Services Emerge to Recycle School Backpacks into Leather Goods

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Rumi Ishigaki shows recycled products while holding a randoseru school backpack.

Services that can remake used Japanese-style school backpacks for elementary students — called randoseru — into practical leather goods are gaining popularity. Such recycling of used products and materials is diversifying against a background of rising environmental awareness.

Makiko Sakurai, a 47-year-old self-employed woman living in Edogawa Ward, Tokyo, asked a shop last year to recycle her 15-year-old daughter’s disused lavender randoseru and create useful items from it. She said she couldn’t bear to throw the backpack away because it was her daughter’s favorite color.

Yuzuriba Ichikawa, a shop in Ichikawa, Chiba Prefecture, was able in three month’s time to produce a pen case, a holder for cards and a key chain from the randoseru. The total price for the three items was about ¥13,000.

“We are happy to be able to use remade memorable items on a daily basis,” Sakurai and her daughter said. The daughter intends to use these items when she becomes a high school student.

The shop launched the service in 2019. It produces about ten types of leather items, such as pen and train pass cases, in cooperation with a leather workshop in the city.

Courtesy of Hinokicraft
Hinokicraft’s Randoseru Stools

According to the shop, the items are also popular as tokens of thanks to grandparents, who by long-standing custom are often the ones who buy school bags for their grandchildren.

Rumi Ishigaki, who runs the shop, said she basically tries to leave any scars and wrinkles in the recycled items for remembrance sake, while giving them longer life.

Tsuchiya Kaban, a bag maker based in Adachi Ward, Tokyo, offers a service in which it remakes randoseru into miniature versions. Last year, the company launched a new service that remakes randoseru into card holders, in response to growing demand for practical items.

According to a company spokesperson, the company had accepted the first applications for the new service in May last year for users of the company’s randoseru. There were so many requests for the service that the application process had to be shut off in four days. The company has offered the service four more times since, but for a limited time only.

In 2017, Benesse Corp., a major education service company in Japan, surveyed about 1,300 parents of junior high and high school students about randoseru. According to the result, 59% of respondents said they kept randoseru at home even after their children graduated from elementary schools. Some said, “we have kept it because it’s a memento,” while others said, “I was still thinking about how to dispose of it.” Remaking used products into practical items is gaining attention, because it is acceptable to both of the above groups.

Courtesy of Tsuchiya Kaban
Tsuchiya Kaban’s case for cards or train passes

There is also the concept of unique remakes.

Hinokicraft, a furniture maker in Shizuoka City, has been making Randoseru Stools since 2019. The product is about 35 centimeters in length and width, and about 40 centimeters in height. The cover flaps for randoseru are used as the seating material.

“Quality leather and elaborate sewing to ensure strength are perfect for the material of chairs. We designed it as furniture to be useful in various situations,” said Masayuki Iwamoto, head of the company.

Mogi Kaban Co., a bag maker and seller in Kiryu, Gunma Prefecture, remakes customers’ used randoseru into wall-mounted clocks. A craftsman who makes randoseru applies tacks on the clock face so that buyers can read the time. Randoseru made by other manufacturers are available for the service.

For anyone considering these remake services, there are some things to consider beforehand. One being that leather which has deteriorated or become very dirty is difficult to work with. A good way to check the deterioration of leather products is to fold the leather for about one minute and check to see if there are cracks or tears.

Yoshiko Ikoma, a fashion journalist and the vice chairperson of the Japan Ethical Initiative said: “Remaking of an object of memory brings spiritual value that makes you feel satisfied. I think the need for remake services will increase in the future as people’s views on goods and possessions are reconsidered.”

Courtesy of Mogi Kaban Co.
wall-mounted clock made from a randoseru