There are a number of museums around the world that depict the history of video games in general, including Nintendo's role in this. But there is no place where the public is presented the full history of Nintendo, including their days as maker of cards and toys. The only permanent exhibition that I am aware of, is the one on the second floor of Nintendo World in New York. This includes some nice items, but it is quite small and does not really do the rich history justice.
|Nintendo World, New York|
These showcases at Nintendo's American flagship store, though modest in scale, are even an exception for this company, as they usually do not dwell too much on their (pre video game) past. They rather focus on the future and the latest, newest game systems and games.
|Modest Nintendo history exhibit at Nintendo World, New York|
The company history page on Nintendo's US website even starts in 1985, with the NES! Completely skipping the first hundred year since the company started in 1889. A period, admittedly, when the focus was primarily on the Japanese home market. For that matter, the Japanese site shows the full history, but with very short statements only and without any illustrations.
|According to nintendo.com nothing of note happened before 1985...|
In recent years, the Iwata Asks series of interviewes have given glimpses into Nintendo's past. But overall, Nintendo provides the general public very limited options to see all the great toys and games that they produced over the course of their long history.
Up until now there has only been a single event in the world that presented Nintendo's past in its full breadth. This was a temporary exhibition that was held in 2007, in a department store in Osaka, close to Nintendo's Kyoto homebase.
The event was called "Nintendo Museum" (ニンテンドー ミュージアム), and Isao Yamazaki, who was featured on this blog in a recent Meet the Collectors episode, was involved in its inception. The items on display also stemmed for a large part from his collection.
|The 2007 Nintendo Museum exhibition in Osaka lasted only eleven days|
In the interview below, Isao relates how this unique one-off event came about. Hearing his tale and seeing the pictures from this exhibition, I really hope a simliar event will happen again sometime in the future.
Nintendo Museum, Hankyu department store Osaka (2007)
Isao Yamazaki: "I started thinking about this event when my contacts in the Japanese monthly magazine Nintendo Dream called me."
|Isao at the Nintendo Museum in 2007|
"The Osaka Hankyu department store was about to celebrate its 100th anniversary, and they were looking for an idea for a fun event that could be enjoyed by all ages."
"Because the Nintendo DS and the Nintendo Wii were very popular at the time, the store’s staff wanted to involve Nintendo in this event. Nintendo in turn contacted Nintendo Dream to help them."
"As a matter of fact, a few years earlier, Nintendo Dream had organised a small event in Tokyo with a few of Nintendo’s vintage toys, taken from my collection. This event was a big success in Tokyo."
"For the Osaka exhibition, Nintendo allowed us to show more. There were still a lot of restrictions, like the space we could use."
"This event took place for eleven days only, from Wednesday March 28 to Friday April 6. Originally it was intended to run up to April 2, but as the visitors came en mass it was extended for a few more days. There were more people than we expected, and it was a real success."
"Lots of Nintendo's employees came to see, including key persons. It was a pleasure to look at their nostalgic reactions, and talk with them and hear their own memories or experiences at Nintendo."
"You know, all the Nintendo staff told me it was a small miracle, because Nintendo usually does not like to talk about their older history. They usually do not approve these kind of events."
"Until this day I do regret that I had not enough time to prepare an official exhibition guide book."
"I was very proud to be involved in such a project, and would have provided my time and collection for free. But the department story even gave me money to thank me."
"And a funny thing: my collection was considered like and art exhibition. So the department store also paid some very expensive insurance to protect all my items."
"Another great memory was the fact that one of my best friends, the noted French Nintendo researcher Florent Gorges, came over to Japan especially for this occasion. He helped make the event a success, and worked with us one night straight without sleeping, to prepare the exhibition. I remember having a breakfast with him after the work was finished, and we continued talking passionately about ways to make the event even more fun."
"It was a very happy moment for me. Florent took his video camera with him and he recorded a few hours of film; from the preparation of the event to the real public opening ceremony. Afterwards he made a nice "making of Nintendo Museum video", which he gave me on DVD. This movie is like a documentary about this event and is for me an important treasure."
Above pictures of the Nintendo Museum by kind permission of Kris Vanderweit.
For more on the Nintendo Museum, check out these the-making-of pictures. If you want to find out more about Isao's collection, please check this previous post.