The ultimate guide to buying the best randoseru Japanese backpack

Japanese school kids carrying randoseru

Nesnad [CC BY (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0)]

All about randoseru bags 

So, you’ve seen the little kiddies skipping around Japan with their trendy, minimal randoseru bags and you’ve decided that that is the look! For your kids, for yourself, for your pets. Well, let’s figure out the best way to make that happen.

But before we can, we need to back up a second. We need to have some idea of what we’re talking about here.

If you just want to someone to tell you which ones to buy, you can go straight to the knitty gritty reviews below.

What are randoseru backpacks anyway?

Contemplating the randoseru backpack

 

Me contemplating the nature of my son’s randoseru schoolbag

Randoseru are bags. There now, I’ve cleared it up. 

But they are really quite special little bags. Generally quite painstakingly created artifacts, randoseru are crafted out of fine quality materials by makers that pride themselves on great workmanship.

It is a common right of passage for family members, especially grandparents, to give randoseru as presents to elementary school children as they take their first climbing steps up the hard slog ladder of the Japanese education system. Randoseru can be family airlooms.

The quality makers offer a six year warranty, the idea being that they should at least be made well enough that they will last the most boisterous child till the end of their primary years. But what’s with the wacky, only quasi-Japanese sounding name, “Randoseru“? Well for that we’ll need take a sauntering sanpo down memory lane.

A little backpack history of the Randoseru

Remember that yanky army fellow by the name of Admiral Perry who sailed into Tokyo bay in 1863? He kindly and gently demanded, with the help of a few kindly and gentle canons, that the Japanese open their borders to trade. If they had have been making ‘Make America Great Again’ caps then, he would have been wearing one. Instead, he got a horrible sunburn on his way to Japan, except for where he had on his sunnies and where he put a few smudges of sunscreen across his cheeks. You can see the evidence of that in this portrait of Perry, drawn from the Japanese perspective.

Admiral Perry

 

Perry, looking a little bloodhound.

Japan was shocked into action, and not just by the admirals ample bushy eybrows. The nation got the heebie jeebies. They embarked on a period of intense modernisation, most acutely spurred on by the pressing the desire to not suffer a military drubbing from the furry faced Southern Devils. 

The western military aesthetic worked its way into many areas of Japanese life, most clearly in the education system. You can see the results of this epic militaristic push in Japanese school aesthetics to this day. Those cosplay-exhaulted sailor uniforms don’t come from any kind of kawaii, friendly starting point (which may go some way to explaining their popularity in the realm of fetishism in the first place). 

 

Before

 

After

 

And eventually

Images: Naval Surface Warriors https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

Elliot et Zach at https://www.flickr.com/photos/[email protected]/14900806

Richie S – https://www.flickr.com/photos/[email protected]/8698578345

Ditto schoolboy Uniforms. There’s still something a little Kim Jung Un about those black jackets.

 

Japanese school Jackets

 

Korean dictator jackets.

Image: Mullenkedheim from Tonami City, Toyama ,JAPAN

 This military aesthetic can be seen in the Randoseru backpack. Randoseru were born out of the influence of the Dutch, who were still moving and shaking on the world stage at the time, military culture on Japan in the late 1800s. Randoseru comes from the Dutch word Ransel, although the word has all but been forgotten in its native Holland.

Randoseru painting

 

Japanese people dug those Dutch Ransel bags

Soldiers wearing randoseru

 

Soldiers ranseling about back in the day.

Randoseru in a book

 

Yikes, taking a bayonet to the ransel and beyond

Randoseru really got their big break in Japan in 1885 when the prestigious school Gakushuin, that’s the school where all the big wigs like the emperial family and Yoko Ono and Miyazaki Hayao go, ‘seeing the advantages of hands-free walking, then decided it should be standard equipment.’

 

No photographic evidence exists of Yoko Ono donning her Gakushuin Randoeru

May S. Young [CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)]

Over time, Randoseru became the standard bag for Japanese elementary age children to use. Hey, if the aristocracy is carrying those boxy leather bags, then they must be good right? Red color was for girls, black for boys – which was the same for geta sandals back in the day. Fashion is all about co-ordination people.

Randoseru’s rise in popularity in the West

In recent years, Western Celebs have been getting in on some of the Randoseru action. Perhaps most famously, actor/musician/renaissance woman Zooey Deschanel has been known to don the Randoseru

 

Zooey Deschanel doesn’t mind a bit of randoseru

Youtubers, especially those with a kawaii  bent, are into them:

And they have certainly found their way into some of the deeper nooks and crannies of popular culture. Randoseru fetishisation anyone?

Can Adults Wear Kids Randoseru backpacks?

Adult trying on randoseru

 

Me trying on my son’s randoseru. Tight but possible.

Well, yes and no. 

There are certainly many glowing reports on review sites from adults that have bought Randoseru designed for children and love their bags. Generally, these people tend to be smaller women, under around 6’ tall. I’ve tried putting on my son’s kid-size randoseru with the straps put on the longest setting, and it was within the realm of possibility for me to wear, and I’m just over six foot (183cm) tall. It was tight though, especially with both straps on. If you look up the, now famous, shots of Zooey Deschanel wearing a randoseru, you’ll notice she has one strap off the shoulder. 

