Last week’s post was about Nara (なら/ 奈良), so this week I need to start with ら (ra). I had a couple of suggestions for topics this week, including ラムネ (ramune) – the popular summer soft drink - from Alyse. Kiki suggested らくご (rakugo) – Japanese storytelling, ランチ (ranchi) – lunch, and ランドセル (randoseru) – a Japanese school bag. I really liked that last idea, so I decided to write about…
This will be a short post, as there isn’t a huge amount to say about “randoseru”, but I think they are a pretty iconic part of Japanese life and that’s why I’ve decide to dedicate a whole post to them today. Randoseru (ランドセル) are a special kind of school bag which are used by Japanese elementary school kids.
Typically, you will see elementary school-aged kids trotting about with randoseru rather than any other kind of bag, at least to a certain age. Once kids hit high school, they tend to use a bag which looks like this instead:
In the UK, school kids usually use any bag or backpack they like, although sometimes they have to have a bag of a certain colour. In Japan, things are much more uniform. Randoseru are only used for school though, not for going to juku (cram school) or any other activities.
The word “randoseru” actually comes from the Dutch word “ransel” which means “backpack”. According to Wikipedia, there are a lot of Japanese words which come from Dutch words, which makes sense when you consider that there has been a Dutch presence in Japan since 1609.
According to Japan from A to Z: Mysteries of Everyday Life Explained by James M. Vardaman and Michiko Sasaki Vardaman, “Randoseru first appeared in 1885 when the students of Gakushuin, a school for the children of the aristocracy, began carrying them to school. They became popular among children of the upper class in Tokyo, then became popular nationwide after World War II.”
In February and March you will see displays of these randoseru in shops and department stores, because the Japanese school year starts in April. Generally, girls have red bags and boys have black ones, but other colours are available. In Japan, being like your friends is usually more popular than being individual, but recently it has become more acceptable to show a bit of an individual streak. Still, some kids might get teased if they have a bag which is not like their friend’s bag, so red and black remain the most popular colours.
For six year-olds starting elementary school in Japan, their first randoseru is really important and they wear it with pride. If only they knew how much they cost they would realise how much care they ought to take of them. The average price for a randoseru is over ￥30,000 (£230) – with some costing as much as ￥50,000 (£387). That might seem extortionate, but these bags are made of leather and are apparently very durable, so they should last throughout elementary school (six years).
These days, randoseru are sometimes worn as fashion items by older girls, and have even become known outside of Japan. They are sometimes used as fashion accessories for people who follow the Lolita fashion, as they are seen as very cute.
Along with the school uniform itself, I would say randoseru are one of the most iconic images of childhood in Japan.
Randoseru (ランドセル) ends with ル (ru), so next week I will be looking for a noun beginning with “ru”. If you have any suggestions, please leave them below! And, don’t forget, no words ending in ん! (^_^)v