‘Randoseru’ Recycling – New Life for Used School Backpacks

It’s Randoseru Week here on the Gordenker blog, with posts to link up with my March 20 column in the Japan Times. In that article I report on the origin and history of randoseru, ランドセル the sturdy box-like backpack used by every primary-schoolchild in Japan. Today’s topic: “What the Heck Do You Do With an Old Randoseru?”

As the mother of two children who attended Japanese elementary school, I feel qualified to tell you that a randoseru is likely to be boroboro ボロボロ (beat up) by the time a child graduates. Even on the off chance that a randoseru survived six years of daily use in reasonable condition, there would be no sense trying to hand it down. No one would want it because getting a pika pika ピカピカ (brand spanking new) randoseru is a life event, part of the whole experience of growing up and entering school.

At the same time people find it very hard to throw out a used randoseru. It holds so many memories! So retired randoseru tend to end up in the back of closets, up on shelves or out in the shed, as in this photo below:

There are alternatives, however. Some people shell out ¥10,000 or more to have a skilled leather worker resize their child’s old randoseru into a little palm-sized bag, as shown in the photo below. I have no idea if anyone ever manages to use the resized bags for anything, but at least they don’t take up so much room in homes where space is at a premium.

A better alternative, in my opinion, is to donate it to program that will ship your used randoseru to a developing country for a new life with a child who can’t afford to buy anything as luxurious as a school bag. A program called “Randoseru wa umi o koete” 「ランドセルは海を越えて」 (Randoseru Crossing the Ocean) will inspect the bag, repair it if necessary and ship it to Afganistan! (If the bag happens to be made of pigs hide, it will go to Mongolia instead, where there is no religious prohibition against pig products.) To date, more than 80,000 randoseru have found new homes through the program, as you can see in the photos below:

This year’s collection period is closing soon, but if you hurry, you can still apply here (Japanese only.) If you miss the deadline, which I can’t tell you because it’s not posted (they stop accepting when they reach the maximum number they can ship) — stick that old randoseru in the back of the closet, up on a shelf or out in the shed and apply next year.

Or, if you live near a public elementary school that gets foreign students coming in an out, you can do what I did: donate your used randoseru to the school. The school my kids attended keeps a closet full of used randoseru and other school equipment to loan to foreign students who want to use them. For a child planning to attend for a short time, or who comes in at an upper grade when all the kids have beat-up randoseru — a used randoseru may be just fine.

Whatever you do, don’t throw that precious randoseru out!

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2 Responses to ‘Randoseru’ Recycling – New Life for Used School Backpacks

  1. Nelly says:

    I love your blog. This post was really interesting, now I want a ランドセル of my own. I wonder if you can find them in flea markets.

  2. gaijinwife says:

    Thank you for this post. I am just about to embark on choosing a randoseru for my eldest, who starts Japanese primary school this April. I will have to bookmark this post so I can send used randoseru to Afghanistan. What a great thing.

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