By: Scott RossPublished: September 23, 2022

Fusajiro Yamauchi

Among the things sixteenth-century Portuguese explorers brought with them to Japan was playing cards. The Japanese naturally culturally appropriated the shit out of them, limiting the decks to 48 cards, replacing the traditional with suits with the seasons and the numbers with flowers--these cards were known as hanafuda, "flower cards." Hanafuda games traditionally involve three players vying for tricks.

Not surprisingly, the introduction of cards inspired a whole new world of gambling. Every time the government would get fed up with the gambling, they would ban the cards being played with, and up would pop a new style of cards and more gambling, with myriad regional variations. But as the twentieth century loomed, Japanese authorities finally realized they were fighting a losing battle and more or less stopped their fruitless game of whack-a-hanafuda.

With the easing of restrictions, Fusajiro Yamauchi saw his chance and on September 23, 1889 opened a Hanafuda shop where he sold handmade cards, a shop he called Nintendo Koppai. Business was soon brisk enough that he had to hire assistants to help make more cards, though sales began to flag, so he pivoted, launching a cheaper line of cards called Tengu, and in no time at all he was opening a second shop in Osaka.

Fusajiro retired in 1929, leaving the company in the care of his son-in-law, Sekiryo Yamauchi (nee Kaneda--he changed his name so he could take over the company), who handed the reins over to his 22-year-old grandson, Hiroshi Yamauchi, after suffering a stroke in 1949. Hiroshi quickly purged the company of family relations, strong-armed striking workers and set about shifting the company's focus from cards to video games.

Seventy years later, I only survived lockdown thanks to my wife and kids, my weed dealer and Zelda: Breath of the Wild.


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