A trend a century and a half in the making.

April is the beginning of the school year in Japan, and it’s a time when many young students strap on their boxy leather (or often simulated leather) randoseru backpacks for the first time. Even without living in Japan, you may have seen these sturdy but expensive carriers in anime, film, or one of our many articles about them.

But why does Japan of all countries use these distinctly old-fashioned western designs?

It all started around the end of the Edo era in the middle of the 19th century. After Japan was opened up to trade with other countries, western culture and fashions became a craze.

▼ Suit jackets and samurai swords weren’t exactly made for each other, but these guys made it work.

Wikipedia/Illustrated London News

This was true for military technology at the time as well, and the concept of using backpacks to free up soldiers hands was adopted. Early on they were given the Japanese name of “haino” but in keeping with the western wave of influence, the Dutch word “ransel” was also adopted into Japanese as “ranseru” or “ranuseru.”

It’s a bit of a mystery how a “do” was added to the middle of the word. One theory is that the Dutch “ransel” was conflated with the German “landser” which refers “foot soldier.” Logically it makes a lot of sense, but according to German dictionaries “landser” gained prominence during WWII. Its origins could be traced back to the late 19th century, but that would mean it was a brand new term even in German when it first appeared in Japanese.

▼ These Japanese soldiers in the 1890s probably weren’t concerned with Dutch and German linguistics …continue reading