The standard of plain backpacks, red for girls and black for boys, is starting to evolve.

The sight of schoolchildren toddling off to school like a gaggle of tiny, chubby ducklings is a common one all over Japan, and if you couldn’t tell where they were headed from their identical uniforms and caps then the backpacks are a perfect giveaway. The iconic randoseru bags (derived from the Dutch ranzel, or satchel) are toted to school and back for the full six years of elementary education, and are typically red for girls and black for boys. In fact, some think that deviating from the standard design or colors can make a child easy pickings for bullies.

▼ A little kid frolics with her red randoseru satchel.

But is that still true? There have been stirrings that a great randoseru reckoning is underway. In fact, for the first time ever, an annual survey by the Japan Bag Association’s Randoseru Industry Committee found that more girls chose purple or lavender satchels than red this year. “Many princesses in animated movies use purple in their color schemes,” explained a representative, “leading to an increased popularity for purple randoseru bags.”

This margin is very small, though. Purple may have secured a 21.5 percent majority out of the 1,500 participants surveyed, but red was close behind with 21.1 percent. Pink was girls’ third most popular pick, with 19.3 percent, and then came a more drastic drop with only 11.4 percent of those surveyed opting for light blue satchels. The top five were rounded out with pale brown at 9 percent.

Boys, meanwhile, stayed traditional: 61.2 percent chose the typical black randoseru, and second place was navy with 16.9 percent…which is pretty close to black, really. True blue took third place with 10.6 percent, green was fourth with 3.7 percent, and a “burnt tea” brown trailed behind in fifth with 1.6 percent.

▼ Satchels are sold in an array of unusual pastel colors, and it seems like a growing number of kids are actually using them.

People are forking over more cash when purchasing randoseru these days as well. The survey indicated that in 2021 the average amount of money spent on randoseru purchases was 55,339 yen (US$496), an increase of 1,739 yen over last year’s average, which was the previous record. There are many reasons for the increase, including the raw materials for the bags becoming more expensive, and an increasing personal budget per child due to the declining birthrate.

Randoseru backpacks have typically been conservative in design, with their aim being to blend in with all the other bags. Some students now seem eager to express their identities through patterned or customized bags, though, and even plain-colored satchels for boys have seen an uptick in embroidery, logos, and emblems. Though some parents worry that they’ll get embarrassed by their bag as they grow older, others are eager to indulge their children’s tastes and encourage their individuality.

There are even initiatives to break the persistent stereotypes of gendered randoseru, with one company called Tsuchiya Bag Factory offering a range of colors and deliberately using models of different genders wearing atypical colors for advertising.

▼ This promotional postcard from Tsuchiya depicts two boys wearing light blue satchels.

Some prefectures are also tackling the issue of pricey school bags by creating initiatives to re-use old randoseru or provide standard bags to all students. With the randoseru backpack being such a venerated item, symbolizing a young child’s first step into Japanese society, it’s great to see governments stepping up to make sure no child is left without their six-year satchel. And don’t worry—even these government-provided satchels come in fun colors.

If looking at all of these cute bags has made you feel as wistful and longing as Zooey Deschanel was back in 2014, rest assured that many bag-makers can and do produce adult-sized randoseru satchels.

Source: NHK News
Top image: Pakutaso
Insert image: Pakutaso

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