Sunday, July 31, 2022

Former Nintendo HQ opens as Marufukuro hotel

A few months ago, on April 1st 2022 to be exact, the former headquarters of Nintendo at Shomen-Dori in Kyoto opened as the Marufukuro Hotel, after extensive restoration and remodelling.

Recently, there was a nice surprise for me personally, which I will keep for the end of this post.

This building has played an important part in Nintendo's history. Although it wasn't the first building occupied by Nintendo, it is located on the spot where the company started, and served as headquarters for around a quarter of a century; from the moment it was erected in 1933 to the late 1950s. It also was the home for the Yamauchi family during this period.

The building was modern for its time, well designed and crafty built, with many nice details; signalling a company on the rise. It was commissioned by Sekiryo Yamauchi, Nintendo's second president. Hiroshi Yamauchi, Sekiryo's very successful successor and third president, also conduced his business from here during the first ten years of his reign.

The Marufukuro Hotel in 2022

After Nintendo's center of power moved to newer offices in other areas of Kyoto, and the building was no longer used in any form in the company's daily operation, it was kept more or less in the state from its period of prominence.

During the last twenty years or so, it become a spot to visit, a place of pilgrimage of sorts, for Nintendo enthusiasts from across the world.

Back in 2015 I took a picture there with my just released Before Mario book, in front of the door that remained largely closed for decades. [More on that visit here.]

At the former Nintendo HQ in 2015

When comparing the current 2022 version of the building with its former state, a few things stand out.

Two large circular 'Marufuku' logos have been placed on the top of the front and side facade. Although they look like they have been there from the start, they are new additions. A clock was added above the front door, and sun screens above the windows.

At the former Nintendo HQ in 2015

The middle section has been build more high up. Originally this only contained some smaller, single-story rooms and a court yard.

At the former Nintendo HQ in 2015

Most prominently, a whole section was added to the left of the building. Originally housing a wooden structure from the early days of the company, this had remained a vacant lot since that structure was torn down around 2004.

At the former Nintendo HQ in 2015, the missing original building

Fast forward to 2022, where we find the building looking splendid. The old exterior has been cleaned and the building is extended with tastefully designed additions.

The biggest change, of course, is that the front door is now open. At least, open to all who book a room for the night.

Saturday, June 25, 2022

Nintendo Nagoya office opens in 1959

In the 1950s, Nintendo was expanding its operation, including a move of the headquarters to a new, larger production location. The Nintendo Playing Cards Report from the mid 1950s provides a good overview of the various locations in use at that time in Kyoto, as well as branch offices in Tokyo and Osaka. These branch offices supported the company's national sales and distribution network.

The magazine below introduces another new location.

The magazine is called Gangu Shoho (玩具商報), which translates to 'Toy Business Bulletin'.

It is a monthly magazine, and this particular copy is number two from 1959. The issue date 'February 5th 1959' is printed on the top right corner, in the traditional top down notation (昭和三十四年二月五日). The magazine cost 100 yen.

The magazine is filled with trade news and ads by manufacturers and distributors of toys and games, as well as sweets. Basically, anything you are likely to find in the toy section of a department store, a toy store, or a dagashiya (駄菓子屋).

The news section includes a piece about Nintendo.

The headline reads "Nintendo Nagoya branch newly established".

Tuesday, June 21, 2022

Nintendo Report from the 1950s

Here is an interesting document, called the Nintendo Playing Cards Report, from a time in Nintendo's history when they were still mostly designing, manufacturing and selling playing cards. Hiroshi Yamauchi was still in his first decade as company president.

It's a 16-page company profile and product catalogue, printed in black and white, with some spot colours.

An exact publication date is not known, but based on the content it should be after 1953 and probably before 1957. So, roughly mid 1950s. This is a few years before the first Disney themed playing cards and board games ushered in the 'toy' period of the company.

The first pages of the document depict Nintendo as an international player, with Kyoto at the centre of a world map, with connections to all continents.

Key facts related to the company are presented:

  • Founded: in the 22nd year of the Meiji era (1889)
  • Trade name: Nintendō karuta kabushikigaisha (任天堂骨牌株式会社, or Nintendo Playing Card Company)
  • Headquarters office: 60 Fukuinekamitakamatsucho, Higashiyama Ward, Kyoto (京都市東山区福稲上高松町60)
  • Representative Director and President: Hiroshi Yamauchi (山内博)
  • Capital: 30,000,000 yen (roughly 180 million yen in 2022's money)
  • Floor area: site one 6,696 tsubo and site two 2,712 tsubo (totals 31,000 square meters, one tsubo equals two tatami mats)
  • Branch offices: Tokyo and Osaka
  • Number of employees: 423

According to the introduction text:

"We are a manufacturer specializing in playing cards and Hanafuda, a unique traditional industry. [...] our excellent products derived from new equipment and technology have been widely praised by enthusiasts. Our achievements have also continued to increase year by year. Today, we are the largest manufacturer in Japan, accounting for the majority of the production and sales of playing cards."

"Recently, with the strengthening of the synthetic resin division [...] we have spurred the increase in production of the all-plastic "Nap Card" that we were the first to make in Japan, as well as Mahjong and Domino. We have also started manufacturing other resin products and have secured a solid leadership position in the industry."

"Under the brand name Nintendo, these products permeate all over the country through a strong sales network based on long-standing strong credit. They are also exported in large quantities to North America, Hawaii, Southeast Asia, as well as to Latin America and the Middle East, contributing to the acquisition of foreign currency. [...] We would like to express our sincere gratitude to you for your continued patronage, and we ask for your continued patronage in the future."

The next pages show the various buildings and departments of the Nintendo operation in Kyoto.

In the top left corner we see the main office (本社), in the Shimogyo Ward in Kyoto. [As an aside: this is the building that was recently turned into the Hotel Marufukuro.]

Saturday, June 11, 2022

Nintendo Takarazuka playing cards (宝塚 トランプ) from the early 1950s

In this post, we will take a look at one of the first, possibly the first, set of Nintendo playing cards with licensed figures.

These cards from the early 1950s (1952 or before) feature popular actresses from the so-called Takarazuka Revue. This is a musical company based in Takarazuka, Hyōgo Prefecture, Japan.

What is special about this group, is that it is all-female. Actresses play either female or male roles. The group was established in 1913 and is active and well known in Japan to this day.

These actresses can be considered the idols of their time, and Nintendo brought out playing cards with pictures of the most famous and popular stars, in a deck called Takarazuka playing cards (宝塚 トランプ). It cost 300 yen.

One these actresses, Kaoru Yachigusa (八千草 薫), can be seen endorsing the Nintendo Takarazuka playing cards in the ad below:

"Your destiny. Fortune-telling with Nintendo Takarazuka playing cards." (あなたの運命を。任天堂宝塚トランプで占ひませう。)

The design of the back of the cards includes musical notes around the edges, and the logo for the Takarazuka Revue in the middle, with the letters "TOC".