23 September 1889: Nintendo starts making playing cards

On this day in 1889, ‘Nintendo Koppai’ began making Hanafuda playing cards. Fast forward 130-odd years, and it's an electronics company worth around £58bn.

Hear the name Nintendo and you probably think of Super Mario and his cartoon brethren. Perhaps it's the Entertainment System you got that Christmas in 1986 that's now gathering dust in the attic. Or the television screen you sacrificed to an overly exertive session on the Wii Fit.

What may not come to mind is a pack of playing cards. But if you were sitting in your living room in Kyoto, Japan, at the end of the 19th century, that's exactly what your Nintendo would have looked like a deck of beautifully hand-painted Hanafuda' cards.

Western-style playing cards first arrived in Japan with European missionaries in the 16th century. The Japanese soon became hooked on them quite literally so, leading to a crackdown on gambling. Japan then entered a long isolationist phase, and the cards were banned.

Traditional versions of the playing cards appeared from time to time. And so long as they weren't used for gambling, they were mostly tolerated. Then, with the Meiji Restoration in 1868, Japan began to open itself up to the outside world once more.

While playing cards were no way near as popular as they had once been, an entrepreneur named Fusajiro Yamauchi set up a business in Kyoto in September 1889 making Hanafuda cards.

These “flower cards” consisted of 48 ornate cards with floral designs, which were divided into 12 suits, representing the months of the year. Yamauchi called the company Nintendo Koppai.

Today, Nintendo, a company with a market cap in the region of £58bn, and its headquarters in Kyoto, still makes Hanafuda cards along with a range of other traditional playing cards and board games for the Japanese market.

But for us in Britain, we'll just have to go back to another round of Super Mario Kart.

Recommended

I wish I knew what bitcoin was, but I’m too embarrassed to ask
Too embarrassed to ask

I wish I knew what bitcoin was, but I’m too embarrassed to ask

This week, we explain just what bitcoin is – and why the cryptocurrency is so revolutionary.
25 Jan 2022
Bitcoin is down more than 50% since its all-time high. What is going on?
Bitcoin & crypto

Bitcoin is down more than 50% since its all-time high. What is going on?

Bitcoin, the world's most popular cryptocurrency, is trading more than 50% below its all-time high in November. Saloni Sardana explains why the digita…
24 Jan 2022
Too embarrassed to ask: what is a deficit?
Too embarrassed to ask

Too embarrassed to ask: what is a deficit?

When we talk about government spending and the public finances, we often hear the word ‘deficit’ being used. But what is a deficit, and why does it ma…
11 Jan 2022
I wish I knew what a SPAC was, but I’m too embarrassed to ask
Too embarrassed to ask

I wish I knew what a SPAC was, but I’m too embarrassed to ask

A financial instrument called a “special purpose acquisition company”, or SPAC for short, is growing increasingly popular in the US stockmarkets. But …
5 Jan 2022

Most Popular

Shareholder capitalism: why we must return power to listed companies’ ultimate owners
Investment strategy

Shareholder capitalism: why we must return power to listed companies’ ultimate owners

Under our system of shareholder capitalism it's not fund managers, it‘s the individual investors – the company's ultimate owners – who should be telli…
24 Jan 2022
Amazon halts plans to ban UK Visa credit card payments
Personal finance

Amazon halts plans to ban UK Visa credit card payments

Amazon has said that it is to shelve its proposed ban on UK customers making payments with Visa credit cards.
17 Jan 2022
Temple Bar’s Ian Lance and Nick Purves: the essence of value investing
Investment strategy

Temple Bar’s Ian Lance and Nick Purves: the essence of value investing

Ian Lance and Nick Purves of the Temple Bar investment trust explain the essence of “value investing” – buying something for less than its intrinsic v…
14 Jan 2022