Origin of the randsel backpack

Randsel is a Japanese style of backpack usually made of firm stitched Artificial leather.
Randsel backpacks are overwhelmingly popular in Japan,
where over 90% of elementary schoolchildren use them to carry their books to school.
But the use of a standard backpack design like the randsel is relatively uncommon among schoolchildren elsewhere in the world.
Backpacks are used in some European countries, but they lack the distinctive Japanese randsel design.
Randsel backpacks offer several advantages over other designs—they are durable enough to last for six years of elementary school use, have a water-resistant Artificial leather construction, and provide child-friendly design and functionality.

So how were randsel backpacks created, and how did they become popular in Japan?

The origin of the design can be
traced back to Dutch rucksacks

Cloth rucksacks were imported from Holland in the mid-19th century.
These rucksacks gradually became known as randsel in Japanese, a term borrowed from the Dutch ransel.

The origin of the design can be traced back to Dutch rucksacks

School policy change
inspiresew trend

Gakushuin was a school for the court nobility founded in Tokyo in 1877. In 1885, the school prohibited students from arriving or leaving by horse-drawn buggy, automobile or rickshaw.
Instead, students were told to travel on foot —what would eventually become today’s randsel backpack. This school policy change triggered the growth in popularity of randsel backpacks among Japanese schoolchildren.
The randsel backpacks of the time were initially still made of cloth. The modern square, firm leather design first appeared in 1887. It is said to have come from a custom-made backpack ordered by Prime Minister Ito Hirobumi as a gift to the future Emperor Taisho in honor of his start at the Gakushuin school. It became the prototype for today’s randsel backpacks. In recognition of its origin, the modern randsel design is sometimes referred to as the Gakushuin randsel in Japan.

School policy change inspiresew trend

Rise in popularity

Randsel backpacks began to grow in popularity in the cities as a handy way for elementary schoolchildren to carry their supplies to and from school. The new backpacks made it easier to carry heavy schoolbooks while leaving both hands free. But most children in rural areas still carried their supplies by the traditional Japanese method before and for a while after the war. School supplies would be wrapped in a large furoshiki cloth and carried by hand.
It wasn’t until around 1955 that randsel backpacks started to gain nationwide popularity among schoolchildren. Models made of Artificial leather started appearing alongside the traditional natural leather models, and colors and sizes started changing with the times and fashions. Various improvements were also made for safety and easier carrying. These various changes gradually shaped a rucksack design imported from Holland into today’s uniquely Japanese randsel backpack. This home-grown school bag design is now starting to gain worldwide popularity as a cultural export from Japan.

Rise in popularity