A randoseru (ランドセル?) is a firm-sided backpack made of stitched firm leather or leather-like synthetic material, most commonly used in Japan by elementary schoolchildren. Traditionally it is given to a child upon beginning his or her first year of school, whereupon the child uses the same bag until grade 6. The term is a borrowed word from the Dutch “ransel” meaning “backpack”, a clue to its origins nearly 200 years ago as used in the Netherlands.
In more conservative schools the color, brand and design is mandated, typically with red as the traditional color for girls and black for boys. However, due to changing attitudes toward gender stereotypes, more colorful versions such as pink, brown, dark blue, green, blue and even two-tones are more widespread. These varieties have existed since the 1960s but sold poorly due to the lock-step mentality of the education system that gradually began changing in the early 2000s. The increased variety of colors is partly as a compromise for parents to retain some tradition within modernized schools which no longer require the use of traditional uniforms or the randoseru.
The use of the “randoseru” began in the Edo era. Along with a wave of western reforms in the Japanese military, the Netherlands-style rucksack called “ransel” (Japanese: ランドセル randoseru) was introduced as a new way for the foot soldiers to carry their baggage. The shape much resembled the “randoseru” bags used today. In 1885, the Japanese government, through the elementary school Gakushūin, proposed the use of a backpack as the new ideal for Japanese elementary school students. At Gakushūin, the practice of coming to school by cars and rickshaws were banned, promoting the idea that the students should carry their own equipment and come to school by their own feet. At this time, the bag looked more like normal rucksack. This changed, however, in 1887. The crown prince of the time was given a backpack upon entering elementary school (at Gakushūin). To honour the soldiers of the country, the shape of the backpack resembled the backpacks used in the military, in other words a “randoseru”. This quite immediately became the fashion, and the shape have continued to become the “randoseru” used today. However, at this time most of the Japanese people could not afford such an expensive bag. Until the dramatic rise of economy in Japan in the past-WWII period, the main school bag in Japan was simple shoulder bags and furoshiki (square folding cloths).