From Paper to Electronics: The Rise of Kyoto’s Video Game Giant, Nintendo

Who doesn’t recognize the word Nintendo? The Japanese brand has become synonymous with the likes of popular video game regulars like Wii, 3DS, and even Pokemon. The company is known to be a leader in games and entertainment, but did you know that the Kyoto-founded brand has roots tied to Japanese traditions? In fact, it started as a card manufacturer for an old-style card game called Karuta.

The History of Kyoto’s Biggest Gaming Brand

It may be hard to make the connection between such an ancient concept to the Nintendo we all love and know now, but this progress only proves just how good the brand is in innovating and stepping up to the times. Industrial artist Fusajiro Yamauchi created Nintendo-Karuta in Kyoto in September 1889 and started by selling hana-fuda, a Japanese traditional card game. The game became a huge hit to gamblers and started the company’s move to producing more of its kind. The Karuta games in particular can be considered as one of the most innovative inventions of the company with the combination of the concept of games and learning for children.

It was in the 1960s when Karuta was first introduced, a time when Nintendo still used its cursive logo. From originally manufacturing gambling cards and partnering with tobacco companies, the company dipped its feet to a new market by designing its games to target a younger group of consumers.

Karuta: The Inspiration and History

The concept of the Karuta can be traced back to the century old practice of using clam shells for the games. Kyoto’s Heian period saw the use of kai-awase or shell-matching game by aristocrats, in which the inner surfaces of the shells were painted with scenes or poetry, and players are tasked to match the most number of shells in the shortest amount of time. When the Portuguese reached Japan in the mid-1500s, they introduced a similar game to the samurai classes but using European playing cards instead of shells called carta. Translated to Japanese ears, the game became well-known as karuta during that time.

Understanding Karuta

The Karuta came in two types, the Uta-Garuta and Iroha Karuta which work by having separate decks of cards that provide a clue and an answer. Uta-Garuta, also called poem cards’, is a set of 200 cards divided into two. Each card comes with 100 poems, and one set is read by a player while the others grabbed at a second deck during the game. The game works by matching the readable cards which consists of five line poems with its last two lines.

Iroha Karuta, on the other hand, are themed cards similar to Uta-Garuta, but containing proverbs or Japanese sayings. The game consists of two decks with 48 cards per deck, each of card starting with a unique syllable from the hiragana set. The goal of the game is to match the syllables from both decks to form a phrase. Iroha Karuta is made for elementary school students who are still learning hiragana and katakana.

From paper cards to video game giant

Nintendo’s rise and constant shift in the industry has proven that it is really one of Kyoto’s most successful names in the entertainment field. The strength of the brand lies on its willingness to predict, ride, and translate trends. Because who would have thought that the popular game company actually started with paper cards, right? True enough, Nintendo knows entertainment and continues to be a leader in creating industry-changing trends too! Do you ever wonder what’s next for the brand?


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