Sunday, December 16, 2012

Meet the collectors - #4 - Isao Yamazaki

It is a great joy for me to introduce today's participant in beforemario's Meet the Collectors series: Isao Yamazaki (山崎功).

A serious collector of vintage Nintendo toys and games for many years, Isao also has been actively involved in documenting and spreading information about Nintendo's illustrious past. One of the highlights of this was the unique one-off exhibition in Osaka in 2007, titled 'Nintendo Museum', for which Isao acted as curator.

Isao supported Florent Gorges with The History of Nintendo volume 1 and 2

In recent years, Isao teamed up with Florent Gorges for the first two volumes of the bible of Nintendo archaeology: 'The History of Nintendo'.

Colophon of The History of Nintendo volume 1

Many years before that, Isao was the author of one of the first books that catalogued the Japanese console and hand-held history of the 1970s and 1980s. This book was called 'Electronic Game Collectors' (電子ゲームコレクション). It appeared in 2000 and included pictures of all systems as well indications of rarity and an estimation of their market value.

Electronic Game Collectors
(Oakra Publishing, ISBN 4-87278-547-9)

Retro games have become more popular in the last ten years or so, but there were few resources of information around at the turn of the millenium. I remember buying this book at the time, and reading it cover to cover. It was through Isao's book that I first learned of the existence of the very rare and obscure Nintendo Computer TV Game.

In 1999 the Computer TV Game was valued at ¥50,000 (US$454 at the time)
It now sells for many times that - if you manage to find one

As you can tell, Isao contributed a lot to the retro game scene over the last fifteen years. And he has a very impressive Nintendo collection to boot. Today's blog post should actually be called Meet THE collector. So, without further ado, let's meet Isao!


"Hello, my name is Isao Yamazaki. I’m 36 years old and I live in Tokyo. I’m a website developer."

Isao in his room full of Nintendo treasures

"I started collecting Nintendo items 30 years ago, in 1982. My first Nintendo items were pencil erasers. The first one was an eraser that looked like a Game & Watch game. It had a funny lenticular printing, which showed a cartoon that changed depending on the angle you looked at it."

A Game & Watch shaped eraser, like the one that started Isao's collection

"I also collected erasers that looked like Famicom carts. These erasers looked like an actual (miniature) cart, and they were sold in reproduction boxes. They were not officially made by Nintendo, but when I was a child, I thought they were all made by them."

Erasers shaped like Famicom 'soft' (carts) and Game & Watch games

"Because my parents did not have enough money to give me some real Game & Watch or Famicom games, I threw all my frustration in collecting these erasers. At the same time, I enjoyed playing Nintendo’s board games or Game & Watch at friends' or relatives' houses."

These days, Isao is not short of a few Game & Watch games!

"I slowly started collecting Famicom games from 1985 onwards. At that time, all my friends didn’t care about the games' boxes and threw them away. But I liked to take care of them and displayed them in my room."

"When all my friends where excited about the Super Famicom, I started seriously collecting Famicom games and Game & Watch. Games and toys shops sold them at very low prices, almost like they wanted to give them away! So I bought all the games I used to dream about when I was a little child, for cheap prices. When people enjoyed new 16-bit games, I enjoyed collecting old 8-bit games."

"I started my collection because I especially like Nintendo games and I wanted to play them all when I was a child. The Nintendo games packages were simple but cool. They had the same general design and colors and that makes them great to collect too. And of course, the actual games were also better than most of the other game makers."

Famicom and Famicom Disk games

"At that time I was really wondering why Nintendo was able to create fun games that I enjoyed so much, and other companies were not. I then realized that since I was born, I was used to play with Nintendo’s products: it started with Hanafuda’s, then playing cards and Game & Watch. So, I naturally wanted to know and discover more about Nintendo."

"But when I started my research into the past of Nintendo, it was very hard to find books or articles talking about the period before the introduction of the Game & Watch (1980). This was strange, because Nintendo had an almost 120 year long history! So I had to find out by myself what the real origin was of the Nintendo’s fun philosophy."

"When I became a student, for three years I spent my free time conducting research in the biggest library of Japan. I went through more than 1000 publications and discovered a lot of very old Nintendo toys, that had been created before Game & Watch."

"I wanted to find these toys, to play with them. And I discovered that I had played with many of these when I was a child, without knowing at the time that they were made by Nintendo."

"Next, in 1997, I read a biography of Gunpei Yokoi called 'Yokoi Gunpei Game House' (横井軍平ゲーム館). It was so much fun to read and it made me decide to collect all Nintendo games and toys. I started traveling to all toys shops of Japan, trying to find old Nintendo toys."

"I was also was the first in Japan to publish a book on Nintendo's history, based on my own documentation. It was a self-published book that appeared in 1997."

Nintendo Museum

"Ten years later, in 2007, I was involved in the 'Nintendo Museum' exhibition in a big department store in Osaka, near Kyoto. That was one of the happiest moments of my life and the best memory for me as a collector. I was officially allowed by Nintendo to show my collection. It was the first exhibition of its kind in the world, and the first time people could see so many vintage Nintendo’s items!"

Isao at the 2007 Nintendo Museum exhibition he curated

"I was responsible for the overall project and for the section that dealt with the 'Before Famicom' era. With the help of other Nintendo fans it became a really big and nice event. My French friend Florent Gorges was also there. I’m so proud of this achievement!" [More on the Nintendo Museum here and here.]

My Favorite Items

"Just like Fabrice Heilig, one of my French collector friends featured previously on beforemario, I like the Love Tester very much. It is a wonderful item that really gave me the chance to shake hands with girls at a period when I was so shy!"

