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.]

Underneath is an overview of the head office factory (本社工場), in the Higashiyama Ward in Kyoto.

The right page shows some pictures from inside the factory, including the the dryer (乾燥機), for drying freshly printed sheets of cards ...

..., the playing card factory (トランプ工場), ...

..., the laboratory (研究室) ...

... and the shipping (出荷) area.

If you look closely, you can just make out the destination of the crate being loaded into the truck: San Francisco, USA.

The next section showcases Nintendo's product range, starting with an overview of all Hanafuda (花札) cards.

This is followed by a range of Western style trump (トランプ) playing cards, in varying sizes and designs.

Nintendo had started printing full colour pictures on the backs of these cards, with imagery from nature (flowers, animals), sailing ships, landscapes and pieces of art.

Although the focus of the company and this catalogue is clearly on playing cards, adjacent product categories are included as well: Mahjong, Domino, Chess, Dice, Roulette and poker chips.

This is followed by two double pages with more specialized playing cards, clearly the growth area for Nintendo at this time.

The first of these, shown on the left, are P.R. Cards (P.R. トランプ); playing cards that can be customized with the customers' names and images, to be handed out for promotional purposes.

On the right page are Magic Cards (マヂックトランプ), used for card tricks....

... and Souvenir Cards (スーベニヤトランプ), aimed at the emerging tourist industry in Japan. An example featuring Nintendo's hometown Kyoto is shown, and the text explains that cards for other parts of country can be produced on request. [More on these cards here.]

The final double-page shows some more special playing card types.

Obviously, Nude Cards (ヌードトランプ) are staple material for any playing card manufacturer, including Nintendo. At least, this was the case for most of the second half of the 20th century. Here they are advertised as "for the first time in our country", with 54 different "elegant" nude pictures. 

The NAP Cards (ナップカード) or Nintendo All Plastic cards, are the latest innovation at the time. Introduced in 1953, they represent the top end of the product range, the best and most expensive cards. [See this post for more details on these cards.]

The Hana Cards (花カード) are a mix between the traditional Hanafuda designs and the modern trump format.

The back of the booklet provides the addresses of the company's four locations.

This includes:

  • Main office (本社), 342 Kagiyacho, Kamogawa Nishiiri, Syomen-dori, Shimogyo-ku, Kyoto (京都市下京区正面通加茂川西入鍵屋町342)
  • Head office factory (本社工場), 60 Fukuinekamitakamatsucho, Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto (京都市東山区福稲上高松町60)
  • Tokyo branch (東京支店), 1-22 Kanda Sudacho, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo (東京都千代田区神田須田町1丁目22)
  • Osaka Branch (大阪支店), 1-32 Nagahori Bridge, Minami-ku, Osaka (大阪市南区長堀橋筋1丁目32)

A few years later, in 1959, Nintendo would open a new branch office in Nagoya.

If you liked this post, you may be interested in simliar documents covered in this post about Nintendo Cards Catalogue from the 1930s and this one from the 1980s. The fourth one in the picture below (from 2001) I will share in a future post.

Thank you to Isao Yamazaki, for kindly providing the scans used in this post.

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