The ever-ubiquitous randoseru (ランドセル) are a common sight across Japan where they are used by elementary school students throughout their six years of classes. With a 200-year-old history, this iconic style of backpack is a recognizable symbol of youth—and even Japan itself to some extent—that has endured as a cultural institution to this day. In this article, we’ll be covering the history of randoseru from its origins to modern times along with some examples of randoseru from anime and manga. Let’s go!
Origins of Randoseru
The word randoseru is a loanword based on the Dutch word “ransel” which is also the type of bag that the randoseru is modeled after. The bags themselves have a very clean and appealingly simple design with the most distinctive feature being the smooth flap that latches to the bottom of the front side of the bag, covering it and giving it a slightly rounded appearance. Traditionally, boys would have black randoseru and girls would use red ones.
Like typical Japanese school uniforms, the design of randoseru was based on European military designs and, in fact, were first used by the Japanese military in the Edo period as part of the many efforts to Westernize the country. In the late 1880s, the crown prince of Japan used a randoseru to show respect for the military, which popularized the idea of having elementary students use them at elite schools. However, it wasn’t until Japan’s economy became more prosperous in the 1960s that it became the standard for most students since the bags were pricey.
Randoseru are surprisingly luxurious, with nearly all of them still handmade in Japan out of high-quality leather, (although there are also some cheaper faux-leather alternatives). The reason that they are so meticulously made is so that they will have no problem lasting through the student’s entire six-year grade school career. Many last much longer and are passed down among siblings. This dedication to quality also makes them quite expensive, with prices ranging from about $300 to over $1000 for extra fancy varieties and brands!
We mentioned before that randoseru were traditionally just black and red but since the 2000s, many colors have become popular for students wanting to express their individual styles more. Pink has been extremely popular with girls, reportedly making up more than half the sales for them while boys favor black, brown navy, green, and marine blue. Besides color varieties, randoseru also are sold with different designs such as game and anime characters, fancy brand logos, embossed school logos, and other more elaborate theming like cowboys, ninjas, and even lolita fashion! Like uniforms, many schools have mandatory guidelines for what randoseru can be used by their students and more conservative ones still require red and black with no adornments outside of small charms.
Over time, randoseru have also become larger and lighter to accommodate modern textbooks (which have increased in size thanks to cheaper materials and education standards) and make them easier to carry for the young students. Interestingly, they have also become a part of some hipster fashion subcultures in Japan, and even in the West. By and large, though, randoseru still remain heavily associated with childhood in Japanese culture. Some companies even manufacture miniature randoseru replicas, complete with charms and stickers, to cater to adults feeling especially nostalgic for the younger years.
Randoseru in Anime
Like countless other objects in everyday Japanese life, randoseru have appeared in many different manga and anime. Most of these, unsurprisingly, focus on elementary school children such as classics like Doraemon, Chibi Maruko-chan, Cardcaptor Sakura, and more, along with some more modern shows like Recorder to Randoseru which we’ll mention specifically since it even has randoseru in the title!
Recorder to Randoseru (Recorder and Randsell)
- Episodes: 2
- Aired: July 17, 2012
Recorder to Randoseru consists of a short OVA series plus two standard seasons of anime, all adapted from Meme Higashiya’s slice of life comedy yonkoma manga of the same name. The story follows siblings Atsushi and Atsumi Miyagawa who both look nothing like their true age. Atsushi could easily pass as a full-grown adult despite being a fifth-grader while his older sister Atsumi is in high school but is incredibly short and child-like in appearance. Atsushi has a traditional black randoseru that looks noticeably tiny on his adult frame which he also carries his recorder in, hence the title of the show. The simple stories often revolve around Atsushi and Atsumi’s interactions and the comedic results and misunderstandings of having an 11-year-old act normally while looking like an adult.
Well, there you have it! Randoseru are surprisingly interesting for a children’s backpack, don’t you think? We hope you enjoyed this little foray into Japanese culture with us. What kind of randoseru would you like to have had in elementary school? Let us know in the comments below along with any of your personal favorite randoseru appearances in manga, anime or otherwise! As always, please stay tuned for more on Japanese culture, anime, and more here at Honey’s!