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From Playing Cards to Mario - Nintendo

Think of Kyoto and what comes to mind? Buddhist Temples, Shinto Shrines, kimono's, tea, bamboo forests and mountains, the list goes on. It's an image of old Japan. And that is the very reason why in normal times tourists flock to the old capital to get a taste of what they believe is 'real Japan'. But there are many who see Kyoto as their Mecca for other reasons, NINTENDO. Kyoto, in the Gojo area, is where it all began in 1889, during the reign of Emperor Meiji. Nintendo was founded as Nintendo Karuta on 23rd September 1889 by Fusajiro Yamauchi to produce traditional Japanese playing cards. Working in a niche market was a struggle at first for the company but they opted to produce more 'economical' versions that they could also sell in Osaka.

In 1907, the company grew by contracting with Nihon Senbei (Japan Tobacco) to market its cards to various cigarette stores throughout the country. When Fusajiro Yamauchi retired in 1929 the company was taken over by his adopted son Sekiryo Kaneda, by which time the company was the second largest card game producing company in Japan. In 1959 Nintendo worked with Disney to put Disney characters on their cards helping the company to grow further. And it was in the early 70's that Nintendo would step into the modern world of electronic gaming and games consoles by partnering with the american company Magnovox to manufactur the Nintendo Light Gun for games consoles.


Today we have the DS, Nintendo Wii and of course the Nintendo Switch, but it is important to never forget the history, it all began with playing cards in a small wooden building by the river.


The original company building is of course no longer standing but the headquarters that they moved into in 1933 is, and its a building not just of historical value but also of architectural value. The building has stood empty for a long time but recently plans have been put forward to turn it into a hotel. Walking in the area you'll see many 'gaming tourists' around the Nintendo building, writing their names and home countries with their finger in the dirt on the building side and window frames.

Nintendo is a part of Kyoto just as much as Nijo Castle, Gion or Kiyomizudera, and long may this old building stand as a key part of the history of the gaming culture and industry of Japan and the world.


When visiting places recommended or featured by HIDDEN PATHS - Wlaking Historical Kyoto please be aware of and follow all covid-19 restrictins and advisories.





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