Sunday, October 2, 2022

Nintendo Copilas localized for Australia

The Copilas (コピラス) was an affordable photo copier, introduced by Nintendo in 1971. In the early 1970s, Nintendo released multiple products outside their core toys and games market, and the Copilas was one of these. Others included the Nintendo Candy Machine, Uni Rack, Twins and Mamaberica.

Japanse version of the Nintendo Copilas

It was believend that these products were all limited to Nintendo's Japanese home market. The only known version of Copilas was the one sold in Japan. This version is described in detail in this post.

Nintendo Copilas localized for the Australian market

I say "was believed", as recently the version shown here popped up, seemingly out of nowhere. It is a version that has been fully localized for the Australian market.

On this version, all Japanse text has been replaced by English translations. The company name used is also the international version: "Nintendo Co., Ltd.".

The box shows that the machine is made to work with 240 volt current and 50 cycles, the Australian standard, as opposed to the 100 volt which is used in Japan. The voltage / cycle indication is stamped on the box, rather than printed, allowing other configurations to use the same box.

Saturday, September 10, 2022

Nintendo's oldest playing cards? Marufuku No. 1

Nintendo was founded in Kyoto back in 1889. This means that the oldest items the company produced are now well over a century old.

One of the oldest items in my collection, possibly the oldest, are these pieces of paper.

They are the remains of a box of one of the earliest sets Western style playing cards manufactured by Nintendo, from the early 1900s.

Five of the original six sides of the box remain. The top side, that functions as a closing lid, unfortunately is missing.

Monday, August 29, 2022

Nintendo Lefty RX English promotional leaflet

A few weeks ago, when scanning Yahoo Auctions Japan for vintage Nintendo toys, my eyes spotted a Lefty RX G.T. Sport set. The set was in decent condition, but nothing I did not already have in this collection. Or so I thought, on first glance.

I have always had a soft spot for these 1972 toy racing cars. Nintendo turned their obvious disadvantage (it cannot steer to the right), into a unique selling point. So I pay extra attention when an auction of one of these scrolls by, and gave it a second look.

Something looked off and unfamiliar.

I quickly realised that included in the box, besides the standard black and white manual, was a leaflet I had not seen before. Enough reason to bid. Luckily I won the item for a reasonable amount.

When the package arrived at my place a few weeks later, and I opened the box, I was glad I had acquired it.

The document turned out to be a full-colour promotional leaflet, in English. A document I had never seen before.

Around this time (late 1960s to early 1970s), Nintendo was trying to expand their market abroad, mostly through foreign distributors. English language versions have been found for many of their products from this era, including the Ultra Hand, Love Tester, Challenge Dice, Ultra Machine and Ultra Scope. However, this was the first time I saw that a similar attempt was made for Lefty RX as well.

Monday, August 22, 2022

Nintendo Kyoto Souvenir Playing Cards (1950s)

This is a story about a beautiful set of vintage Nintendo playing cards, and dealing with a certain amount of disappointment.

In a previous post, I shared a document from the 1950s, called the Nintendo Playing Cards Report.

This document is both a company introduction and a product catalogue. It provides a comprehensive overview of all products offered by the company at the time; (mostly) playing cards, as the title suggests.

Of all the card sets shown in this document, one set in particular caught my attention: the Kyoto Souvenir Playing Cards (スーベニヤトランプ), that include a photo of some aspect of Kyoto on each card, so over fifty different photos in total.

This set of cards intrigued me for a number of reasons.

Firstly, the cards look beautiful. Within Nintendo's product portfolio, these are some of the earliest examples of themed cards, that offer more than the standard card suits with a colourful back design. [Another early example are these Nintendo Takarazuka cards.]

Also, there is a strong link between Nintendo and the subject of Kyoto, as it is the company's hometown.

Furthermore, these cards provide a view of how Kyoto, and by extension Japan, presented itself to tourists at that time. They offer a window to that past, when tourism was still largely a domestic affair. Foreign visitors came to Japan only in small numbers, and most non-Japanese tourists in Japan consisted of US troops stationed in Japan following the occupation after Japan's defeat at the end of World War 2.

From the 1950s, the Japanese government did promote tourism to foreign nationals, as it brought in much needed foreign currency, and these cards fit that promotional effort.

Very recently, I managed to find two copies of this set. The first I ever saw, after more than twenty years of searching for vintage Nintendo items. Also the first to appear in collector circles. As you can image, this discovery made me very happy.

