Elementary school in Japan: part one: mochimono (things to bring)

My son Aiden started elementary school this April. He goes to a local public school, the same school that his daddy, uncles and aunt went to, and currently 3 of his cousins attend too!
In Japan, kids start elementary school in April, (when they are 6 years old on April 1st of that year). Aiden turned 7 the day elementary school began, so he is the oldest in his class.
The first month of school is very busy for parents and caregivers but not so much for kids! For those kids who have previously attended Japanese kindergarten (youchien) or daycare (hoikuen), the very short days and easy pace are a bit of a surprise. For the first couple of weeks, first graders walk to school (with older friends, siblings, neighborhood kids, or sometimes parents) spend a few hours at school, and then walk home. These first few weeks are about learning the routine and getting to know their classmates, the classroom environment and their new school.

Kids come home with bags full of newsletters, questionnaires and forms of every kind which need filling out and returning promptly. This can be a bit of a shock for parents, who are also busy with the intense task of naming/labeling every item on the mochimono (things to bring) list.
Although every school’s list will differ, here are some of this things that we have to send to school with Aiden.

First and foremost... the randosel!

A ransdosel (ランドセル) is a firm leather backpack with stitched edges. It is very strong and sturdy (and heavy) and is designed to last the 6 years of elementary school. These days you can buy them in many places (including online, in department stores and even furniture shops), but there are a few brands which are well known and trusted to be very well crafted. A randosel will cost you anywhere from about 30,000yen to 100,000yen and many people believe you get what you pay for. The traditional colors and designs are most popular but recently sparkly, colorful and even brand/character stamped designs are appearing. Aiden chose his navy blue randosel from https://www.tsuchiya-randoseru.jp/ . It was pricey but extremely beautiful and well-made. It came with a rain cover, leather name-tag strap and some other accessories too.

The small hook on the side is to hang a little bag/pouch (typically the one with the toothbrush and cup inside), and the hook on the shoulder strap is to hang a “safety buzzer”. If the child is in danger he/she call pull the buzzer and a loud (high pitched) alarm will sound. Aiden chose this cute Pokeball buzzer.

Inside the flap of the randosel is a clear file space to put the weekly school timetable (じかんわり - jikan wari). The kids can look at this to see what textbooks they need to bring each day (the randosel is heavy, so you don’t want them to be carrying unnecessary items!)

Other things he brings to school...

A drink bottle to be filled with water or Japanese tea. It has a case with a strap (and is a little heavy, so I bought this shoulder strap pad).

A kyushoku set (white bag containing an apron and hat) to wear when carrying and serving school lunch. It will come home every Friday for washing and ironing!

Gym clothes (taiso fuku) include a shirt, shorts and hat. They will also come home on Friday for washing and need their own bag. I also had to hand stitch a large name label (with our family name only) to the front of the t-shirt.

Uwabaki (indoor shoes) will need their own bag, as will taikukan shoes (indoor gym shoes).

We bought the kyushoku set, gym clothes, uwabaki and taikukan shoes from a small shop near the school. Prices are reasonable and it is conveniently located in case we need to replace items!

The bags to keep the clothes and shoes may be bought or hand-made (note: some schools require them to be handmade to specific sizes), and I was lucky enough to have a friend help me out with sewing some of the bags!! Other bags I bought here.

These three bags (kyushoku set, uwabaki and taiso fuku) will go to school on Mondays and come home on Fridays (for washing).

Our school provided this bag to transport large items (like the clothing bags above) to and from school. 

A name (ID) badge and safety badge will be worn every day by first-graders. Aiden’s ID badge is reversible and needs to be turned around when he walks to/from school so that passers-by cannot read the child’s name. The badges should be pinned to the t-shirt each morning. To avoid poking holes in Aiden’s clothes I bought these handy button clips. I’ll put the amazon link here.

A small clip-on pocket will hold the tissues and small towel needed each day.

And another small bag will hold a lunch mat, mask (worn while serving school lunch), toothbrush and cup. This small bag can be clipped to the side of the randosel.

Other things you might need as the year progresses include art set, math set, textbooks, notebooks, pencils and erasers, colored pencils and crayons, a pianica/keyboard harmonica, swimwear etc.

Each item needs to be named with stickers, stamps or marker and in line with any size/color restrictions your school might have (for example our school does not allow pencil cases with character designs, but the bags for clothing etc may be any color/size).

I have used (and like) the ink stamps from here (https://www.namey.jp/sp/) and stickers from a wide variety of online shops. Recently I discovered an app for designing stickers and printing them out at machines located in certain shopping malls / Tokyu Hands etc. check it out (https://mamanon.com/) if you’re interested!

A screenshot from the app...

We are already into the third month of school and things have started to get into a routine. He has homework every day which I will write about in another post.

I’ll add in some of the Japanese keywords here...

ランドセル - randosel = leather backpack
ブザー - buzaa = alarm/buzzer to hang from the randosel
上ばき - uwabaki = white indoor shoes
上ばき入れ - uwabaki ire = bag for indoor shoes
給食セット - kyushoku setto = apron and hat (worn when serving school lunch) in a bag
体操服 - taiso fuku = gym clothes 
体操服入れ - taiso fuku ire = bag for gym clothes
歯ブラシ - haburashi = tooth brush
コップ - koppu = plastic cup
名札 - nafuda = nametag / ID
水筒 - suito = bottle for water/tea (usually stainless steel or strong plastic)
名前シール - namae shi-ru = name sticker

If there’s anything I’ve forgotten, let me know and I’ll add it in.

Happy school days,

Fran xx


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