The oldest known photograph of the video game company’s offices is pure Kyoto.

Nintendo is an innovative technology company based in Kyoto, Japan’s former capital and continuing center of traditional culture. With that combination, you might expect the video game giant’s headquarters building to be a beautiful mix of modern and classic elements, combining the sensibilities of its industry and hometown as seamlessly as its products appeal to both veteran adult gamers and young kids who’ve never held a controller.

And yet, the present-day Nintendo building (pictured above) is just a gray concrete block with the company name, also in gray at the corners, and square, recessed windows placed in an unchanging grid layout. Visually, it’s as drab as drab can be, but 129 years ago, Nintendo’s headquarters looked a lot more stylish, at least to our modern eyes, as evidenced by the earliest known photo of the Nintendo building.

The photo was tweeted by French video game historian Florent Gorges‏ from publisher Omake Books, and can also be found here on Japanese historical preservation website Meiji 150 Kyoto no Kiseki. Shot in 1889, the photo shows a long, low building with the lattice-like wooden exterior walls characteristic of Kyoto architecture. Look up from where the bicycle is parked, and at the top of the sign, where the image begins to fade, you can make out the English text “Marufuku Nintendo Card Co.,” referencing Nintendo’s first-ever product: hanafuda playing cards.

In addition the bottom row of text on the same sign reads, when read from right to left, “Yamauchi Nintendo” (堂天任内山), referring to company founder Fusajiro Yamauchi, and the Japanese word for playing cards, karuta (written right to left as たるか) can be seen on both the sign above the bike and the one made of darker wood above the building’s entrance.

If that looks like a luxuriously large building for a newly formed company, it’s worth noting that Yamauchi was the adopted son of Naonana Yamauchi, the owner of concrete and limestone supplier Haiko Honten, which was the building’s original occupant. Fusajiro continued to run Haiko Honten concurrently with Nintendo after taking over the concrete supplier from his adoptive father, and while the two companies officially cut ties with one another in 1927, a look at Haiko Honten’s list of past projects on its website reveals that in addition to the Kyoto Aquarium and Kyoto University Hospital, the company was also involved in the construction of…

the current Nintendo building, as shown on the far right in the above image.

As for what’s standing on the site of Nintendo’s first headquarters today, Gorges reveals that it’s now the site of yet another Nintendo headquarters, which was built in 1933 and is now preserved for posterity.

And as dull as Nintendo’s offices may look today, it’s worth pointing out that by 1889 standards, its original building was pretty run-of-the-mill in terms of appearance. So should you happen to make a pilgrimage to Nintendo HQ during your trip to Kyoto, whip out your camera and snap away, because maybe that dull gray box will look awesome to people a century from now.

Source: Yahoo! Japan News/IGN Japan via Kinisoku, Meiji 150 Kyoto no Kiseki, Haiko Honten (1, 2)
Top image: Wikipedia/Gnash
Insert image: Haiko Honten