Friday, April 15, 2011

Famicom History

I'm a big history buff. In real life I do some research that touches on the subject, though I'm in a different field.

I've been wanting to do some articles here on Famicom history for a while and figured I might as well start now. So here goes.

You'll notice that there are a lot of sites that give you the bare facts of the Famicom's history - the dates and names. The best history on the net I've seen is the write up at Game Spy on the 20th anniversary of the console's release. Their (excellent) article though is mainly concerned with the history of the Famicom as a console itself. What I am more interested in is the Famicom's place in Japanese history. What is really missing out there in English is some writing about the Famicom and the people who actually went out, bought the things, played with them, got bored with them and forgot about them back in the day. What place did the Famicom have in Japanese society in the 1980s?

In short, this is not a series about video game history. That has been done to death. It is a series about the Famicom's place in history writ large. This is a subject which has been almost entirely overlooked in the English (and even the Japanese) blogosphere.

Probably a big part of the problem is the sheer difficulty of finding material. Normally I only use photos that I took myself on this blog (with some exceptions), but of course I can't go back in time to the 80s to take such photos, so I'm stuck with free riding off the photos of others for this series, which is a difficult task.

I spent a ton of time trying to find photos of the Famicom actually taken back in the 1980s on the net. If you look around, especially on youtube, you can find videos of original commercials for the Famicom (which are totally awesome, BTW), but not much else. No 'candid' shots. After searching the Japanese internet far and wide the only picture I was able to find was the one above. This came not from a gaming site, but from the website of the Association of Japanese Energy Producers, who used it to show how electricity was used in the 80s. That is how far and wide I had to look!

It seems I'll have to (ugh) start pouring through actual physical media from the day to find more such photos. I'll see what they have at the library...

Anyway, another almost- Famicom photo I found was this one, Akihabara in 1982, on the eve of the Famicom boom:These people didn't know what was about to hit them.

Looks fitting though. Kind of what I imagine 1982 Akihabara to have looked like. The photo comes from the excellent archives section of Akihabara's official site. Even if you can't read Japanese, they have some cool photos of old school stuff in there (just start clicking at random and you are bound to find something).

Anyway, I'll end this post by introducing the "major eras" in Famicom history, as defined by Tatta Hitori no Famicom Shonen, a Japanese Famicom related website. Yeah, I know I said I wasn't going to talk about dates, but for introductory purposes I think these might be useful and of some interest.

The Early Golden Age (1983-1986): Covering the period from the release of the Famicom to the release of the Disk System.

The Middle Golden Age (1987-1989): Covering the period when the Famicom reached its peak to just before the release of the Super Famicom.

The Late Golden Age (1990 - 1994): In the wake of the Super Famicom's release, new Famicom titles continue to be released. To the last officially released Famicom title.

The Famicom Ice Age (1994-1997): Mountains of remaining, unsold inventories of Famicom games sold on the market at discounted prices. Some overlap with the late golden age.

The Renaissance (1998-2003): Famicom games begin to regain their value (on the secondary market). Until the 20th anniversary of the Famicom.

The Second Coming of the Famicom (2004 - Present): The value of the better ("premium") Famicom games go up, while all the other games are dumped at discount prices again. Famiclones make their appearance on the market.

I won't necessarily be following this breakdown by era (I'll only be focusing on the "Golden Age" from 1983 to 1994), but there it is for you. This is a loose translation of the original, with some liberties taken here and there.


  1. I'm actually kind of amazed you've had such a hard time finding photos. I would have thought that Japanese folks would have taken some of their photos, scanned them and uploaded them *somewhere* by now! How sad (in a way) that they haven't -- especially given the way the system impacted society.

    Anyway, I look forward to reading more of the posts you include in this series. I'm sure they'll be great (as always).

    Oh, and regarding your comment about old TV commercials on YouTube, etc.: Every once in a while I get caught up in a YouTube loop where I'll watch copious amounts of old Famicom, Super Famicom and PC Engine commercials :)

  2. Thanks Bryan!

    Its amazing how difficult it is to find them. What I really want photos of is of Department store shelves stacked with Famicom consoles and/ or games and that sort of thing. I'm sure they must exist somewhere but no matter how many variants of word searches I enter into Google images, I get nothing!

    I think I might know the youtube loop you are talking about! I love those old video game commercials!

  3. If you don't already know about it, check out They usually post tons of Famicom related media. Occasionally, the weird ad or something will come up.

    Ages ago, I bought this British retro game magazine that Waldenbooks (are they even still around anymore?) somehow imported. The cover article was all about the Famicom. I'm sure it was all pretty standard information, but since I was only a high school senior at the time, I thought it was amazing. Unfortunately, I doubt I have the magazine anymore.

    I'm really looking forward to seeing the articles!

    By the way, I'm sure it's not of interest to anyone, but I had to return to America. I was doing a study abroad and my home school got nervous and did a lot of underhanded tactics to try and force us home. For me, they saw that I had enough credits and graduated me thus making me lose my student status which would mean I couldn't stay at the dorm anymore.

    Luckily, I managed to mail my Famicom and a few of my favorite games home the morning I left. Luckily I have an NES and SNES at my house, and apparently my family bought a Wii while I was gone... it's taking me a lot of effort not to spend all my money on the virtual console games.

  4. Hi Nate,

    I'm sorry to hear that you have had to leave these shores, but glad that your best Famicom stuff was able to make it back to the States with you! Best of luck with things in the U.S. and I hope your journeys through life bring you back to Japan someday!

    I'll have to peruse Fuck Yeah Famicom for old photos, I do like some of the stuff he puts up there.

    I'll probably have to pour over some old Japanese magazines for pics, which could take time. I hope I'll get the next article in this series up in the next week or two (with or without pictures!)

  5. Very interesting! Like Bryan, I'll look forward to more of these posts :)

  6. Thanks, Simon! I should have a follow up piece up sometime in the next week or so!