All elementary school children in Japan carry the same style backpack, called a randoseru. The randoseru are sturdy bags made of leather or a similar kind of synthetic material. They look like this:
This kind of backpack has caught the interest of my sister-in-law, who is an elementary school teacher in Indiana. She's been collecting various Japanese objects to use in her classroom to teach her students a little about Japan, and she was interested in getting her hands on one of these. So last Christmas I made a point to stop and look at them when I was in the Sogo Department Store downtown.
...and received perhaps the biggest sticker shock of my life:
That's right, the above bag is 60,900 yen. Using a conversion rate of 90.6 yen to the dollar, that makes this bag ... $672. $672 for a backpack? What, is it diamond studded? Lined with mink fur? Does the bag perform sexual favors? What on earth?
After rationalizing that I must be looking at a luxury brand name bag for rich kids (who can afford bags that perform sexual favors), I went to look at other racks of randoseru in the store.
These? 45,150 yen ($498).
Oo! How 'bout this pink one?
Oh, only 39,900 yen ($440). Maybe that's the fake leather.
I checked other department stores and found similar prices there as well. I guess I don't have to tell you that my sister-in-law didn't get a Japanese backpack for Christmas.
To be fair, elementary school children are given their randoseru in first grade and use the same bag all six years of elementary school, so they are durable bags. And when you figure that a lot of American school kids end up buying a number of backpacks over the course of elementary school, that adds up too. But, the Japanese families are still clearly spending much more.
It's beyond me how these bags can cost so much. Yes, a fine leather bag wouldn't be cheap, but $600? Really? Why are these bags so significant? Why are Japanese parents willing to pay such ludicrous prices? Why does a little kid need such an expensive bag? Seems to me people are getting fleeced by some big corporate executives who are undoubtedly laughing all the way to the bank. It's just one of many aspects of Japanese culture I have yet to understand.