The traditional beauty of Nintendo playing cards

The traditional beauty of Nintendo playing cards

The picture shows a pack of old Nintendo hanafud cards.

Hanafuda cards contain flowers and leaves from all year round. This deck, manufactured by Nintendo, could date from 1900 to 1930.
Photo: Marcus Richert

At the end of the 19th century Nintendo began to produce another type of game: playing cards. The company continues to make cards, and whether they are those from the past or today, the packages show the beauty of Japan.

Hanafuda is a floral card game that features flowers and leaves of different seasons. For example, the 12 suits include, but are not limited to, plum blossoms, cherry blossoms, peonies, chrysanthemums, and maple leaves, each reflecting the seasons throughout the year.

The picture shows a close up of a hanafuda package made by Nintendo.

In Japan, floral and leaf patterns also appear on varnish, pottery, kimonos and tattoos.
Photo: Marcus Richert

Nature is one of the most important motifs of Japanese art, kimono fabric and tattoos. Given how the flowers are adorned with Japanese money, it only makes sense that one of the most famous card games in the country is covered with the natural beauty of the country.

“A few years ago, I bought this particular package at an online auction for a ridiculously low amount,” Marcus Richert, a collector and Hanfudan expert from Osaka, said so Kotaku. “I’m not sure if I paid 1,000 yen (less than $ 10) for that at all.”

The picture shows a detailed view of the deck deck.

On the Nintendo deck, kanji hat 櫻 (hatsu-zakura) means “the first cherry blossom of the year.”
Photo: Marcus Richert

Japan has no shortage of hanafuda collectors and old, handmade Nintendo decks like this one are rare. Still, Richert says that a few times he came across such cards, he was lucky to get them at bargain base prices. Richert does not know the exact date of the deck, but believes it could have been built between 1900 and 1930.

What makes this set of Nintendo cards special is that this pack was printed by hand. Technique, so-called kappa-zuri, uses a round brush over stenciling. The black outlines, Richert adds, were most likely printed by woodcut or copper plate.

The picture shows a detailed shot of three hanafuda cards made by Nintendo.

Notice how Nintendo (任天堂) is written in pre-World War II style from right to left.
Photo: Marcus Richert

The practice of hand-drawing cards, which was also common in Europe, began to disappear in Japan in the mid-1940s, when the last craftsmen retired. Nintendo continued to use handmade steps in making its hanafuda cards until the early 1970s, Richert says, even though they were machine-printed. “The last step in loading the base paper on the cards was really hard to automate.”

Pictured are hanafuda cards on the table.

Hanafud’s connotations used to be different.
Photo: Marcus Richert

Hanafuda is now played at home during the Japanese New Year holidays, but more than a century ago, the game was a mainstay of lair for illegal gambling. As Rebecca Salter notes in a Japanese art magazine Andon“The relationship between cards and gambling and official attempts to suppress, if not ban, is a topic that runs through the story of cards in Japan.”

The picture shows two packs of Nintendo Teng cards.

Nintendo modern, machine-made set of Tengu hanafuda cards.
picture: Nintendo

The cards became so closely associated with betting that players touched their noses to find a deck or lair because of the Japanese word for flower (花 or hana) is a homophone for the nose (鼻 or hana), which may explain why the long-nosed Yokai Tengu is found on the decks of Hanfud.

Pictured is a set of Mario hanafuda cards.

Although it is a Mario set, Nintendo included traditional designs.
picture: Nintendo

Today, Nintendo continues production hanafuda cards, even gives them definitely Mario spin. But Nintendo is not the only Hanafud producer in the country – it is not the only one in Kyoto. Oishi TengudoFounded in 1800, it still produces its Hanafud in the old way: by hand. And while Oishi Tengudo has never made a leap into video games, he is perhaps Nintendo’s oldest rival, making beautiful custom cards.

The picture shows a set of Shiki.

Here is a close-up of the Shiki set.
Photo: Marcus Richert

Richert teamed up with Oishi Tengudo for a set of beautiful, handmade hanafuda cards called Shiki. You can learn more about this on the project Kickstarter.