Even more fantastic (or so I thought initially), was the fact that they are unused, old stock. [Later it became clear that I celebrated too early, more on that at the end of this post.]

The boxes are in relatively good condition, although they are somewhat dusty. Not surprising really, given their age of around seventy years!

The front and back of the box contain nice drawings of scenes from Kyoto, as well a diamonds and clubs symbols.

Sunday, July 31, 2022

Former Nintendo HQ opens as Marufukuro hotel (and beforemario is present, in book form)

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".

Friday, June 10, 2022

Nintendo "Venice" playing cards from 1950s

In today's post, we will take a look at a pair of vintage Nintendo playing card sets dating from around 1953.

The cards come in clear plastic cases. At the time, plastic was a modern material, and using plastic for this kind of purpose was still relatively new.

A Nintendo logo and the company name ("Nintendo Playing Card CO.") are embossed on the front.

On the back of the case, an image is embossed that depicts the four card suits (clubs, hearts, diamonds, spades).

The case opens with a hinge.

Inside we find the card deck and a little booklet.

The image on the back of the cards shows a painted view on the Grand Canal in Venice (Italy), with the famous gondoliers and the church of San Geremia in the back.

Saturday, May 28, 2022

Playing Nintendo Laser Clay (レーザークレー) in the early 1970s

The Laser Clay Shooting System (レーザークレー射撃システム) was an innovative arcade game, developed by the Nintendo R&D team in the early 1970s and released by Nintendo's subsidiary Leisure Systems (任天堂レジャーシステム) in 1973.

Light gun games had been around already for long, including Nintendo's own Kôsenjû SP and Kôsenjû Custom series for home use.

Nintendo Kôsenjû SP series (1970)

The new element introduced with Laser Clay was the projection of flying objects (clay birds) on a large screen, combined with a clever mechanism that detected if these objects were 'hit' by the player from a rifle that could be held freely in hand. In previous shooting games, the target had to be in a fixed spot for the detection to work, with limited options to move. Laser Clay allowed for an experience that was much closer to real shooting sports, with challenging game play, because the location and trajectory of the targets were more unpredictable.  

The instruction leaflet shown below explains how Laser Clay was played.

Nintendo Laser Clay leaflet (front)

Nintendo sold Laser Clay systems to operators, who installed these at former bowling alleys, that became vacant when bowling took a dive in popularity, and other leisure locations.

Sunday, March 27, 2022

Nintendo leaflet in 1975 toys trade magazine

In a recent post we explored the catalogue of Nintendo products as it was back in September 1971, at which time Nintendo had completed the shift from card manufacturer to toy company, with an expanded range of products that was made up of traditional games, Nintendo's own innovations and licensed (as well as copied) existing toys and games.

In today's post we move to 1975, were we find Nintendo more established as toy company, with a product range that has evolved a bit further, but very much still in line with the products it offered four years earlier.

Nintendo was on the doorstep for further expansion, into the era of (home) video games (starting with the Color TV Games series in 1977, followed by the launch of the Family Computer in 1983) and handhelds (Game & Watch in 1980), but let's not get ahead of ourselves and see what they had to offer in the mid 1970s.

We travel back in time through the help of Toys Trader Gangu Shoho (玩具商報) magazine, in particular issue 12 from 1975. As the name suggests, it's a magazine intended for the toys trade, aimed at toy shop owners and toy buyers. The magazine consists of editorial content, describing new trends, toy fairs and related gatherings, interviews with figure heads and other information relevant to professionals in the toys business, mixed with advertisements by toy producers and wholesalers.

One of the more eye-catching ads is a fold-out leaflet by Nintendo, one of only two of such fold-outs in the magazine (the other one for a company selling jigsaw puzzles). It is printed in full colour, while most of the magazine, including most of the advertisements, are in black and white. Nintendo clearly was willing and able to spend big on marketing.

The fold-out is about 35 by 26 centimeters, and printed on both sides. It is dated June 1975.

1975 Nintendo leaflet - front

The message at the top of the front states that Nintendo's "idea products" (任天堂のアイデア商品) are "Lot's of fun" (たのしさがいっぱい).

Let's go through the various sections of the leaflet, starting with the top left corner of the front. This shows a selection of board games, that are bigger, more elaborate and more expensive than those offered a few years before.