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The Time When Nintendo Employees Went On A Hunger Strike

[Image: Eckhard Pecher | Creative Commons]
[Image: Eckhard Pecher | Creative Commons]

These days, people might be thrilled to work for Nintendo. But in the 1950s, when things got dire, employees took extreme measures to show their dissatisfaction.

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The photo below dates from May 25, 1955. The banner reads, “On A Hunger Strike.” Below that, it reads, “Nintendo Labor Union.” At that time, Nintendo was still mainly a card maker, and it would be decades before it began exploring the business opportunities that made the company world famous.

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According to Labor.or.jpg, union members were protesting a factory closure and employee layoffs. As detailed in the book The History of Nintendo: 1889-1980, Hiroshi Yamauchi began a series of reforms in 1950. He consolidated the family’s corporate entities and moved production to a centralized location. To purchase more land, Yamauchi, still not 30, took out a loan—a first for Nintendo.

[Full disclosure: The History of Nintendo’s publisher released the French edition of my first book Arcade Mania.]

All these changes were too much for the labor union, who thought Yamauchi was too young and too inexperienced. They went on strike, with some refusing to eat, hoping to make their objections even louder.

Yamauchi, however, didn’t back down. According to The History of Nintendo, his fiercest in-company rivals were issued termination letters, sending them packing, and the young exec brought the remaining workers under his heel.

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“I couldn’t stand being taken for a guy who would only be the boss through blood ties,” Yamauchi was later quoted as saying about the early days (via The History of Nintendo). “More than anything else, I wanted to prove them wrong for underestimating me.”


Kotaku East is your slice of Asian internet culture, bringing you the latest talking points from Japan, Korea, China and beyond. Tune in every morning from 4am to 8am.

Originally from Texas, Ashcraft has called Osaka home since 2001. He has authored six books, including most recently, The Japanese Sake Bible.

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DISCUSSION

Japan wasn’t doing so hot in the 50s. It’s pretty understandable that in the face of layoffs and factory closures, a union would stage a dramatic protest like this.

Go hungry for a little while, in hopes of not having to go hungry for a long while. What a sad state of affairs to end up in. And then to have it end up being turned into a corporate ploy to consolidate power at the expense of those who spoke up loudest...

At least times have changed? (At this specific company, anyway...)