Japan’s Randoseru School Bags Diversifying; Bigger, Better, More Colorful

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Randoseru school bags in a variety of colors are on display at the company’s shop, which is next to its workshop.

Production of randoseru school bags for new first-year elementary school children is hitting its peak in preparation for the start of the new school year in April. In Japan, elementary school students use a type of backpack called randoseru to carry their items to school.

A long-established randoseru manufacturer in Tokyo is making fine changes to its products’ specifications to meet the needs of the times, such as the shift to genderless styles and accommodations for the increasing use of tablets. The firm is also looking at overseas markets for commercial opportunities.

“Click-clack” and “tap-tap, tap-tap” — the spacious workshop of the bag maker Tsuchiya Kaban in Adachi Ward, Tokyo, was filled with the sound of sewing machines and metal fittings last month.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Randoseru school bags are produced by skilled craftspeople at Tsuchiya Kaban in Adachi Ward, Tokyo.

Craftspeople were intently cutting and sewing leather. Production of randoseru continues year-round at the company, but work has been in full swing since the beginning of the year in preparation for the final shipment of the season scheduled for March 20.

Tsuchiya Kaban is a long-established bag maker that has been handcrafting randoseru since its establishment in 1965. The company has about 120 specialized craftspeople, more than half of whom are women.

More than 150 parts are used to complete a single product with over 300 processes. More than 50 craftspeople are involved in the completion of each bag. A high level of sewing skill is required because even a few millimeters of deviation can lead to the distortion of an entire part.

“These will be the first bags that children carry for a long time. We’ll be happy if we can make bags that children take with them for six years full of memories,” said Kenta Suzuki, 34, the head of the workshop.

New colors growing in popularity

Randoseru school bags mostly used to be red or black, but they have diversified in recent years.

According to a survey by the randoseru manufacturers’ committee of the Japan Luggage Association, 29.6% of girls who entered elementary school last spring chose “purple or light purple” for their randoseru bags, followed by “pink” at 17% and “light blue” at 16.5%. “Red” was chosen by 12.4%, falling out of the top three for the first time since the survey began in 2018. Although 60% of boys chose “black,” its popularity is declining, with “navy blue” and “blue” ranked high.

Tsuchiya Kaban has made about 40 colors available for the new school year, and soft camel color is among the most popular. The company has also increased the bags’ width and depth because tablet use at school has been growing. Prices are mainly in the ¥80,000 range.

“Gender stereotypes are starting to fade,” said Eri Chihara, 33, of the company’s randoseru sales promotion and planning section.

Expanding sales channels overseas

The further declining birthrate is casting a shadow over the industry. With that in mind, the company began overseas sales in 2020. It now has four directly managed stores in Taiwan, China and Hong Kong.

The culture of carefully using one expensive bag from the beginning of elementary school until graduation is unique to Japan, but the company believes the product will have more business opportunities as people around the world become increasingly aware of Sustainable Development Goals, or SDGs.

“Japanese randoseru bags are known around the world through anime and other media, and even some adults are buying them,” Chihara said. “They are easy to repair, durable, and long-lasting. I hope this will lead to the spread of the ‘mottainai’ spirit of treasuring things.”