125 years ago this week, Nintendo was founded.
Nintendo started as a playing card company, existing in a grey area during a transitional period of Japanese history. The company was founded in 1889, just a couple decades after the end of the shogunate period and before the country began its race toward modernization in the early 1900s.
The company first produced cards for a game called Hanafuda under the name Nintendo Playing Card Company. Many American gamers will know the game of hanafuda as one of the minigames in the Yakuza series of games, and indeed, it was often played by the gamblers and street vendors that preceded the modern yakuza. The word ‘yakuza’ is even derived from a particular losing hand one can draw playing hanafuda. Playing cards went in and out of legality a few times during Nintendo’s first years, causing them to have to rearrange its strategies.
Hiroshi Yamauchi, who passed away almost exactly a year ago, grandson of founder Fusajiro Yamauchi, took over in the 1950s after the war and started to make Nintendo what it is today, broadening out from playing cards. He was responsible for some of the first officially licensed merchandise – Disney-themed playing cards. Nintendo experimented in all kinds of businesses – taxis, hotels, and food – before moving into toys. The company’s first toy was developed by Gunpei Yokoi, who would go on to play a substantial role in the company’s first video games and even the Game Boy.
For most of us, of course, Nintendo’s history didn’t start until the early 80s when the company single handedly jump-started the video game industry with the Nintendo Entertainment System and that tiny drugged-out plumber we call Mario.
The company’s history is a bit better documented since then, with books like Console Wars, Nintendo Magic, and The History of Nintendo detailing the company’s first steps into video gaming in great detail.
It’s hard to believe the grand-daddy of modern gaming started out making playing cards for gangsters.
Happy 125th birthday, Nintendo!
So, in celebration of the company’s anniversary, what’s your favorite Nintendo memory – whether it’s the first time you played Super Mario or the last time you won a Super Smash tournament?
And yes, we totally looked up ‘quasquicentennial.’