carefree childhood years.
A typical randoseru measures roughly 30 cm high by 23 cm wide by 18 cm deep, and features a softer grade of leather or other material on those surfaces which touch the body. When empty, it weighs approximately 1.2 kilograms (2.6 pounds). However, due to demand for a lighter, more robust randoseru, as of 2004 approximately 70% are made from the synthetic leather Clarino. Also, in response to Japan's revised curriculum guidelines from the fiscal year 2011, there is a growing demand for bags large enough to hold A4 standard paper files without bending. Manufacturers are divided as to whether to support an increased bag size or not.
The randoseru's durability and significance is reflected in its cost. A new randoseru made of genuine leather can carry a price tag of over 30,000 yen, almost 350 US dollars at the May 2010 exchange rate. Clarino, a synthetic material frequently used as a substitute, reduces the cost somewhat. Often randoseru are available on auction sites in new or used condition at much lower prices, particularly after the start of the Japanese school year in April. As of January 2012, the five top randoseru in order of popularity at Amazon.co.jp are in the range of 7,980–25,200 yen (100–330 US dollars).
To increase traffic safety for children commuting to and from school, many communities have begun working with The Institute for Traffic Safety (交通安全協会?) to distribute yellow plastic covers that drape over the back of the randoseru to increase its visibility.
Since 2001, 'randoseru' has become a part of fashion for grown-up girls, especially for those who love 'kawaii' items. In 2014, Zooey Deschanel, an actress and a fashion leader, showed her photos of her carrying 'randoseru'
- Vardaman, James M., Jr.; Michiko Sasaki Vardaman (1995). Japan from A to Z: Mysteries of Everyday Life Explained. Tokyo: Yen Books. pp. 12–13. ISBN 9784900737419. OCLC 34661245. Retrieved 24 May 2012.
- "ニッポン・ロングセラー考 Vol.11 ランドセル". COMZINE (in 日本語). NTTコムウェア. 2004-03-24. Retrieved 2010-12-14.
- Shimura, Gorō (2008). The Map of My Life. New York: Springer Science+Business Media. pp. 19–20. doi:10.1007/978-0-387-79715-1. ISBN 9780387797144. OCLC 254700435. Retrieved 24 May 2012. "There were naturally plenty of knapsacks in the store, and she asked me which one I liked. Somehow I was attracted to one in light brown that had a soft feel, and picked it.… On the first day of school I discovered that practically all new pupils had black, red, or pink ones"
- Gordenker, Alice (20 March 2012). "Randoseru". So, What the Heck Is That? (monthly column in: The Japan Times). p. 10. Retrieved May 24, 2012.
- Article 「大人のランドセル」の時代が到来！（The time has come when grown-ups wear Japanese randoseru） from Nihon Keizai Shimbun, May 7, 2014..
- Media related to Randoseru at Wikimedia Commons
- Manufacturing process of a randoseru (movie) (Japanese)