You may have heard of the leather, boxy school bag that Japanese elementary school kids use. Called randoseru in Japanese, these bags are expensive–sometimes exorbitantly so–but usually made of quality leather to last the whole six years of elementary school. Once students graduate to junior high school, however, they turn in their bulky randoseru for a smaller shoulder bag or backpack.
But for many students and parents, those randoseru hold a lot of memories, and if the leather is still in good condition, it seems a shame to just toss it or shove it away in a closet to be forgotten. That’s why Askal Bag Company, based in Ichinomiya City in Aichi Prefecture, offers a randoseru upcycling service.
The company started in 2010 as a small leatherworking business that specialized in Italian leather and incorporated in 2014. It was three years later when the inspiration to reuse randoseru came, when the daughter of Askal’s President, Daisuke Ohashi, graduated from elementary school to junior high school. She’d learned a friend of hers had turned her randoseru into a mini-bag, so she told her father, “I wish there was a way I could have turned my randoseru into something too.” At the time, they’d already disposed of her randoseru, but Ohashi decided to make her a leather pass case and barette from leather scraps instead. Seeing how happy they made her, Ohashi realized there’s a market for repurposing old randoseru, and so he launched the “Randoseru Remake” service.
The service was immediately popular and steadily gained more and more customers as the years passed. In its first year in 2017, they upcycled 800 bags, but by 2021 that number had jumped as high as 14,000. Business grew exponentially in 2020 because of the coronavirus pandemic, when a lot of sixth graders were suddenly faced with their last days with their randoseru because of school closures. Parents, feeling bad for their children, looked for a service to commemorate their graduation and the bag that saw them through so many years, and word spread like wildfire about Askal.
▼ Pass cases and coin cases made from randoseru
To reuse the randoseru, Askal takes parts of it, like the straps, sides, and belts, and turns them into useful leather accessories of all kinds, including wallets, pass cases, and keychains. The bags are first carefully taken apart using utility scissors that can easily cut through leather, and then the leather of the randoseru is meticulously revived before being repurposed. Depending on how each part is used, the material is thinned, the fuzzy parts burned away, or the pieces are carefully painted by hand.
Even the smallest parts of the randoseru are used, like the embossing on the flap of the backpack or the zipper of the inside pocket, which can both be incorporated into the wallet. Customers have a choice of what items they can receive as well. The basic plan, for example, costs 7,800 yen and provides six different items: a key case, a pass case, three barettes, an elliptical keychain, a cord holder, and a belt strap keychain. The 14,500-yen plan includes wallets and other larger accessories.
Askal even offers the option to preserve scratches and damage to the leather, if you so desire, and for a separate fee, you can also have a name or a message engraved, too. They also have a priest from Ichinomiya’s Owari Sarutahiko Shrine purify the leftover pieces and express gratitude for them, so each child’s randoseru and the memories contained in its weathered grains are given all the respect they deserve.
The service is available online through Yahoo! Shopping and Rakuten, so it’s easy to repurpose your child’s beloved randoseru. Whether they’ve been using a plain bag or something really unique, it’s sure to be full of memories, so consider keeping it in a form they can still use!
Images: Rakuten/Askal’s Bag Company
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