Hiroishi Yamauchi, the man who steered Nintendo to Supremacy.

Maybe the name isn’t as familiar as I would like to think, and most of you have probably not heard of him, at least not in the recent past, but I know you’ve heard of Super Mario or Donkey Kong.

The man who transformed his great-grandfathers playing card company into an international gaming giant recently passed on in Kyoto at age 85. The company released an official statement saying that he died from complication of pneumonia.



He was named President of his family business at only 22. For his first years, he led Nintendo into board games, baseball-pitching machines and some light emitting toy guns. All these efforts were fruitless; he later attributed this to lack of imagination. This was all before the company made its way into arcade games.

Hits like Donkey Kong, and the original Mario Bros gave rise to Nintendo’s huge success on the video games market.

The release of “Famicom” (better known as the Nintendo Entertainment System), in 1983 was the beginning of an era for Nintendo; for starters, this console unseated the early leaders in the video game industry. I mean it sold more than sixty million units, all thanks to some astute marketing, close attention to product quality and a pick of games based on the most unlikely of characters. Nevertheless, these characters soon became household names.


I cannot even start to explain how wildly preposterous the premises of some of the big hits from Nintendo (but I have to try), let me take one case example, Super Mario Bros. The storyline behind this game entails the lives of two Italian (not forgetting mustachioed) janitors who submit themselves to various trials, like dodging hammer-swinging turtles and lava balls, not to mention man-eating plants. Risking it all to save a Mushroom Princess. Kids could not get enough of this!

Mr. Yamauchi truly understood video games; Nintendo rise was unstoppable under his command. When the successor to the Famicom was released back in 1990, fans camped outside electronic stores for days waiting; it sold close to fifty million units. Next were the Nintendo 64 and Nintendo Game Cube home consoles, as well as Game Boy hand-held machines.



Another milestone in Mr. Yamauchi’s life came in the early 1990s where he found himself waste deep in an international dispute after he offered to buy a majority stake in the Seattle Mariners. The team was threatening to leave Seattle if it could not find a new owner willing, and able to keep it there. By then Nintendo had its United States headquarters in Seattle.

What went down was that, the team’s owners approved the deal but the commissioner Of Major League Baseball, Fay Vincent, and a others unmentioned of the M.L.B owners’ committee initially opposed the idea. The sale was finally approved in 1992 after Mariners fans and the Seattle news media backed the notion. This, arguably, led to the Mariners signing the first Japanese outfielder Ichiro Suzuki, opening the door for many more Japanese Players to join the major league teams in the US.



Our unsung Hero was born in Kyoto on November 7th in 1927. His father, Shikanojo Yamauchi had deserted the family thus leaving young Yamauchi in the care of his grandparents.

Back then, the Yamauchis were known for their involvement in the manufacture of hanafunda cards, a Japanese playing card. The game had started out as a reserve for the affluent, but it later devolved into a gambling game, reserved for Japanese gangsters.

What pushed Yamauchi into the business at such a young age was the death of his grandfather who suffered a stroke. He wasted no time in taking charge of the company, purging all that defied him, from cousins to officers appointed by his grandfather.

The playing card business was quickly declining, and Mr. Yamauchi set out on a trial and error phase, dipping his metaphorical toe in all waters pertaining to toys until finally landing on the video game machine frontier.  He obviously did not come up with the games and designs himself, but was keen to employ the renowned video game designer Shigeru Miyamoto. He joined the company in 1977 and is created for the design of Mario, Donkey Kong, The Legend of Zelda, Wii and other products.


This was in 2002 when he finally retired. But, even with his final decision, he still showed the wisdom that he had come to be associated with in peeking a successor outside the family to steer the company through some hard times.

Nothing less than impressive was to be expected from this man!

He was survived by a few, among them his son, Katsuhito.


Featured image courtesy of creativecommons.org