Although now known for video games, Nintendo has actually been in the gaming business for more than a century.
Nintendo (which, roughly translated, means “leave luck to heaven”) was founded in 1889 to manufacture a playing-card game called Hanafuda (“flower cards”). A sixteenth-century game once popular with nobility, Hanafuda had fallen out of popularity due to a government ban on gambling (it was thought Hanafuda cards were being used in gambling halls). Fusajiro Yamauchi, founder of Nintendo, changed all that. Although the Hanafuda cards weren’t an immediate best seller, as soon as the Yakuza (the Japanese mafia) started using them in their gambling parlors, the game took off and the Nintendo company started showing a profit.
In the mid twentieth century, Nintendo tried to branch out, setting up a taxi company, a love hotel, a TV network, and an instant rice manufacturer. All of the ventures were stunning failures and Nintendo’s business was crumbling. But in 1974 things turned around, when Nintendo ventured into video gaming, securing the rights to distribute the Magnavox Odyssey video game console. Arcade games, the Nintendo Entertainment System, Game Boys, Nintendo DS, and countless other video games and systems followed. Today Nintendo is worth more than $1 trillion.
However, throughout all of the company’s changes and ups and downs, Nintendo never stopped making Hanafuda cards. To this day they are the largest manufacturer of that centuries-old game; they even sponsor a Hanafuda tournament in Japan, called the Nintendo Cup.