Randoseru Schoolbags and the Met’s History of Kimono

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wafuku – noun: traditional Japanese clothing

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The Metropolitan Museum of Art (USA) had an exhibition called, “Kimono – A Modern History”.
It ended on 19 January 2015 but you can read about it on their website HERE.

On that page there is a long and very interesting video, full of information about kimonos and their influence on the West. As I said, though, it is long, 1 hour and 22 minutes long, so get comfy and soak it all in. It is worth the time.

The video is full of examples of how Japanese kimono influenced western fashions, such as this coat by Worth in 1890, with its slightly westernised version of Japanese textile art.


And it mentions these clothes made from kimono textiles, from 1875 and 1880 (images from the Met’s video)

met kimono dress

There is lots more information about kimonos and their influence on the West in the video HERE.


The latter half of that video shows how the obi is tied on some different formal types of kimonos (houmongi, furisode and shiromuku – white bridal kimono). The picture below is a screenshot from the video. The camera work doesn’t show the process as clearly as one would hope but you get an idea of how to tie this style of obi.


The finished fukurizume musubi (puffed sparrow knot).

fukurizume met

She also shows one like a huge flower, a more standard square, taiko knot and a bride’s bunko style knot and accessories.

She explains why the standard obi knot is called a taiko knot (otaiko). As I mentioned a long time back in a post here, most people, including the Japanese, say it is so called because it looks like a taiko (a Japanese drum) but that has always infuriated me because it is not the reason at all. It was named after the Taiko Bridge where, at its opening ceremony, some geisha tied their obis in this brand new, never before seen style and, as was usual with anything geisha wore, it immediately became the fashion among all women, so the knot is named Taiko after the bridge, and it has remained the most popular obi knot ever since. It is really more folded than tied but we still call it a knot, the Japanese call it a musubi, so it is a taiko musubi.

The screenshot below shows the examples in that Metropolitan Museum’s video.



There is also an interesting  Metropolitan Museum of Art blog post called, “Waves, Waterfalls, and Whirling Water on Japanese Kimono”, HERE

The New York Times had an article about the Met’s kimono history exhibition, which you can see HERE

The bottom of that article has a link to a previous article they did on Kimonos, in mid 2014, mostly about Western, contemporary takes on the kimono but it also featured a photograph of Rita Ora wearing a kimono from my own website, wafuku.co.uk, taken in 2014. It is the black and white image in The New York Times’ trio photo below, where Rita Ora is wearing a vintage, pure silk, Japanese kimono; it’s a furisode style kimono, with those wonderful, almost ankle deep sleeves.

It was quite a surprise to just chance upon one of my kimonos on The New York Times’ website and find that it had also been shown in the July 3, 2014, Fashion & Style section of the The New York Times print newspaper, with the headline, “For Spirits That Can Only Be Tied Down by a Sash”.


Randoseru Schoolbag
I weakened and bought myself a traditional, Japanese schoolbag backpack, known as a randoseru. Mine isn’t real leather because leather ones cost a fortune. The one I really want costs around £300, plus delivery and import tax, so this one, which was by no means cheap, will have to suffice. Randoseru have this very specific shape and are generally well made, long lasting bags. I like backpacks as my ‘handbags’, with the choice of carrying in my hand, over my shoulder or, for any long time, on my back. I haven’t seen it up close yet, it is still winging its way here from Japan.

Red is the traditional colour for girls randoseru and black for boys. Nowadays a big variety of colours and two-tones are available, though many of the more conservative Japanese schools dictate the colour to be used.

This is mine…


I found some information about Randoseru on Wikipedia

The use of the “randoseru” began in the Edo era. Along with a wave of western reforms in the Japanese military, the Netherlands-style rucksack called “ransel” (Japanese: ランドセル randoseru) was introduced as a new way for the foot soldiers to carry their baggage. The shape much resembled the “randoseru” bags used today. In 1885, the Japanese government, through the elementary school Gakushūin, proposed the use of a backpack as the new ideal for Japanese elementary school students. At Gakushūin, the practice of coming to school by cars and rickshaws were banned, promoting the idea that the students should carry their own equipment and come to school by their own feet. At this time, the bag looked more like normal rucksack. This changed, however, in 1887. The crown prince of the time was given a backpack upon entering elementary school (at Gakushūin). To honour the soldiers of the country, the shape of the backpack resembled the backpacks used in the military, in other words a “randoseru”. This quite immediately became the fashion, and the shape have continued to become the “randoseru” used today. However, at this time most of the Japanese people could not afford such an expensive bag. Until the dramatic rise of economy in Japan in the past-WWII period, the main school bag in Japan was simple shoulder bags and furoshiki (square folding cloths).

It is a popular saying that the metal clip on the side of the “randoseru” was used in the military to carry grenades. However, this is not true. The metal clip was introduced in the past-WWII period, as a means to carry lunch boxes, change of clothes for P.E., etc.


Most randoseru production is carried out by hand. A randoseru is constructed of a single-piece body and around 200 fittings, a combination of die-cut materials and urethane backing plates. Assembly involves crimping, machine-sewing, walnut-gluing, drilling each shoulder strap, and riveting. The bag’s materials and workmanship are designed to allow the backpack to endure the child’s entire elementary education (six years). However, the care usually given to the randoseru throughout that time and afterwards can extend its life and preserve it in near-immaculate condition long after the child has reached adulthood, a testament to its utility and the sentiment attached to it by many Japanese as symbolic of their relatively carefree childhood years.

A typical randoseru measures roughly 30 cm high by 23 cm wide by 18 cm deep, and features a softer grade of leather or other material on those surfaces which touch the body. When empty, it weighs approximately 1.2 kilograms (2.6 pounds). However, due to demand for a lighter, more robust randoseru, as of 2004 approximately 70% are made from the synthetic leather Clarino. Also, in response to Japan’s revised curriculum guidelines from the fiscal year 2011, there is a growing demand for bags large enough to hold A4 standard paper files without bending. Manufacturers are divided as to whether to support an increased bag size or not.

The randoseru’s durability and significance is reflected in its cost.

This site sells the ones I like best. I would love to own one of those, possibly the pink or a lime green one. They make them to order, out of high quality leather.

randoseru best

And their two tone Randoseru are gorgeous.




You can also check out my www.wafuku.co.uk website, providing vintage & antique Japanese kimonos & collectables.



One of my kimonos being modelled by the singer Rita Ora



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