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Early stigmatisation of Nintendo and ties to the Yakuza

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On September 23, 1889 Fusajiro Yamauchi founded Nintendo Koppai; the first form of Nintendo primarily selling Hanafuda or flower Japanese playing cards (one of several types of the Portugese-derived Karuta playing cards adapted for Japan). Circa this time period, such products were seen by some members of society as taboo or were banned (i.e. the 265 year long Sakoku foreign policy to restrict interactions, influence and trade from the West had only been recently lifted in 1868); stigma also increased due to various members of the Yakuza (Japanese organised crime syndicates) tattoing themselves with Fusajiro Yamauchi's Hanafuda artwork, as well as a ban on serious gambling in 1907; a potential use for Hanafuda playing cards.


  • When Nintendo Koppai was formed in 1889, the Edo period (1868) and Sakoku foreign policy had only recently ended. When Spanish Catholic missionary Francis Xavier arrived in Japan in 1549, 48 suited playing cards were introduced to the Japanese. It lead to the Japanese using them for gambling, and creating inspired playing cards such as Kai-awase. However, Spanish and Portugese influence threatened the stability of the shogunate; so any cards traced back to Western influences were banned.[1] In general, a foreign policy was formed known as Sakoku (鎖国) meaning "locked country" largely restricting relations and trades between Japan and other countries, and lasted for 265 years between 1603 to 1868 (the same year period is known as Edo Japan).[2] Hanafuda cards in concept although a Japanese creation, is perceived to be a derivative of the Portugese playing cards, similar to the Kai-awase cards.
  • Some of the Yakuza (Japanese organised crime syndicates) would tattoo themselves with Fusajiro Yamauchi's Hanafuda artwork, so in the public eye Hanafuda was more closely associated with criminals.[3]

Ban on serious gambling and the Yakuza

  • On April 24, 1907, Japan introduced Act 45 of its penal code, forbidding gambling unless it is used for "momentary entertainment.", so gambling rings were outlawed with up to five years of imprisonment.[4] Hanafuda playing cards have been closely associated by the public with betting. In particular, because flower (花, hana) is also a homophone for nose (鼻, hana) gamblers would locate a deck or a den by touching their noses, and this is perhaps why the long-nosed yokai Tengu is also found on Hanafuda decks.[5] Although Hanafuda cards do not necessarily endorse illegal gambling, Nintendo was at risk as a producer of these cards, both in terms of their image, and potentially dangerous relationships with the Yakuza.

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