NINTENDO: From the paper castle to a virtual empire

Surely there is nobody under the age of 40 to whom the word Nintendo doesn’t mean anything. It would be really difficult to find someone, in this age group, without a brain mechanism associating this well-known brand to the world of virtual entertainment, or, more simply, to videogames. Indeed, “the great N” is already part of our world popular culture, like Coca-Cola, Nike or Nestlé. Specially since the eighties, with the release, in 1983, of its legendary NES (Nintendo Entertainment System, known as Family Computer -Famicom- in Japan). There began the modern era of “video-games” as a mass cultural phenomenon. Yet, the beginning of all this virtual empire comes from much earlier: almost a century ago. In fact, the giant of Kyoto was built on a foundation made of paper and cardboard…

So this was the look of Nintendo’s headquarters in 1889…

Fusajiro Yamauchi founded Nintendo Koppai on September 23, 1889. A man of humble origins and entrepreneurial character, Yamauchi could never had imagined that he was taking the first step to create an international pioneer company, with millionaire profits and links all over the globe. Its beginnings were much lowlier, though we cannot say the company had much trouble starting… Nintendo made handcrafted hanafuda (‘flower cards’). They are a type of cards typical of Japan with colourful motifs and used in many games. As a matter of fact, Nintendo word can be translated as “Temple of free hanafuda. Indeed, Yamauchi’s cards were overwhelmingly successful thanks to two fundamental factors: first, product’s excellent quality, and, moreover, the practical monopoly situation the company enjoyed, since at that time the autarkic government in the island had banned the public use of the cards (except for those manufactured by Nintendo) due to being associated with gambling addiction, a very severe problem in this Asian country. However, the shadow of the yakuza did relate to the brand, since gossips might say it was precisely the great acceptance of this product among the Japanese mafia that relaunched its widespread success…

A classical ‘hanafuda’ display of cards

 

With such a demand, Yamauchi soon expanded his business with another store in Osaka, as well as creating new card games, in addition to being the first Japanese manufacturer of Western decks, which, at the beginning of the XX century, with the general opening of Japan, began to be introduced. In short, a meteoric career only put into halt by the death of the founder, already as a rich man, in 1940, just before the country entered the Second World War. Yamauchi was buried in the basement of Nintendo headquarters in Kyoto. A true mausoleum for someone who built a paper castle which, with the help of an Italian plumber (some guy called Mario…), would become a virtual empire. The rest is history.

Truth is Big N’s merchandising has evolved quite a bit…