How much do you know about Nintendo? Founded in 1889, the company operated for over 80 years making playing cards.
Although Nintendo was about playing games from day one, its focus wasn't always as family friendly as it is today.
In 1633, Japan closed its borders to the world. Foreign influences, the shogunate believed, were a threat to the peace and stability of the Japanese social structures in place; in particular, the rise of Christianity that occurred in the 1500s. With it came the banning of gambling; and, while attempts were made to create card games that circumvented the strict laws, the government continued to ban them as they came up.
Then Hanafuda arrived, a card game that used cards with no numbers, only images. It was slow to catch on — until 1889, when Fusajiro Yamauchi founded Nintendo Koppai and started making Hanafuda cards that were printed on mulberry bark. The beautiful art — as well as the Yakuza's uptake of the game in illegal gambling parlours — popularised the game and made Nintendo's fortune.
It wasn't until 1963 that Nintendo started to experiment with other markets, finally hitting on electronics in 1974, and playing a starring role in creating the video-game culture that we now enjoy.
These cards, created in 1960, are based on the Ukiyo-e art style, depicting lovely Japanese ladies performing a variety of activities (although we can't quite tell what all of them are) — and some of them are surprisingly saucy.
You should also check out Ukiyo-e Heroes, a Kickstarter by Jed Henry, featuring prints of Japanese video-game heroes in the classic style. Henry created the Kickstarter unaware of the existence of Nintendo's cards, and we love the unexpected serendipity of it all.