Japan's school utility bag

Anyone who has lived in Japan or even visited for a while has probably seen young children going to school, all wearing the same kind of bag strapped onto their shoulders. These firm-sided bags made of real or imitation stitched leather are known in Japanese as ランドセル randoseru, from the old Dutch word ranzel or rantsel. Since the Edo period, elementary school children have worn them to school.

Kaoru | © PIXTA

Although there are exceptions, using a randoseru instead of a soft backpack or other bookbag is not mandated in school rules, but purchasing one is generally considered common sense. It is customary for parents to buy one for their children as a way of marking an important milestone and providing them with a sturdy and practical bag they are expected to use for the next six years of their education.

But what about middle school, high school and even adulthood? In fact, the randoseru have appeared on the shoulders of adults. As we reviewed before on grape Japan, first on the streets of Harajuku as lolita fashion in the 1990s, then later adopted by underground idol groups, these bags have been picked up as a fashion statement, and even spotted abroad. Since American actress Zooey Deschanel was seen wearing one in 2014, randoseru makers have seen an uptick in foreign requests.

Kyoto Style Randoseru

Kazama Randoseru, which has been producing these sturdy bags for the past 70 years, is one such maker. According to their press release, their bags have a good reputation abroad and they have been fielding inquiries from buyers in Hong Kong, Taiwan and Italy.

Chairman Haruo Kazama wanted to do something different for the 70th anniversary of his company's founding. He decided to create beautiful randoseru bags which could be appreciated as adult fashion items. To begin with, they extended the belt by 10 centimeters. As for design, the bags are inspired by traditional textiles and expressed in a Kyoto style in an attractive lineup featuring glossy fabrics as well as subdued colors.


Here are some of the models available:

Some details on the pattern and stitching:

They're also available in a horizontally configured version, as opposed to the standard vertically configured randoseru bag.

Each bag is made by hand with expert craftsmanship:

For more information about these Kyoto-style backpacks, see their official homepage here.

By - Ben K.