Splish, Splash — Miyamoto Was Taking a Bath When He Came up with Donkey Kong Ideas

Donkey Kong

Where can we get one of these magical thinking bathtubs?

How did the games industry’s most legendary designer come up with some of the ideas powering a franchise starring a jumping man and a “stupid monkey” that’s sold more than tens of million of units to date? By taking a bath at the company offices, of course.

In an interview posted to Nintendo’s Japanese website and translated by Wired, Shigeur Miyamoto hopped into the ol’ wayback machine to discuss the development of 1981’s Donkey Kong.

As Wired notes, some of the details are already well-known to hardcore Nintendo fans, such as Mario’s being originally dubbed Jumpman and Miyamoto having thought Donkey meant “stupid” in English. Several other tidbits, however, are previously unknown idiosyncrasies surrounding the development of one of the industry’s most seminal games. For instance, Miyamoto basically lived at Nintendo for months while working on the game, which led to an interesting hygienic routine.

“You probably won’t hear from me for about two or three months,” he told several friends before starting work on the game. The game designer says this was a typical development cycle back then. In actuality, it would be four or five months until he completed the game, and he did very little other than work, sleep, and bathe during this time.

“At the time, I was living in company-owned housing, just across the river from the office,” he recalled. “So every day, I was just going back and forth between the office and the company housing. Thank goodness we had a company bathtub!”

Yes, there was a company bathtub, and — for one aspiring game developer, at least — it was a thinking man’s tub. The tub had actually been put there for use by workers in Nintendo’s hanafuda (traditional Japanese playing cards the company had manufactured since its founding in the 19th century) factory. But for Miyamoto, it was useful for more than just getting clean.


“There was a water boiler that was used to make the hanafuda, and the water from this boiler was also used for a bathtub. The employees making the hanafuda could wash their sweat away in the bath after work, and at night when nobody was around, you could hang out there for a long time.”

Continuing, Miyamoto said, “It totally saved me. It was really effective at letting me put my ideas in order.”

It’s just one of several fascinating insights into Donkey Kong’s development. Check out Wired’s full story for details on how Donkey Kong originally had a sort of voice acting, Miyamoto’s working relationship with Nintendo of America at the time, and Mario’s intended age, which is much younger than most fans think it is.


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