When you’re Nintendo, maker of some of the most beloved games of all time that are brimming with playful innovation, wonder and creativity, you can expect that to be reflected in the building where the magic happens. Sure, it might not be Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory or even Google’s fancy offices that exude a grouchy, big-kid energy, but you wouldn’t think Shigeru Miyamoto, or all the other creative minds at Nintendo EPD , would spend their day in a giant corporate concrete block, which another developer I spoke to jokingly called “the place where dreams go to die.”
Yet that seemingly oppressive exterior also lends it a curious enigmatic quality, if you think of this concrete block instead as a giant question block, a block that devoted fans want to reach out and bang for the chance to find out. a little about the business they love.
Since my previous visit to Japan in 2019, when I attempted to make a pilgrimage to view the exterior of Nintendo’s Kyoto headquarters, however, there have been developments for more physical spaces that embody history and culture. spirit of Nintendo that members of the public can appreciate. . These include specialty stores like Tokyo and the recently opened Osaka, branches of the Nintendo Store (which actually started in the United States with Nintendo New York in Manhattan’s Rockefeller Center), and theme parks like Super Nintendo World, which opened at Universal Studios Osaka. Japan in 2021, with more expected to be built in the United States. Nintendo is also repurposing its former Uji Ogura factory into a museum that will open in 2024, tentatively named Nintendo Gallery.
Now that Japan has officially reopened to tourists after the pandemic, I’ve had the pleasure of visiting both Super Nintendo World and the Nintendo Stores, and there’s an undeniable joy in being transported to the physical spaces that recreate this Nintendo magic – although with the latter its requirement to have a timed entry ticket to meet overwhelming demand means you feel more pressured to actually spend rather than just casually browse.
But if you’re looking for another perspective on Nintendo, away from the obviously touristy attractions saturated with Mario memorabilia, then there’s another essential place to visit, or rather stay. Located in the heart of Kyoto, the Marufukuro on the surface looks like a boutique hotel in a quiet part of town, next to the Kamo River that runs through the city. What the average person might not know, however, is that this building originally housed Nintendo’s old headquarters. This was when it was run by Hiroshi Yamauchi, under whose leadership the company grew from a playing card manufacturing company into the video game giant it is today.
It’s not something that’s immediately apparent, as you won’t find any hints of Mario or Zelda in the elegant decor and furnishings of the hotel’s rooms, although it still retains the original nameplates. outside the building. The English plate bears its old name “The Nintendo Playing Card Co.”, along with two other interesting brand logos, an early brand based on the 19th century French emperor Napoleon Bonaparte and another with the “fuku” kanji 福 ( meaning fortune) inside a “maru” circle, or Marufuku, Nintendo’s old name used to distribute hanafuda cards. This is where the hotel got its name, with the Japanese suffix -ro denoting its luxurious status. Admittedly, this is the fanciest and most expensive hotel I have personally stayed in at my own expense.
Although not here to review the hotel – given that my previous stay in Japan was in hostels, I’m not sure I have enough taste – I can tell you that, yes, the bed was super comfortable and spacious and the bathroom was exquisite and I took a bath in the tub when I checked in. The good thing about paying for an expensive hotel room is that they also offer a few freebies, like e-bike rental, the best way around Kyoto, and a well-stocked mini-bar which I decided to empty with the help of local game developer buddies at 17-Bit, founded by former Nintendo game consultant Jake Kazdal.
There’s something particularly alluring about spending the night not just in luxury, but in the same room that might have been Yamauchi’s office – or close to it. By choosing to book a room located in the old building rather than the newly built annex (although this new building is designed by famous self-taught architect Tadao Ando), I was sure to stay in a part of history . These stylish nods are everywhere, including the intimate self-service bar on the third floor, which apparently also stocks Yamauchi’s favorite whiskey and gin (although to my disappointment it didn’t include any Japanese whiskey ).
But the real draw is the library next door, named dNa. While we’re still waiting for the Nintendo Gallery to open, this compact yet sleek space is essentially the closest thing to a Nintendo museum. Everything was so immaculate that I almost felt nervous about touching anything. But you are indeed free to roam as you please, which I made sure to do in the morning over a cup of coffee, when luckily no one else was there.
The shelves hold books that document Nintendo’s history, my personal highlights being three huge volumes containing the complete Japanese scripts for the Mother trilogy, as well as Nintendo collector Erik Voskuil’s bilingual book, Before Mario, which covers the long company pre-video story. game toy products. These include Gunpei Yokoi’s Light Telephone, which is also faithfully reproduced as one of the art exhibits. There are even art installations for its hanafuda cards (designed by Rhizomatics, which has also collaborated with Tetsuya Mizuguchi on several occasions) as well as an interactive touch screen where you can examine its past products in 3D.
By contrast, filling the remaining spaces with real Nintendo game consoles, like the N64 and GameCube, felt a little less imaginative and more fan-service for people who might have come here without feeling like it was Nintendo enough. That said, given that the Famicom and Super Famicom models on display happened to be their mini retro console variants, I wonder if any guests had cheekily borrowed them from the library to tune into their TVs in their rooms for a moment of entertainment. in the evening.
Given the high price for a single night (and that doesn’t include dinner and/or breakfast options), staying at Marufukuro might not necessarily be something every Nintendo fan would want to do. But given that the guestbook contains many doodles of Nintendo characters, its history and significance is not lost on those who have made the pilgrimage to this building which had only been visible from the outside for decades. decades. The fact that you can also buy the building’s iconic plaque as a heavy miniaturized keyring, just like those used for every hotel room key, also makes for a much classier keepsake than just a t-shirt or soft toy. .
There will be many more Nintendo Stores and Super Nintendo Worlds, but there is only one Marufukuro.