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Nintendo has been manufacturing playing cards since their establishment in 1889. The whole foundation of Nintendo was centered around creating high-quality hanafuda card games. Following their inception, Nintendo branched out and started to tap into other areas of the card industry. The quality of their cards propelled them to the top in a similar way that their video games do today.
The Japanese government banned the Portuguese-introduced card games after their reservations on Christian missionaries from Europe began to increase. This ban included anything originating from Western cultures and was not limited solely to cards. Japanese citizens attempted to find ways around this ban by creating their own card games called Karuta (Karuta initially applied to card games in general though today refer to games of Japanese origin). Hanafuda card games, which replaced numbers with the 12 seasons of the year, were created during this period. This practice remained successful for a short time before the government caught on to their mischief and banned them. In the eighteen hundreds the ban was lifted.
Fusajiro Yamauchi was a young man who played card games illegally in Japan. Upon hearing that the ban on his hobby had been lifted, he was overjoyed and soon opened up his very own company where he could manufacture his own cards. This company was named Nintendo. Yamauchi's business flourished and his cards were among the most popular in the entire country. The Yamauchi family would find very few successes outside of the playing card industry, and thus for most of the company's early life they remained dedicated to the business of making cards. The early success of Nintendo's hanafuda cards led them to produce different types of cards from both Eastern and Western origin. Original card games were also created by Nintendo.
In the late 1950s, Hiroshi Yamauchi, then-president of Nintendo, made two consequential visits to the United States. His first visit was to the United States Playing Card Company, at the time the largest card making company in the world. On his visit there he had hoped to find ways in which to enlarge his own company, but went away in astonishment that it was very similar in size to Nintendo. His second visit was to The Walt Disney Company. There, he would discuss the possibility of distributing playing cards baring the likenesses of Disney's properties in Japan. He successfully bargained with them and returned home with one of the most lucrative licenses in the entire world. With access to several Disney characters, Nintendo aired their first television commercial. The success of the Disney cards was so substantial that Nintendo's profits tripled and they were allowed to join the Osaka and Kyoto stock exchange.
In an attempt to boost sales, Nintendo introduced several different and unique card decks. Some of these card decks were geared directly towards adult males and featured partly nude women on the face of the card while others were oddly shaped (for example, some card decks featured circular cards).
Gunpei Yokoi worked at a Nintendo factory that manufactured playing cards. There he would tinker around with gadgets that he had devised in his free time. One day Hiroshi Yamauchi visited the plant and found a toy Yokoi had created and demanded to see him at once. Yokoi, anticipating the worst, was stunned to find that Yamauchi was so impressed by his contraption that he wanted to mass produce them for the holiday market. The launch toy, called the Ultra Hand, would mark the largest turning point for Nintendo. The Ultra Hand went on to sell over 2 million units in Japan and would cause Nintendo to gradually move away from cards in favor of the more profitable toys. Yokoi stayed with Nintendo to invent more toys, making this transition possible.
Even with their newfound success, Nintendo continued to create new card decks. The card industry was still booming in the sixties and seventies; when Nintendo found success with the Game & Watch series and Donkey Kong, however, their focus shifted nearly exclusively to the video game industry. Nintendo never quite forgot their past, however, and continues to develop card decks. Some of the cards they still manufacture include their Nintendo All-Plastic line, Snoopy-themed cards, Nintendo video game-themed cards, hanafuda cards and hyakunin isshu cards. Early in 2006 Nintendo and Mitsubishi Materials Corporation cooperated to release an expensive playing card deck that was made of pure gold. The decks, which sold for 425,250 yen (around $3,600 USD at the time), were only sold at select retail stores. On Club Nintendo, players are given access to several different card games.
- Western playing cards
- Japanese playing cards