It is also worth considering that from the Japanese perspective, the randoseru is so associated with the elementary school child, that a teenager or adult wearing a randoseru is like seeing a grown adult walking around licking on a big curly rainbow lollypop. Which is to say, ahem, quite a statement.

That being said, fashion is often all about making a statement. So if that’s your bag (see what I did there?), why not?

It’s worth noting that there are several brands that are now explicitly making Randoseru, with certain modifications, designed for adults. So you don’t have to go all out kid-style if you are an adult with a randoseru fetish. Some people report using their randoseru as a makeshift laptop bag no less.

Things to know about how Randoseru backpacks are made

The main materials randoseru use are cow leather and artificial leather. Most of the mid to high end randoseru sold in Japan use proprietary man-made leather called Clarino. These bags generally start from several hundred dollars and up. In the budget range, around the 100 dollar mark, you’ll find most randoseru are made of polyurethane (PU) leather. 

Generally speaking, Clarino and PU are lighter weight and leather is heavier.

Randoseru Materials

■ Clarino

Average weight 1.2kg (2.6lb)

Pros:

  • Lightweight
  • Resistant to rain and dirt, and easy to care for. 
  • Cheaper, because of ease of mass production. 

Until recently, Clarino did not hold its shape or age well. With advances in technology, Clarino has come to have strength that is largely comparable to genuine leather. It is worth mentioning that there are grades of strength within Clarino, such as the ultra-strong “Tuff rock” type.

■ Cowhide Leather

Average weight 3.08lb (1.4kg)

Pros:

  • Durable, resistant to tears and fraying
  • The traditional, time tested and true option

Cons:

  • Not so resistant to water. This can be largely overcome by applying waterproofing to the leather, so is not such a great issue.

Within leather items, you will find particular high end grades including Cordovan. Cordovan is characterised by having a gloss sheen finish. Cordovan can have an up market look, but needs to be looked after because each scratch tends to be more noticeable.

■ Polyurethane

Average weight: 2.2lb (1kg) 

Pros:

  • Cheap
  • Waterproof

Cons:

  • Not as long lasting or durable as higher end materials

Randoseru Sizes

This is a big one to look out for. Of all the complaints that you see people making about their randoseru purchases, being surprised by the size of their bag and not being able to fit stuff in is the most common. This is true even in Japan, but it is especially noticeable in Western countries where folder and notebook sizes tend to be quite large.

It pays to take close note of a bags dimensions.

Traditionally, Japanese Randoseru tended to be quite small. As time has gone on, these sizes have increased. In the past, a depth of 11cm was standard, whereas a lot of bags are being made to 12 – 14 cm, and some are utilising elements of flexibility in the design to allow more to be put in. 

A key point on size is whether the backpack can properly hold A4 size files and books. To do this, the bag has to be a width of 23cm or greater.

Randoseru Comfort

The “shoulder belt” and “back cushion” affect how heavy the bag feels on the body. If the design and construction of these two parts are good, even a technically heavy school bag can feel light.

Avoid manufacturers who are cutting costs at the expense of carry comfort. When you actually add textbooks and other items, the weight goes straight to the shoulders, which can be quite a load. Don’t squash little Johnny! You’ll see a lot of the price difference in these features.

The most popular maker, Seiban, has the “Tenshi no hane” 天使の羽 , “Angel Wings” feature that they use as one of their main sales points. This basically means the shoulder straps have embedded in them a couple of wing-like pieces of resin. Seiban argue these increase comfort and ergonomics a lot. You’ll find all of the high end randoseru really push these kind of high end craftsmanship features. 

Randoseru Durability

 

Quality Randoseru makers pride themselves on their craftsmanship

PX Fuel Creative Commons Zero – CC0

The whole tradition of Randoseru making in Japan is based around the making of good quality, long lasting products. Products that are made of leather or high grade artificial leather such as Clarino will noticeably out last cheaper synthetic leather products such as polyurethane. 

To make bigger bags, makers have had to improve the inner supporting materials and designs considerably. The rule of thumb is that the less a maker has clearly spelled out how they have reinforced the bag on the inside, the less confident you can be that it’s going to hold it’s shape over time.

Biggest Randoseru Brands

So what are the big brands in Randoseru? Who are the “Nikes” and the Reeboks of Japanese backpack industry?

In the man-made leather world the big names are:

Seiban セイバン

Hashimoto 橋本

Kyowa. 協和

Fit-Chan

In genuine leather, they are:

Tsuchiya-Kutsu 土屋靴

Ikedaya 池田屋

Kutsu Kobo Yamamoto. 靴工房山本

Interestingly, some of the Adidas and Pumas of the market are, well, actually Adidas and Puma. Several big name Western companies are now randoseru makers including:

Adidas

Converse

Nike

REVIEWS: The Best Randoseru Japanese Backpacks

Randoseru are considered a long term investment in children’s educational future in Japan.The vast majority of  Randoseru  are designed for kids. This is not to say it’s impossible for an adult to use a bag designed for kids, but it’s best to be aware of what you are looking at. There is a large of prices, from around a $100 to over a thousand. The really good quality ones, that come with the six year, it’s-going-to-last-through-elementary-school guarantee, are generally over $500.

