AR 1

As dyed-in-the-wool Japanophiles, we’re always happy when something from Japan catches on overseas. Not too long ago, if you lived outside of Japan and liked your fish raw, or your music Japanese, you were part of a pretty small group. Now, though, it seems like every coastal city in the U.S. needs at least one good sushi restaurant in order to claim a respectable dining scene, and J-pop acts go abroad to play in front of adoring, passionate fans.

So when the writers at our Japanese-language sister site told us a new fashion trend with Japanese roots was winning over American fashionistas, including actress and musician Zooey Deschanel, we thought maybe we were about to get the inside line on the summer’s hottest look.

Then, we found out what she was wearing, and we got a chuckle instead.

While Deschanel’s boots have a decidedly western look, and her snappy trench coat would be perfectly at home on the streets of New York or London, the design of her bright red backpack is unmistakably Japanese.

It’s called a randoseru, which is a Japanese corruption of the Dutch word ransel, meaning simply “backpack.” While retailers sell more in black than any other color, bright red isn’t at all uncommon. You can also find randoseru in navy and sometimes even pink.

AR 2

While several different companies produce bags in this style, in Japanese randoseru are universally praised for their high quality, and people who own one say they can use it almost daily for years before it shows any significant wear and tear.

AR 6

Randoseru have been big sellers in Japan for decades, with the design hardly changing at all in that time. That’s not to say they’re considered retro, though. As a matter of fact, walking around Tokyo, we often see groups of 10, 20, or even 30 young people where every single person is sporting one.

So just how do randoseru makers convince so many shoppers to buy one? Easy: it’s part of the uniform for elementary school students.

▼ Hey, kid! Are you old enough to drive?

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For their six years at Japanese elementary school, Japanese students carry their books and papers in a randoseru. They’re sturdy enough that one bag will generally last the child until middle school, when literally everyone switches over to a less boxy shoulder bag. Prices for randoseru usually fall in the 30,000-50,000 yen (US $294-$490) range, with the understanding that doting grandparents are going to be the ones footing the bill.

In Deschanel’s defense, the star has built a name for herself on the back of her quirky, youthful, free-spirited aura. If we didn’t have decades of Japanese societal norms telling us that people who wear randoseru and people who drive cars are in two completely non-overlapping age groups, her fashion choice might not strike us as anything out of the ordinary. To be honest, she kind of makes it work, and it’s possible she knows exactly what she’s wearing.

Likewise, some of the other overseas adults who’ve turned up online rocking a randoseru are at least partly aware of the backpack’s cultural significance, and make it their carryall of choice due to its Japanese roots.

At the same time, there are some people who simply like the randoseru for being what they feel is a fashionable, durable bag.

While we totally agree on the second point, we’re still not entirely sold on the second, given that to us, a randoseru is a fashion accessory in the same way as having bus directions back home pinned to the front of your shirt is. To successfully pull off wearing an elementary school backpack, you need a certain amount of youthful innocence and naturally baby-faced features.

Still, we can’t argue with the fact that a randoseru is a unique and handy way to keep your stuff organized on the go, and we’re curious to see how far this trend will go. If it really takes off, we figure it’s only a matter of time until we can bust out our Wicket the Ewok and Strawberry Shortcake backpacks from kindergarten once again, too.

Top image: The Billy Files
Insert images: The Billy Files
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