Sunday, October 4, 2020

Nintendo Love Tester sold in 1971 in USA

The Love Tester, created by Nintendo in 1969, was an electronic gadget intended to break the ice between dating couples, by giving them something to talk about and an innocent reason to touch each other.

Although based on relative simple technology, it was nevertheless a stepping stone for the company on its path towards more advanced electronic toys and games.

Nintendo Love Tester (1969)

The Love Tester proved quite a sales hit in Nintendo's home country Japan. However, at the time Nintendo had no sales organisation outside Japan. Perhaps they also had little desire to expand their buying audience that way, being busy enough conquering their local market. That certainly changed in the 1980s, when they started having increasing international successes with arcade games, handheld electronics and video games, and built their own worldwide marketing, sales and distribution network on the back of that commercial success.

That does not mean that no Nintendo products from the 1970s or earlier found their way into the hands of customers outside Japan. Toys like Challenge Dice, Ultra Machine (Slugger Mate) and Ultra Scope were sold abroad, through various Western sales companies, who bought stock and did some light localisation.

One of such deals involved the Lido Designs Inc company from New York, who offered the Love Tester through mail order to the American public in the early 1970s.

Instructions for one person and for couples

In the Lido Designs version of the Love Tester, an instruction leaflet in English replaces the original Japanese manual.

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Nintendo Ele-conga Soft Case (エレコンガ ソフトケース) from 1972

One of the intriguing Nintendo products from the 1970s is the Ele-conga, an analogue electronic musical instrument.

Although not hugely expensive given its build quality (retailing at ¥9.800, which is roughly ¥30.000 in todays money when corrected for inflation), it was intended to be a serious instrument, not a toy.

That Nintendo was aiming for this to be an item for adults, is evident from the photo on the front of the promotional leaflet. It shows a trio of grown-ups making music with two Ele-congas, accompanied by an acoustic guitar.

Ele-conga Leaflet (front and back)

On the back of this leaflet, besides an extensive description of all of the features of the Ele-conga itself, three accessories are listed, that were sold separately as options:
  • Auto Player (available for an additional ¥1.200)
  • Connector Cord (¥500)
  • Soft Case (¥1.000)

The Auto Player (オートプレーヤー), pictured in the left-bottom corner of the back of the leaflet, allowed for programmed rhythms to be repeated (semi) automatically.

Although the Ele-conga includes its own speaker, it was possible to connect it to the line-in of a music center or tape deck, for external amplification or recording. The Connector Cord (コネクタコード) was a two-meter long cable that provided the required connection, using standard 3.5 mm jacks.

While pretty rare today, both the Ele-conga and Auto Player can be found as second hand items in Japan, if you know where to look and show some patience and perseverance. An official Ele-conga Connector Cord, however, I have never seen in real life. At least, not yet, as I hope to still find one, one day.

As is often the case, accessories such as these are very hard to find, as they were sold in (much) smaller numbers than the Ele-conga itself. They also got misplaced or lost more easily, or no longer recognised for what they were, and thrown out.

Ele-conga options (accessories): Auto Player, Connector Cord and Soft Case

For many years, the Soft Case (ソフトケース) for me also remained only an option listed on a piece of paper. As no picture was included on the leaflet, and none of these were reported to exist in collector circles, it was not clear what this case looked like, or if it was actually produced and sold at all.

This changed recently, when one of these crossed paths with me.

So presented here in its full glory: an original Ele-conga Soft Case from 1972!

Sunday, August 2, 2020

Popeye Gold Flicker (パイ ゴールド フリッカー): a rare item from Nintendo's food history

This empty, rusty little tin may not look like much to the casual observer.

Still, it is one of the prize possessions in my vintage Nintendo collection, because of it's part in the company's history.

It is rather small, with a height of only 9.3 centimeters and a diameter of 2.4 centimeters. The top is opened, and it's contents are long gone.

The brand name on the front is Popeye Gold Flicker (ポパイ ゴールド フリッカー). When it was still new, some sixty years ago, the tin must have been shiny gold coloured. Part of this colour is still visible, though much has disappeared over time.

The company name on the front is not Nintendo, but San'ō syokuhin Co., Ltd. This company, started in 1961 when Nintendo's business was still going into multiple directions, was Nintendo president Hiroshi Yamauchi's vehicle for entering Japan's food industry. For this Nintendo started a joint-venture with two partners: the University of Kyoto and the Omikenshi Company. This joint venture was called San'ō syokuhin.

The San'ō syokuhin company developped a number of products for the growing market of convenience food: instant rice, instant ramen and seasoning mixes. This tin is an item from their range of such seasoning products, that are called furikake in Japan. Hence the brand name Flicker, pronounced "furik-kaa" in Japanese.

An important part of the marketing of the San'ō syokuhin company was the use of licensed figures from America, in particular Popeye and Disney characters. A few years earlier, Nintendo already had acquired license rights for the use of these figures on their playing cards, and thus had the contacts to extend these rights for these food products.

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Ads for Nintendo Baseball Game from 1960

Today we are taking a look at some copies of one of Japan's shōnen manga, called Shūkan Shōnen Sandē (週刊少年サンデー), which means Weekly Shōnen Sunday. Shōnen manga are magazines aimed at boys from around 12 to 18 years, featuring comics but also news items and information about sports and leasure activities that interest this demographic.

Weekly Shōnen Sunday is one of the longest running of these magazines in Japan. It started in 1959 and is still published weekly today, sixty-one years later (released on Wednesday's, despite its name).

Weekly Shōnen Sunday - front

These magazines are great to browse through for people with an interest in Japan's (pop) culture. However, we are especially interested in the ads on the back of these issues, as they include advertisements for one of Nintendo earliest toys, the Disney Baseball Game (ディズニー野球盤, which means Disney Baseball Board).

Weekly Shōnen Sunday - back

The history of Nintendo as a toy company - when they started expanding beyond cards, chess, mahjong and other more traditional games - is still a bit misty.

In the official company overview at the Nintendo corporate website, the 1966 Ultra Hand is the first toy mentioned. Although this was a landmark event for Nintendo, as it was their first million-seller toy, it is often mistaken as the first Nintendo toy, which it wasn't. In the period from the end of the 1950s up to the release of the Ultra Hand, Nintendo did produce various other toys, including this baseball game.

Nintendo Disney Baseball Game (version B)