Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The mystery of the randoseru

With spring break rapidly approaching and the beginning of a new school year coming up in April, now seems as good a time as ever to talk about Japanese school supplies. Specifically, backpacks.

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.

Same story.

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.

3 comments:

Paul Walsh said...

It isn't (always) compulsory to use randoseru. When my son started at a public elementary school last spring he started off with a standard sports rucksack. He was the only kid in the class not to have a randoseru. He didn't get any hassle, but after a few weeks he asked if he could have one too. We checked online, and got one of those 60,000 yen jobs for about 10,000. So, if anyone has any kids starting elementary school in 2011, pick up a bargain ahead of time in May this year.

Anonymous said...

Japanese kids also carry back and forth a ludicrous amount of stuff every day, including all texts and notebooks necessary for the whole day, gym clothes from age 6 and up, the little bag with their cup, chopsticks, toothbrush, etc. for lunch. And the price you found is extremely high. In regular stores like Jusco, the highest end bags are about 30,000 while the regular ones are closer to 15 or 20,000. We got ours new from a recycle shop for 6,000. Considering that she'll use it for 6 years, that's roughly 10 bucks a year. We saw lots of them online, new, for around 8,000.

The first picture you posted was from the "Miki House" brand, which I can attest to, is one of the most inflated
brand names in Japan. I assure you the average Japanese family spends between 30-50 dollars per year for their kid's "randosel".

Anonymous said...

Japanese kids also carry back and forth a ludicrous amount of stuff every day, including all texts and notebooks necessary for the whole day, gym clothes from age 6 and up, the little bag with their cup, chopsticks, toothbrush, etc. for lunch. And the price you found is extremely high. In regular stores like Jusco, the highest end bags are about 30,000 while the regular ones are closer to 15 or 20,000. We got ours new from a recycle shop for 6,000. Considering that she'll use it for 6 years, that's roughly 10 bucks a year. We saw lots of them online, new, for around 8,000.

The first picture you posted was from the "Miki House" brand, which I can attest to, is one of the most inflated
brand names in Japan. I assure you the average Japanese family spends between 30-50 dollars per year for their kid's "randosel".