Monday, March 10, 2014

Randoseru - The ultimate school bag

It is that time of the year when stores in Japan start displaying stuff that students need for a new school year. The school year begins in April but the school supplies go on sale just after New Year. 

Of the many things that need to be prepared before the school year begins, the RANDOSERU is the most important. What exactly is a Randoseru ?

Randoseru is a backpack which is used by the Elementary School students in Japan. It differs in many aspects when compared to the backpacks used by school students in other parts of the world. When we had just moved to Japan, I often wondered why most Elementary school students carried the same kind of bag ? Was it one more of the standard things that Japanese people did? Then I found out that this school backpack was initially launched in the Meiji period as a backpack for commissioned officers. After the war, the back was introduced in Government schools as a commuting bag and it has over the decades become the staple Elementary school backpack.  

The name Randoseru is derived from the Dutch word "Ransel" meaning a backpack.
Traditionally made of pure firm leather, about 70 % of the Randoseru these days are made of a synthetic material called Clarino that looks like leather.  
The Randoseru comes in a variety of colours - Pink, Red, Brown, Green, Blue, Navy Blue, Black , Purple and even in dual tones. Randoseru even come in cute versions with glittering stones and motifs for girls. There are Randoseru associated with popular anime characters and usually young children consider it 'cool' to own a particular style of Randoseru. Usually kids receive a shiny new Randoseru around the time they graduate from their kindergarten and prepare to enter Elementary school. Traditionally it is a gift to the child from the grandparents. 

In some conservative schools, the design and color are specified and students are forbidden from using Randoseru that do not meet the specified criteria. Typically girls use a red Randoseru while boys use Black. With parents these days being equally excited about the variety of Randoseru available, students do get to choose the more stylish versions.

A lot goes into the production of a Randoseru. A typical Randoseru usually has the following dimensions: 23 cm wide x 30 cm high and 18 cm deep. Manufacturing a Randoseru is not simple ! A lot goes into making this ultimate backpack.  It is usually handcrafted and usually has a single piece body which comprises 200 odd fittings which hold together die cut materials and urethane backing plates. The intricacies of the Randoseru are a combination of sturdiness and comfort. 
An empty Randoseru typically weighs between 1 -1.25 kgs and is large enough to hold A4 size files and books. The ultra light versions of the Randoseru weigh no more than 800 gms but then they cost a lot more too.  

But why does it have to be so complicated to make the Randoseru ? The answer is simple, the Randoseru is designed so that it lasts through the entire 6 years of a child's elementary school life. And it is meant to endure all the seasons too.A friend told me that most children hold on to their Randoseru beyond their Elementary school life as a souvenir of their carefree childhood. 

But what surprised me the most about the Randoseru is its cost. Most foreigners find its price exorbitant. While the price tag starts at about 7,000 yen, the prices do go up to 60,000 yen. This is the price at normal stores or on Online stores.  At high end departmental stores, the prices could be anywhere between USD 700-1000 depending on the brand and quality. An average family would settle down for a 30000 yen Randoseru. But then again, Japan is a country where Quality of a product is judged by the price tag- Higher the price, better the quality. 
These days, many schools and communities have been following traffic safety guidelines and have started distributing yellow plastic covers to drape over the Randoseru's top flap and is intended to increase the Randoseru's visibility to motorists. Since most Elementary school kids walk to and from school in groups, usually accompanied by just one adult from the neighborhood, this is important for their safety. 
Many students also attach safety reflectors, personal alarms, coin purses, mobile phone cases and small soft toys and key chains to their Randoseru. Some kids also use clear plastic covers that can be slipped over the bags to protect it from rain and snow.

These days the Randoseru is also gaining popularity outside Japan. A major contributor to this trend is the Randoseru also features in Japanese anime and Manga. The Randoseru is especially gaining popularity in South east Asian countries, but then almost every trend in Japan does get popular in the region thanks to the presence of Japanese department stores like Isetan, Takashimaya, Mitsukoshi. 

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