Every company has a secret to their success, and Nintendo is no exception; their secret, however, is a dark and fascinating one — the Yakuza.
Most people know the Yakuza for shady business activities, whole-body tattoos, and chopped-off fingers, but as it turns out, the infamous Japanese organization had been instrumental early in the toymaker’s history.
The fact comes to light in a new video from Polygon, which traces Nintendo’s 129-year-long life that sprung in Kyoto on September 23, 1889.
Fusajiro Yamauchi started Nintendo as a playing card company, and its main product were Hanafuda cards or “flower cards.” The cards, originally hand-painted on mulberry tree bark, became so popular that Yamauchi had to hire assistants to satisfy the demand.
Their biggest customer? The Yakuza!
Apparently, the Yakuza used Hanafuda cards in their gambling parlors, with Nintendo being their biggest supplier.
In his book titled “Game Over: How Nintendo Conquered the World,” American author David Sheff wrote that the company made a handsome profit from its business with the Yakuza, as professional players would start a new game with a new set of cards and discard the old one.
Thanks to the Yakuza, business went on for Nintendo, which eventually branched out from playing cards to become a taxi service, a food company, even a love hotel chain, until it settled in as a gaming firm in 1966.
The rest, of course, is history.
As it seems, Nintendo is paying tribute to its roots with this month’s release of Labo, an extension of the Switch that makes use of cardboard cutouts for “new interactive build-and-play experiences.”
Nintendo has certainly come a long way, and if you feel like re-living their history, Hanafuda cards are still available on their website.