Design your life to include more money, health and happiness with less stuff, space and energy.

Design your life to include more money, health and happiness with less stuff, space and energy.

Design Lessons From Japanese Schoolchildren

At the beginning of a Japanese child’s elementary education, he or she is typically given a backpack called a Randoseru. The backpack has firm sides and measures 30 cm high,  23 cm wide and 18 cm deep. It is made of leather or high quality synthetic material. The bag is not emblazoned with the latest cartoon characters. Girls’ are usually red, boys’ black.

The bags are given with the expectation that they last throughout the child’s six year elementary education. This is a good thing, because the bags start around $100 and can exceed $350. The bags actually last beyond the child’s schooling.

In America, few children are given $350 backpacks. Our design philosophy says that children will abuse their stuff and should be given something that can be cheaply replaced. For example, by the time this author was out of elementary school, I had blown through countless $20 nylon backpacks. Preservation was not a priority.

The question is does a child’s backpack abuse stem from her inability to take care of the bag or the lack of value she has for it?

The example of the Randoseru seems to point to the latter point. Japanese children take care of their bags and make them last, not because they are less active, but because they place a high value on them. What if we took a cue from Japanese schoolchildren and gave more value to the objects in our lives, rather than perpetuate a disposable culture?

Spending more up front might make sense economically as well. What if we were willing to spend $120 for one backpack that could be handed over to another child versus $120 for six that will end up in landfills?

And what if we applied this philosophy to everything in our lives? What if our lives were filled with high quality stuff we loved? Where most of our items were worthy of being handed down to the next generation?

What is the Randoseru in your life? Let us know in our comments section.

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  • Mason

    This is so true, just like how the library always buy’s hard cover books instead of soft cover one’s that will break after one or two rentals.

  • Michelle

    Great article! I have many randoseros, but one that comes to mind is shoes. The recession taught me the value of having great quality shoes that both last and are repairable by a cobbler. During the recession, I couldn’t have afforded a new pair of shoes – not even cheap ones, but I could afford $20 to re-heel my shoes.

  • Isn’t it randoseru, by the way? When I learned how to tell time, my dad gave me his childhood watch. He told me the importance of knowing what time it was, and being “on time” for important meetings. In his mind, “on time” was 5 minutes before the stated time. It’s still with me–even throughout my career. It was a good thing. I have the watch, too. It still works and my 4YO daughter is interested in it.

    • lifeedited

      it is randoseru indeed. corrected.
      the watch is a good suggestion, though i think the watch industry is in big trouble as most people use their phones for a clock. it’d be great to have a phone you could pass to your children, but not likely.

  • I do think we teach those in our home to value or not our possessions. I believe in quality goods that will last and I have passed this onto my children. I am cautious however not to have that “this is too good to use “attitude.

  • We not only use the randoseru for six years and keep its materialistic value but after finished six years of elementary school, some parents remake it into miniature version which is filled with all the memories from the six years with real scratches and signs of usage intentionally kept on it, and it also takes less space in storage. Ref: (sorry Japanese)
    Some even remake it into wallet or alike so it could be used as the child grows up. Just one of Japanese traditional recycling philosophy.

  • When I was going into first grade, my mother came home from shopping and surprised me with my first lunch box. It was Plaid. No Six Million Dollar Man. No Evel Knievel. Plaid. It was a well constructed metal lunch box, but I hated it. On my way to school, I would “accidentally” drop it, then “accidentally” kick it while trying to pick it up. I couldn’t actually bring myself to destroy it, but I really wanted to. My point is that I would have cherished that cheaper plastic Evel Knievel lunch box. My six-year-old has a small box filled with his “special stuff”, I don’t think I could use the word quality to describe any of it. I think value is relative. And I think experience teaches us what quality means. Children value the things they love. I doesn’t really matter how well made or well designed or durable they are.

  • In Germany this is also done and I also had a red leather “Schulranzen”. The downside. There was no lockers, so we had to carry ALL our books every day. 🙂

  • One extra background to add is that most grandparents buy their grandsons Randoseru as a gift. Some may even go buy it together. I’m not saying every kids, but kids treat things more respectfully when they are a gift from their closest people, or things they chose for themselves on their own.

  • chris peck

    Admirable sentiment but not every one has $120 up front for a kid’s school bag but might be able to scrape together twenty bucks. I was given similar advice about tools–buy the best available–but I found that by buying cheaper ones I could possible fill my toolkit. Also with things getting lost or stolen as well as ‘fair wear and tear’ economy isn’t necessarily a bad idea. Also who knows how much cultural conformity has to do with their decision in this issue.

  • Ginger Peabody

    This reminds me of a book written by Paul Hawken called The Next Economy. He predicted (in 1983) that we would move toward owning and using things of high quality that could be repaired and used for several lifetimes. The gardening tools sold by Smith & Hawken then were of this sort. English Bulldog spading forks, Felco pruners — they last forever, which unfortunately his company did not, and I miss it (the original one). I still hold out hope that his prediction was not wrong, just premature.

  • Lola

    The closest I can think of to an American version of the randoseru is the LLBean nylon book bag. Many of my classmates in high school had theirs that were purchased in elementary school. Not quite as unique as a leather book bag, but long lasting and practical.

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