Tao by Matsumoto

Practical uses / Nintendo means “Do nothing” Corp.


What is the definition of the third world?

It is countries considered to be underdeveloped economically. Well, a synonym of poor countries. Poor, in terms of economy. They are not necessarily poor in terms of spirituality.

Some kids there are running around barefoot. They may not have a TV set at home. Only the chief has got one in his village. They might have a Nintendo, though. A tourist or a member of an international aid organization gave it to them. The little portable console has been left at the bottom of their belongings and forgotten since the batteries ran out.

Nonetheless, they are happy. They never want to swap their life with that of the kids in the birthplace of the little gadget.

The land of a Nintendo and a Play Station once was a third world country, or something alike. Kids there were running around without shoes, following American soldiers and asking chewing gums and chocolate.

When he was born, the last World War had already been forgotten in the history books, but  American officers still lived in secluded areas hidden behind the tall fences. Inside barbed wires, the life seemed to him completely different from the outside. His family didn't have a TV set, not to mention a car.

He didn't know the word "American Dreams" at that time. America was too far away for the boy to imagine. Did he have a hidden conviction that he had to go across the Pacific to do what he wanted to do? Probably, not. Tokyo was far enough for him. Going to Akihabara, where his father worked, across the Edo river was a big adventure to him.

Then, Akihabara was filled with thousands of minuscule specialist shops of 4 square meters (about 50 square feet). There were no mega chain stores. Of course, there were no computers. The latest technology then was transistor radios. Akihabara was a souk of huts and barracks built on the earth burnt by B-29s, strangely specialized in electric appliances.

No Tokyoites imagined that one day the place would be the centre of the Video Game universe and attract millions of computer nerds and manga Otakus from all over the industrialized world.

One fine day, two men in their overall uniform came to the boy's house in a three-wheel truck. They were not strangers to him. Every time his family have a problem with their radio, the mother called them and they came to fix it.

But, that day the radio was working all right. Instead of fixing it, the two men took a big cardboard box out of their three-wheeler and brought it inside the house.They opened the box carefully as if some expensive crystal wares were there inside. The four hands descended in the box and lifted up the object.

It was a TV set.

This futuristic machine changed the boy's life completely. Before, he wanted to be a baseball player like Sadaharu Oh (the Japanese equivalent to Hank Aaron or Bobby Charlton) and hit a home run like his. A big home run. The ball even reached the moon.

It was a little disappointing to know that those players are playing in a rather smallish park. Game commentators still kept on using the same hyperboles, but he no longer believed that Oh hit the ball to the moon. It was not "to" the moon. It was just "for the direction of" the moon.

He used to play a lot outside, but after the arrival of TV he spent less time playing baseball on the street. He still wanted to be a baseball player, not to play in a ball park packed with sellout spectators, but to be invited to the inside of the box.

"The Beverly Hillbillies", "Flipper", "Be Witched". Inside the TV set there was a wealthy life in a huge house.

It was a little too difficult for a kid to understand the difference of the standard of living between the country where he lived and the one they shot the TV programs. He didn't have the dichotomy of an adult. He never thought that the stories on TV were fictitious and, even in the United States, the same sort of lives did not exist outside film studios.

Instead, the boy simply wondered why his life was not like the one in the TV set. To experience exciting adventures and a-boy-meets-a-girl stories, he had to go inside the TV set. To him, real "reality" was inside the TV set. So-called "reality" outside was not real enough.

At that time, he didn't have any idea about a country called America unlike his father, who had seen its fun-loving B-29s flying around and burning his native town, and had later shaken hands with its soldiers while trying his English with a satisfying result. (His father had never admitted that Americans gave him any chocolate, but he doubted it)

It did not occur to him to go to US to make his dreams come true. He was too young to comprehend the concept of another country. It was too abstract.

Once he had reached a certain age old enough to understand it, he soon realized that it was too expensive to travel there thanks to the fixed exchange rate of $1 = 360yen (which is $1 = 92yen at the time of writing; $1 = 80yen at the time of the last modification).

Besides, traveling abroad for fun was strictly controlled and considered as an anti-social behavior because the state needed the sacred USD to buy the latest machines and reconstruct the burnt nation.

