Forget Mario, in 1889 Napoleon was Nintendo’s first mascot

Forget Mario, in 1889 Napoleon was Nintendo’s first mascot

Nintendo was founded on September 23, 1889, by Fusajiro Yamauchi in Kyoto, Japan. It was originally named Nintendo Koppai (which loosely translates to Lucky Playing Cards). Yamauchi started by producing handmade hanafuda cards, which were traditional Japanese playing cards used for gambling.

It all began in 16th century Portugal

Playing cards (karuta) were introduced to Japan by the Portugese in the 16th century. Then in 1633 the Japanese government closed its doors to foreigners, partly to prevent Spanish and Portugese influence. The western cards, which were associated with gambling, were banned by the government. So card makers changed the cards to look like a different game and carried on gambling. Every time the government banned them, a new iteration would come out. The cards ended up looking very different. The traditional four suits and numbered components, which were closely tied to gambling, were replaced with natural motifs that represent different months of the year.

Hanafuda Koi Koi Setup – Wikipedia

Nintendo means ‘leave luck to heaven’

Hanafuda was popular but the cards were expensive, that is until Fusajiro Yamauchi came along, son of a craftsman, he had the idea to produce handmade Hanafuda cards en masse. They were often used in gambling joints and to avoid cheating they would always use new packs for each game, so, being able to produce the cards quickly and cheaply, Yamauchi quickly became a leading producer of hanafuda in Japan.

The brand of the cards were called Nintendo which, arguably, means ‘leave luck to heaven’ (a good motto for gamblers).

Yakuza members have argued that the ‘nin’ stands for ‘ninkyo’ which means ‘chivalry’ and is synonymous with yakuza who seem themselves as honourable knights rather than criminals. Yakuza would have been heavily involved in the gambling dens. Some say the ‘ten’ in Nintendo stands for ‘tengu’ (gambling).

In Japanese, “fuku” means “good fortune”

After the Russia-Japan war in 1885, western-style playing cards were legalised by the government and in 1902 Nintendo started producing the cards under the name Marufuku Nintendo Card Co. Marufuku means ‘very good fortune’ (maru means the word ‘fuku’ is circled, it is used for emphasis).

Nintendo playing cards closeup
No it’s not an AI image generator typo, they really did spell it Regsistfred…

Napoleon was Nintendo’s first mascot

Nintendo’s brand of western-style playing cards was ‘Napoleon’, so you could argue that Napoleon was Nintendo’s first mascot. They chose Napoleon partly because it represented high quality and partly they were copying American brands that were also called Napoleon, named after the trick-taking card game ‘Napoleon‘, which in 1897 was the most popular card game in England and very popular in America.

Instant rice and ‘love hotels’

By Fusajiro Yamauchi’s death in 1929, Nintendo was the largest playing-card company in Japan. Fusajiro Yamauchi never had a son, so he adopted his son-in-law (which is commonplace in Japan). Sekiryo Kaneda became Sekiryo Yamauchi and took over the company after Fusajiro’s death.

In the latter half of the 20th century, with demand for cards on the wane, Nintendo began to diversify, producing everything from instant rice, baby swings, ball point pens, vacuum cleaners, a taxi company, a TV network and even (according to one source) Love Hotels (which were exactly what you think). But the only thing that really stuck was toys, one of the most successful being the 1966 ‘Ultra Hand.’

Nintendo Ultra Hand was one their big toy successes

Solar-powered Light Guns; Nintendo’s breakthrough into gaming

Nintendo ‘s breakthrough into gaming came in 1972. They made solar-powered light guns for the first home console; the USA-made Magnavox Odyssey (famous for ‘Table Tennis’ which became known as ‘Pong’. The light gun was used for a game called ‘Shooting Gallery’ where users shoot at white spots on the screen.

Nintendo made the first light gun for the first games console, the Magnavox Odyssey, in 1972

Nintendo bought the rights to sell the Odyssey in Japan and so began their journey into video games, with successes like the Donkey Kong arcade machine, in 1981 where Mario, or ‘Jumpman’ as he was then known, made his debut, the Game and Watch handheld computer game and the Family Computer (Famicom) in 1983. Zelda, in 1986, was the first game to have a savegame facility, which transformed gameplay experience. Nintendo has continued to innovate and holds second, third and fourth place for most consoles sold worldwide.

PlatformTypeFirmReleased[2]Units soldRef.
PlayStation 2HomeSony2000>155 million[note 1]
Nintendo DSHandheldNintendo2004154.02 million[19]
Nintendo Switch #HybridNintendo2017141.32 million[19][note 2]
Game Boy & Game Boy ColorHandheldNintendo1989, 1998118.69 million[19][note 3]
PlayStation 4 #HomeSony2013117.2 million[35]
PlayStationHomeSony1994102.49 million[36]


The Bond of Competition – Hanafuda – Japan Information & Culture Center, Embassy of Japan

Napoleon Card Game –

Nintendo’s Strange History Includes The Yakuza, A Taxi Service And Love Motels – Tech Times

“Nintendo” Probably Doesn’t Mean What You Think It Does – Kotaku

History of Nintendo – Wikipedia

Blog – nintendo before mario

[Dossier] Les 120 ans de Nintendo – Première Partie –

famicom blog – Rarities: Nintendo in Store Display from the early 1970s

Fusajiro Yamauchi – Wikipedia

Hanafuda – Wikpedia

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