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Are There Specific Colors for Boys and Girls?

Updated: Oct 5

July 2, 2022

Shinju Ichikawa



When you were in elementary school, did you remember what color your school bag was? Most Japanese people would probably answer “yes” to this question. This is because most Japanese kids use Randoseru as their schoolbags in elementary school. And the choice of color has mattered a lot to kids, parents, and even people pursuing gender equality.


Randoseru is like a satchel bag, a box-shaped bag generally made of leather and carried on the back like a backpack. It is widely used as a school bag for elementary school students, and for a long time, most boys had black ones and most girls had red ones. There are many stereotyping issues between the color and gender around the world, such as “#colorhasnogender” commenced in Taiwan, and “Pink Shirt Day” (Anti-Bullying Day) originated in Canada, and one of the issues showing this issue in Japan is Randoseru.



History of Randoseru and the Origin of Their Colors


Randoseru, now widely used, was born 135 years ago. The prototype of today's Randoseru, the box-shaped school bag, was a gift for Emperor Taisho’s enrollment in imperial boy’s school presented by Hirobumi Ito, then Prime Minister of Japan. Later, in 1890, the school that Emperor Taisho attended decided the black leather as the material for school bags. After that, as Randoseru were spread to ordinary homes, it became common for boys to have black ones and for girls to have red ones. It is said that the reason why only two colors, black and red, were used for school bags was because these two colors, among others, were relatively easy to dye the natural leather. Even though the development of artificial leather was subsequently promoted, for a long time, Randoseru in colors other than black and red did not appear.



Arrival of Multicolored Randoseru


However, about 20 years ago, the colorful Randoseru was introduced. A company launched 24 different color series, for the first time in the industry. This marked the beginning of colorful Randoseru in colors other than red and black. Today, many color variations of Randoseru on the market have gained a foothold.


For girls, in particular, the change is particularly apparent: purple is the most common color, and red, once the most common color, is now in the third choice (see Chart 1: Colors of Randoseru by Gender 2022). It is also changing in the mindsets of the parents’ generation, who once had no color choices. According to one survey conducted in 2021, more than 80% of parents think that gender stereotypes should be eliminated in the choice of Randoseru colors.



Is Common Sense the Collection of Prejudices?


Having said that, it is still rare for boys to have warm-colored Randoseru and girls to have cold-colored ones without light blue (see Chart 1). Why would this be the case? Perhaps, it might be due to stereotypes that we unconsciously harbor.


For example, suppose there were two cards---one with a picture of a car and the other with a picture of a flower-- and then a boy and girl came and said “Here is mine!.” Now which card do you think a boy or a girl would pick up?


Famous physicist Albert Einstein said, “Common sense is the collection of prejudices acquired by age eighteen.” People develop their common sense through their daily lives and experiences they have had over time. Parents, who have been surrounded by “typical” colors, things, and objects by gender from their childhood, may unconsciously lead their kids to choose the Randoseru colors based on their stereotyped images.



Chart 1: Colors of Randoseru Purchased by Gender (2022)

Source: 一般社団法人 日本鞄協会 ランドセル工業会 [https://www.randoseru.gr.jp/graph/]



Colorful Is Wonderful!


These days, in consideration of gender equality and LGBTQ issues, there is a growing trend not to force people to follow the “typical” image of their gender. For example, “cool” is no longer a compliment only for boys and “cute” is not only for girls, and in some schools, students are free to choose the pants or skirts for their school uniforms.


Also, there are many color types of Randoseru, which are comfortable for both boys and girls to wear. Time has come that children are to choose colorful Randoseru more freely without worrying about gender.



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