It’s well-known that Nintendo was originally founded in Kyoto, Japan as a maker of playing cards in 1889. But a recent historical project by the city of Kyoto has turned up, for the first time, a photograph of what the company’s headquarters looked like in that year.
The photo, and an accompanying blog post, were published in December on “Memories of Kyoto, 150 Years After The Meiji Period,” an ongoing historical project documenting the city’s history during the reign of Emperor Meiji from 1868 to 1912. Nintendo historians authors Florent Gorges and Isao Yamazaki shared them around today, noting that the blog post was full of fascinating little-known information about Nintendo’s founding.
Nintendo’s founder Fusajiro Yamauchi originally ran a company called Haiko, which at the time specialized in cement, the post says. His name was originally Fusajiro Fukui, but he was adopted as an adult by his boss Naoshichi Yamauchi. This is actually extremely common in Japan—government records show that the vast majority of adoptions are adult men adopting other adult men, so that their companies can remain a “family business” even when there is no biological son to inherit the company.
Nintendo stayed a family business until the retirement of Fusajiro’s great-grandson Hiroshi Yamauchi in 2002, after which Satoru Iwata took the helm. Haiko is still in operation and is run by Kazumasa Yamauchi, who wrote the City of Kyoto’s blog post.
In 1889, Fusajiro Yamauchi struck out on his own to form Marufuku Nintendo Card Co., producing traditional Japanese playing cards called hanafuda and eventually Western playing cards as well. Here’s a map of where that original headquarters used to be located, in case you want to make a pilgrimage.
If you want to see the oldest Nintendo building that’s still actually standing, there’s one very close to downtown Kyoto. According to Gorges and Yamazaki’s book, the building that housed the original headquarters was demolished in 2004, and replaced with a parking lot.