Biography: Meet Nintendo’s Hiroshi Yamauchi
As gamers, sometimes we find ourselves imaging what it might be like to actually work in the industry. There’s many ways one could contribute — from designing characters, composing music, or even running an entire company! At Arcade Sushi, we thought it might be a good idea to inspire others with introductions to the many faces of the gaming world. Starting off, we’d like you to meet Hiroshi Yamauchi, Nintendo’s third president.
Yamauchi was born in Kyoto, Japan on November 7th, 1927. His childhood was not the best under his circumstances. When Yamauchi was twelve years-old, he was enrolled in a preparatory school. He wanted to study law or engineering at the time. However, when World War II hit, he was forced out of his studies to work in a military factory. Only when the war ended in 1945 did he go back to school, this time to Waseda University to study law.
His family life wasn’t the greatest either. When he was a child, his father left his mother and him to fend for themselves. His father returned many years later to try and patch things up. Hiroshi wanted nothing to do with him at the time. When he was in his 30s, his half sister broke the bad news that their father had passed away. Hiroshi felt guilty for never reconciling with his father from then on.
In 1947, while Yamauchi was away at the university, his grandfather had a stroke. At the time, his grandfather was the president of a company named Nintendo. He reached out to his grandson in hopes that he would immediately take his place. It was agreed that he would fill in the position only if he was the only family member in the company. In 1949, he finally took the position after his older cousin was fired. Unfortunately, his grandfather passed soon after.
After his position was accepted, Yamauchi was confronted with criticism. The employers of Nintendo did not feel that he was the right fit for the job due to his lack of experience and age. The workers went on strike, hoping that this would cause him to step down. Due to their dismay, Yamauchi decided to take action. Long-time employers who questioned his authority were fired. Afterward, he decided to revamp a bit of Nintendo itself. The name of the company was changed to Nintendo Karuta, and their headquarters was moved to Kyoto.
Hiroshi Yamauchi ruled over the company like no other. He was the sole decision maker when it came to new products. He started off with the introduction of Western playing cards into the Japanese market. He envisioned these cards as a party game that the whole family could play with.
In 1959, a licensing agreement was made with Disney for the cards. Within the first year, 600,000 units were sold. This gave Nintendo a tremendous starting point for dominating the market. He changed the name of the company once again — this time to Nintendo Company Limited. It also was placed on the stock market from this day on with Yamauchi becoming chairman. Everything seemed to be going smoothly for him during this time.
Things didn’t last forever. When he visited the States, he was confronted with the fact that the industry was very limited. He didn’t let that stop him, though. The company would become more diverse and try out new venues like taxis, love hotels, and even instant rice. All of these failed, leaving Yamauchi in a slump. That is, until he saw he saw Gunpei Yokoi, a factory engineer, playing with a homemade extendable claw.
The little toy appealed to him so much that he ordered Yokoi to make his gagdet into an actual product for the company. That finished product was called the Ultra Hand, which became a hit. From that day forth, Yamauchi brought Nintendo’s focus towards toy making. Departments were created for this purpose, and he put Yokoi in charge of making the new products. They both drove the company to another great start-up, this time in the toy business.
Times were changing, especially during the era of electronics. Yamauchi saw that Nintendo’s future was meant for this, which is why he launched Color TV Game 6 in Japan. To expand the business, he sent his son-in-law, Minoru Arakawa, to the States with a few of their arcade cabinets. In a sad turn of events, the cabinets did not do too well. Yamauchi brought his attention to a man we know all too well, Shigeru Miyamoto, to help out. From the skeleton of a game called Radar Scope, Miyamoto designed Donkey Kong in 1981. It was such a success that Nintendo became a huge name in the video game industry.
Famicom proved to be another hit under Yamauchi’s rule. Several million units were sold in Japan, which then lead to the States receiving their own version — the NES. He still was the sole decider of what games were to be released. Yamauchi had a strong intuition with what the audience wanted in the future, ultimately driving the success of Nintendo for years to come. He even created a few research and development team groups that would compete against each other for approval on their games.
From the phenomenal sales of the Super Famicom to Gamecube’s “exclusive video game console” system, Yamauchi oversaw it all. However, in May of 2002, that all ended. He withdrew from his role as president of Nintendo to become the chairman for the board of directors. Satoru Iwata took his place as president. Hiroshi Yamauchi officially left the company in June of 2005 due to his age. He felt confident in the direction that the company was going in, making for a pleasant resignation.
At the time he retired, he was Nintendo’s largest shareholder. In 2008, he owned 10% of the company’s shares. He was quoted as being Japan’s wealthiest citizen, valued at $7.8 billion. He was a very humble man, though. He donated a majority of his money to a cancer treatment center in his hometown, and he even refused his retirement pension (an estimated $9 to $14 million), saying it could be put to better use for the company.
Yamauchi left our world when he passed away on September 19th, 2013. He had been in the hospital, and the cause of death was determined to be complications from pneumonia. His wife had passed away the year prior to his departure, leaving their three children behind. After his death, Nintendo stated they were grieving for the loss of their former president. Here, at Arcade Sushi, we equally mourn for the passing of the great Hiroshi Yamauchi. His legacy will live on in the hearts of all gamers around the world.