The Surprising Origins of Nintendo: From Playing Cards to Plumbers (Collaborative)

These days, the word Nintendo is synonymous with video games, consoles and innovation, but did you know the company started as far back as the 1800s? Here, we’re looking at the surprising origins of Nintendo, and how the company went from playing cards to plumbers over the course of almost a century.


Nintendo All Started With Playing Cards

It was in 1889 that a humble businessman named Fusajiro Yamauchi founded Nintendo, then known as Nintendo Koppai. According to a post by Today I Found Out, the company’s name is inspired by the Japanese name “Nintendou”, with “Nin” translating to “entrusted” and “ten-dou” meaning “heaven”, or together “leave luck to heaven”. Though this idea of luck may seem a little odd when applied to today’s Nintendo, it actually made a lot of sense back in the 19th century, as Yamauchi created the company to sell handmade, high-quality Hanafuda Cards.

Yamauchi had always loved playing card games and, as soon as he was able, he put all his time, money and effort into creating his own decks. Nintendo Hanafuda Cards achieved almost instant success, spreading through Japan and becoming incredibly popular. To this day, Nintendo continues to sell playing cards on their website, alongside a variety of other traditional Japanese games.

Fans of the company’s modern games are sure to remember the various card games that feature throughout their releases as well, many of which are clear nods to the businesses’ humble beginnings. In the Mario series alone, Mario’s Game Gallery (1995) had Go Fish, New Super Mario Bros (2006) featured Luigi as a croupier in all three of its casino-inspired mini-games and Mario Party DS (2007) had a mix-and-match card game that was played over a green, felt-effect background. Really, Nintendo’s origins and their decision to keep including cards in their releases may be one of the many reasons why the company has managed to stay relevant. As explained by online casino Betway, card games remain a huge part of modern popular culture. They appear in almost every form of media we have access to today and appear to transcend cultures, experiences and countries with ease.



Nintendo Was Saved By One Of Those Extendable Arm Toy Things

Nintendo Koppai continued to produce playing cards for many decades, with Yamauchi’s grandson Hiroshi producing plastic cards that garnered the company even more success. However, in 1956, Hiroshi travelled to the United States to meet with the country’s largest playing card manufacturers and was disheartened by just how small their office was. He began to contemplate the long-term possibilities of a playing card company in the modern era, ultimately deciding that it was time for a change.

This change came after Nintendo made a deal with Disney in 1959, which allowed the playing card company to print Disney characters onto their cards. This introduced Nintendo to an entirely new audience and enabled the company to sell over 600,000 in the first year of the prints alone. After this incredible success, the company decided to keep trying new ideas. These included a taxi company, a short-stay hotel chain (make of that what you will), an instant rice food manufacturer, Chiritorie vacuum cleaners and, finally, a toy company.

Of all their ventures, it was only their latter idea that actually went anywhere. To make matters worse, the playing card market had finally reached saturation levels and Japanese families were no longer investing in Nintendo’s cards, causing stocks to fall from 900 to 60 yen.

Fortunately, in 1965, Nintendo decided to hire a new maintenance engineer named Gunpei Yokoi and in 1970, Hiroshi saw the new engineer playing with an extending arm he’d constructed. This became the Ultra Hand and sold well over a million units that next Christmas, ensuring that Nintendo could stay afloat and allowed Yokoi to take a new position in product development. Due to his engineering background, Yokoi was able to create a vast range of electronic toys, making Nintendo one of the only companies at the time to release such gadgets.


The Rest Is History

Around this time, the higher-ups at Nintendo began gaining interest in video games and were quick to enter the market by securing the rights to the world’s first home console the Magnavox Odyssey. Soon after they began creating their own games, both for arcades and home consoles, the first of which was EVR Race (1975). It was soon followed by Donkey Kong, and the rest, as they say, is history.

If you’re interested in continuing the story, Lifewire details Nintendo’s rise to the top of the video game industry with the NES. The fact that the company had such humble beginnings is truly inspiring and shows that a little innovation can really go a long way. So maybe Nintendo could be innovative once more and create some more games for the Nintendo Switch – just saying!



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