Nintendo Love Tester (1969)

"Historically speaking, this is a very interesting toy. There is a gap between the Love Tester and the image of a 'clean and child-friendly' toy maker that Nintendo wants to present these days. The Love Tester is also the first toy using lateral thinking of withered technology, an approach to product design that would become part of Nintendo's DNA. And it is also the start of part of their identity: more than making real toys, Nintendo wanted to create buzz only with 'ideas'."

"Other items from my collection that I love are signatures that Nintendo key persons gave to me and all the pictures I took together with them."

Famicom signed by its creator Masayki Uemura

"For example, in the picture above, you can see my Famicom with the signature of the Famicom’s creator: Masayuki Uemura. This signed Famicom is like a treasure for me."

Memento of Isao's meeting with Nintendo president Iwata

"Perhaps my most favorite item from my collection is the Nintendo Playing Cards poster printed in the early 1900s. The Hanafuda and the playing cards are the origins of Nintendo and all their products from that time are presented in this poster."

One of Isao's most precious items: a 100 year old Nintendo poster

"The poster is in such a nice condition and so well designed that you can’t believe it’s so old! After my wife and my young boy, this poster is probably the thing I love the most in the world! I got it ten years ago, from a Hanafuda collector. I paid the price of a car for it."

Most Wanted List

"I am still searching for many things for my collection! Here's my top five, in order of priority:

#1 - A signature of Hiroshi Yamauchi! I really want to take a picture with Hiroshi Yamauchi, the third president of Nintendo, and get his signature. You’ll consider me a crazy guy but I really love him! Without him, Nintendo would no longer be here. We really can say he is the real founder of the Nintendo we love today. He is like what Steve Jobs was for Apple. By the way, Steve Jobs is my second favorite idol, after Hiroshi Yamauchi!

#2 - A Disk Writer. It’s a machine developed only for Japan, that allowed gamers to write games on Famicom rewritable disks.

#3 - The Famous '20,000,000' Game & Watch edition. On the face plate of this model, you can see a design with all the Game & Watch characters. Only a few pieces of this were made by Gunpei Yokoi, for friends and colleagues.

#4 - The First model of Nintendo Playing Cards 'Trumps'. And of course, if possible, all the packages of the Nintendo Hanafuda cards.

#5 - The Cross Over. It’s the only toy made by Gunpei Yokoi I do not yet own."

The very rare commemorative Game & Watch that is high on Isao's wish list

Collector Stories

"After spending 30 years of my life researching and collecting Nintendo’s items, I have so many stories to tell, you know…"

"I also have some stories that I am now very ashamed to talk about! For example, one day, I saw a Internet auction for two big paper sheets with uncut old Nintendo playing cards. These are extremely rare, but I forgot to bid! It was too late and when I saw the very low final price, I cried!"

"I also remember when I was a student, I went on a trip to visit all the little toy shops in Japan. I wanted to research Nintendo's history and try to find some unsold old toys. And one day, I found a shop with a large dead stock of Game & Watch games. They were all new! The guy told me 'one for 1000 yen'. At that time, I found it too expensive so I answered him 'no, thank you'. You can’t imagine how I regret that now!"

Isao's Space Fever cocktail arcade (dating from 1979)

"The last story I can share is when I saw the '20,000,000 Game & Watch' model for the first time, in an Internet auction. At that time, nobody knew about this model and I thought it was an unofficial model. So I (and most of the Game & Watch collectors) didn't bid on it. It was sold at a very low price. A few weeks later I discovered the truth about this model..."

Final Thoughts

"Well, it’s a work in progress but I really hope to publish, one day, all the products made by Nintendo during their long history. On my website you can find the Nintendo Archives Project."

Isao showing the elusive Nintendo Mamaberica (from 1970)

"I’ve never been abroad. I also can’t speak English well. Until a few years ago, I didn't feel any interest for the culture of foreign countries, but after I met Florent Gorges, from France, and some of his Nintendo loving friends, I’m now very curious about foreign countries. I made many 'Nintendo history' friends from all over the World. I really hope, from now, to make more and more friends with people who love Nintendo like me. I would like to share my passion with them."

"And finally, to beforemario's Erik: I am very respectful of what you do. Your collection is incredible and the way you show it to us, the way you display it in your house proves you really love Nintendo. You take care of their history and make a real effort to preserve it. It’s great, and I’m pretty sure if we meet one day, we won’t stop talking about Nintendo."

I am sure we will, Isao! [Update: four months after this interview we did meet!]

Thank you very much for your kind words, and - most of all - for sharing your stories and your collection with us.

A special thank you also to Florent Gorges for helping with the translation of this interview.

For more collector stories, please check the previous episodes of Meet the Collectors. More about the Nintendo Museum can be found here and here.


  1. I'm so glad to learn more about Isao whom I knew only through the books of Florent Gorges ! I'm really impressed by such a level of passion and dedication. Thanks a lot for this article, it's so inspiring :-)

  2. Hi Tibo. I was really happy that Yamazaki-san wanted to share his story with us. So, I am glad to hear you liked the article.

  3. This is fantastic. Congratulations to Isao Yamazaki.


  4. Collector's destiny: their whole life is their collection: no pleasure travels, no good clothes, all the money and free time spent at their treasures, regrets for not having bought that item when it was cheaper... It's an illness, and i'm afraid i'm really sick ;)

    1. I am not sure the effects of the condition are always as severe as you describe. But if this indeed an illness, than I don't need no cure.

  5. Wooo, that is a treasure! Very nice article!
    More than money value, this collection is a historical treasure of Digital entertainment. That collection can provide a very acurate perspective about Nintendo and what is entertainment, especially in Japanese culture. Amazing.

  6. Its all about preservation, and this fine man does a fantastic job of preserving such a wonderful history of Nintendo .I only wish I could see and be apart of it