Most of the high-end items are only available from retailers in Japan, but the ones we have listed all ship overseas.

 

#1 Itoki Randoseru

Height Width Depth Weight
10” (25.5 cm) 12.6″ (32cm) 7.9” (20.6 cm) 2.65 lbs (1202g)

Pros

  • Classic craftsmanship
  • Clarino-F material
  • Super stylish
  • Cute embroidered motifs on front and sides
  • Antique-styled fittings
  • Floral patterned inside
  • Reflective materials on straps and top handle makes wearer more visible at night

Cons

  • Height of item is smaller than other bags

#2 Fit-Chan Ranoseru

Height Width Depth Weight
12.2” (31cm) 9.05” (23 cm) 4.72” (12cm) 2.6 lbs (1190g)

Pros

  • 2nd most popular randoseru for girls in Japan
  • Kawaii love heart, embroidered design, cute but simple
  • Clarino F materials with “Air Fresh” back
  • Fits A4 size documents
  • Comes with Rain Cover
  • 6 year warranty
  • Made In Japan
  • Relatively light weight
  •  

Cons

  • May be difficult to claim on warranty from Japan
  • No “Angel Wings” mechanism in straps
  • Possibly too cute for some

#3 Adidas Randoseru

Height Width Depth Weight
12.2 inches (31 cm) 9.3 inches (23.5 cm) 4.9 inches (12.5 cm) 2.5 lbs (1130g)

Pros

  • Clarino F materials
  • Flexible Man-made leather resistent to rain and staining
  • Cube shape that fits A4 size documents
  • Wing style attachment on shoulder straps makes back sit flush to back
  • 6 year warranty

Cons

  • International brand may not suitable for people looking for something that feels uniquely Japanese.
  • Only available in black with optional red and blue highlights

#4 Fuwari Randoseru

Height Width Depth  
12.0 inches (30.5 cm) 9.3 inches (23.5 cm) 4.7 inches (12 cm)  

Pros

  • Clarino F materials
  • Flexible Man-made leather resistent to rain and staining
  • Cube shape that fits A4 size documents
  • Wing style attachment on shoulder straps makes back sit flush to back
  • 6 year warranty

Cons

  • International brand may not suitable for people looking for something that feels uniquely Japanese.
  • Only available in black with optional red and blue highlights

#5 Dream Fly Randoseru

Height Width Depth Weight
13.8” (35 cm) 10.23” (26 cm) 7.87” (20cm) 2.65 lbs (1202g)

 

Pros

  • Greatest width of all bags featured – good for larger documents
  • 8 Colors to choose from
  • Reasonable price
  • Reflective strips for visibility at night
  • Rain Cover Included

Cons

  • PU leather
  • Not one of main reputable Japanese randoseru makers
  • No six year warranty

#6 Baobab's Wish Randoseru

Height Width Depth Weight
13” (33cm) 9.25” (23.5 cm) 6.7” (17cm) 2.83 lbs (1280g)

Pros

  • Relatively large dimensions compared to other randoseru
  • Reflective strips on front and sides
  • 5 color options
  • Reasonable price
  • Rain cover included

Cons

  • PU Leather not as durable as other materials
  • Not one of main reputable Japanese randoseru makers

#7 Chet Randoseru

Height Width Depth Weight
12.2” (31 cm) 9.05” (23 cm)  3.14” (8cm) ?

 

 

Pros

  • Simple, classy design
  • Genuine leather
  • Bespoke, truly unique item
  • Reasonable price
  • Highly positive product reviews online

Cons

  • Inspired by Japanese Randoseru, but may not please purists
  • Construction not as sophisticated as larger scale makers
  • Straps and clasps very simple without swivels or tech innovations
  • Budget
  •  

#8 Broadarrowjack Randoseru

Pros

If you’re after something different…a bespoke handmade bag from the UK

  • Totally one of a kind
  • 10 years warranty
  • Customisable text on bag
  • Unique buckles

Cons

  • Low tech
  • Not very adjustable to body
  • Dimensions not specified

Conclusion

If you have the money, the Fit-Chanor Itoki randoserus are the real Japanese deal and are hard to beat. They’re amongst the best selling bags in Japan, use good materials, have comfort built-in and six year warranties. If you want something branded by a big name outside Japan, the Adidas randoseru comes with all of the Made-In-Japan authenticity with a different logo on them.

If you are on a budget, the randoseru down our list are all still solid options at a lower price point

Whichever bag you go with, you’ll be holding an item that harks back to another time; when items were made to last, craftsmanship was the rule, and Holland was a world superpower!

 

 

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