School backpacks the latest hot souvenir with tourists to Japan

OSAKA, Japan - Many foreign tourists are emulating Japanese schoolchildren these days, snapping up traditional randoseru backpacks as a souvenir of their visit.

Used by primary school students in this country, randoseru are well liked for children overseas due to their practical, durable construction from stiff leather or synthetic leather. The increasing variety of colors available has also attracted fashion-conscious adult women.

At the Yorozu duty-free shop at Kansai Airport recently, foreign tourists picked up randoseru in colors such as pink and light blue to examine them more closely. "It's easy to carry on the back, and its design is good, too. It'll be a good souvenir for my 7-year-old grandchild," said Qi Guiying, 60, from Suzhou, China, who ended up buying two bags.

Items such as electric rice cookers are more conventional souvenirs at duty-free shops, but as the number of international travelers carrying the bags has increased at the airport, Yorozu put older models on sale for ¥12,000 (S$139.50) in late June. More than 120 bags have sold each month since then - an unexpected hit, according to the shop employee in charge of the product.

A new outlet that opened this month carries bags priced from ¥50,000 to ¥60,000.

Many foreigners also visit the randoseru shop that opened in May in Tokyo's Harajuku area. The shop is directly managed by Seiban, a long-established manufacturer of such bags in Tatsuno, Hyogo Prefecture.

"We'll take steps as soon as possible to better serve these customers, such as deploying more employees who can speak foreign languages," said a public relations employee at the company.

At Daimaru department store's Shinsaibashi branch in Osaka, most of the customers who buy duty-free randoseru are tourists from China and Taiwan.