Nintendo didn’t always make video games. The company was formed in 1889, and before Mario, they tried to sell pretty well everything you can imagine. We’re talking goods and services that no sane man would ever link to video gaming.
It would be impossible to list everything Nintendo has tried to sell because they’ve tried pretty near everything. There are some highlights, though, that tell the story of a company desperately trying to find its niche—and you’d be surprised at just how much of it involves brothels, the yakuza, and light pornography.
10. Supplying The Yakuza’s Illegal Gambling Rings
Nintendo’s first major customers were the yakuza: Japan’s organized crime syndicates. Long before they made video games, Nintendo specialized in making playing cards, and their biggest customers were the illegal casinos run by the yakuza.
It was an open secret. Nintendo barely even tried to hide how they were using their cards—in fact, it was right there in their name. The name “Nintendo” is an allusion to gambling that roughly translates to “in the end, it is in heaven’s hands.”
Some think the name holds an even deeper meaning. According to some yakuza members, Nintendo’s name, from the start, was a subtle reference to ninkyo, the yakuza concept of chivalry. This would mean that, from the very moment the business started, they were linked to the Japanese mob.
Nintendo made a fortune selling playing cards. They quickly became the biggest card company in Japan; they even got the contract for Disney’s officially licensed playing cards in 1959. And, believe it or, not Nintendo still sells their old playing cards today, and they’re the still the biggest card manufacturer in Japan.
9. Love Hotels And Nudie Cards
Nintendo hasn’t always been a family-friendly company. In the 1960s, they went through a weird phase as purveyors of sex and pornography.
It all started shortly after Hiroshi Yamauchi took over the company. He was young—he dropped out of school to take the reigns of his grandfather’s company—and he was worried about how all the old-timers would take his new ideas. So, naturally, he fired everybody before they could complain.
To be fair, he was right. When they heard his ideas, they probably would have quit, anyway. Under Yamauchi, the company started releasing new lines of pornographic playing cards, with a different naked lady on each card. They even released a special line with Marilyn Monroe’s Playboy pictures on every card.
Then they moved into love hotels: pay-by-the-hour hotels run in red-light districts for prostitutes to meet up with their customers or for two lovers to discreetly have sex. Nintendo’s love hotels didn’t make any money, but at the time, rumors had it that Yamauchi only set them up so that he could use them for free. Yamauchi, it’s said, wasn’t just the president—he was the Nintendo’s best customer.