It is a typical afternoon to see elementary school boys playing rock-paper-scissors and the loser carrying everyone else’s sturdy, heavy randoseru, or back pack for elementary school children.
Until about 20 years ago, it was typical that girls had red and boys had black randoseru, but they now come in pink, yellow, navy, green, gold, etc.
It seems that every color is available on the market. Because of its durability, unique style, and exposure from anime and manga, travelers are buying randoseru as souvenirs for grown-ups. It is recent memory that photos of actress, Zoey Deschanel, with red randoseru hit gossip papers.
Randoseru derived from a Dutch word “ransel” meaning “back pack”. Military men started using this style of back pack for its tough and practical use since being introduced to capable western-style army in the beginning of the Meiji Era (1868-1912). As Japan, at the time, was convinced that strong economy and competent army was needed for a powerful country, elementary schools had military classes to teach military morals.
Gakushuin, now known as a school attended by the Japanese royal family, also had military curriculum. When Emperor Taisho started attending Gakushuin in 1887, it is said that Prime Minister Hirobumi Ito presented a randoseru to him as tribute. This was the first time a randoseru was used in an educational environment, slowly being acknowledged as children’s back pack then on. However, this expensive back pack only became common after World War II when Japanese economy was in its high-growth period.
An average randoseru is about JPY 30,000 to JPY 60,000 ($250 – $500) which is quite expensive for elementary school children to carry around; however, perhaps this is a sign of affluent country Japan has developed into, considering that most people did not have the privilege of using them about 125 years ago.