Traveling in the States was more than a dream to him. Even skiing was a dream to him. When he saw Sonny Chiba skiing to chase villains on TV, he thought it only existed in the other side of the Brown-tube (CRT).

So, he was very astonished when his father asked him to go skiing on holiday. This was a good omen, kind of a sign of change, because he noticed that his two realities inside and outside the CRT were getting closer and closer since then.

The biggest change was the birth of a Nintendo.

The company had existed way long before the invention of the small video game console, which carries its name internationally but is modestly called "Family Computer (Famicon)" in Japan. It was just a manufacturer of occidental cards and Japanese cards called Hana Fuda 花札 (it means "flower cards") with typically Japanese Ukiyoe-like designs, which might remind you of the tattoos of a Yakuza. (☞See its photo in the Amazon ad above)

The predecessor of a Nintendo was a Game Watch. (☞See the photo next to Hana Fuda above) When it first appeared in the market, it was really rustic. The form of the toy hasn't changed that much since then. Imagine the console that is half the size of a Nintendo DS. It was something between a watch and a video game.

Its images were black and white and the characters didn't move. The movement was expressed simply by the different images of the same character. As the character moved, the image with a different posture and position was lit, which represented, well, its movement.

In the backyard of a tropical third world holiday camp or at the recess of a storage room in a Japanese house disguising as a first world residence, you may find a Game Watch thrown away and forgotten like Lao Tzu's straw dogs. Then, it will make you laugh because of its simplicity. Compared to the latest Dragon Quest, it was no more developed than a stone blade with which a caveman shaved his face.

You would laugh at the boy, too, because it fascinated him. Not half, in fact.

For the first time in his life, he was able to participate in the action happening in the other side of CRT (in this case, liquid crystal). In other words, he was able to get into the inside of the box.

Time passes and exchange rate changes. The former affects everyone equally. So does the latter, but not precisely fairly. Several recessions and booms later, he has travelled a lot outside of the country.

Some places impressed him. Many others disappointed him. Most of touristy spots looked much more beautiful in a travel program on hi-definition TV than what they really are. At some beautiful places, he met awful people. At some awful places, he met beautiful human beings.

The more he travelled, the more similar the tourist destinations looked. At a remote island supposedly far away from civilization, kids were running around barefoot,....,in a Dolce & Gabbana T shirt, which an international goodwill organization kindly donated to the children "with a lesser god". They preferred a Nike cap to a Mizuno golf sun visor because their football star did not wear the latter.

A local kid asked the Japanese man whether he had a Game Boy and, when he showed his, they were disappointed because its screen didn't have colors. Though the boy politely accepted it when the man offered it as a token of their friendship, the day after the traveller from the land of electric gadgets found his old Nintendo Game Boy in the backyard of the guest house.

When he picked up the console wet with the tropical rain the night before, he thought about Akihabara where he bought it. According to the news on Internet, a frustrated young Japanese man had ended cruelly the lives of several passers-by there by flourishing a dagger. It was not so long ago when Japanese kids were running around barefoot without a computer game, and still happy.

"Do they know what Nintendo means?", he asked himself.

"Nintendo" 任天堂 means «a company that leaves its destiny to Heaven» in Japanese. Its CEO was so happy to admit that they had been simply lucky to have such a success. Every time they had a crisis, they came up with a successful new toy by accident.

"Ninten" is an act of "Do nothing", accepting everything as it is. So, Nintendo could be interpreted as "Do nothing" Corporation. It is a good example that Lao Tzu's teaching works even in business.

Do we really have to «do something» for those "poor" children?

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"Hanafuda" means flower cards. They are a common reminder of Japanese visual arts; Zen calligraphy and Ukiyo-e among others. The Japanese children inherit their cultural heritage without knowing it. One day, a japanologist will discover a profound tie between Zen and Nintendo Game Watch, I suppose.  花札

-Chapter 56a Nikko's three monkeys and Chapter 5b What's a Hologram. When you visit Japan for the first time, Akihabara is a must-see place. So is Nikko. If you have some time in Osaka, visit the Osaka-jo castle to see cute hologram samurai demonstrate what happened in the castle. Osaka is the gastronomic centre of Japan, too.

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