Twenty-four-hour laundromats are very common in Tokyo, but none is quite like the Nigao-e Coin Laundry. First-timers just dropping by for a bit of laundry might be taken aback, and perhaps even baffled, to behold its interior. In Japanese, nigao-e means “caricature” or “portrait.”
The laundromat is covered wall-to-ceiling with simple (yet realistic) pencil sketches of people, both renowned and not-so-famous. For instance, as the Nigao-e Coin Laundry is situated in the Shibamata district—which is famous as a setting for the popular film franchise It’s Tough Being a Man—there are several portraits of Kiyoshi Atsumi, the leading star of the films.
More recognizable faces include former prime ministers, comedians, and actors, as well as historical figures such as Prince Shōtoku. The seemingly random rogues’ gallery also features Audrey Hepburn and Mao Zedong to name a few.
This whimsical art gallery was not created on purpose. Years ago, the owner used to draw sketches whenever the business was slow, in part to entertain the local patrons. Eventually (and unsurprisingly), the laundromat became a unique art gallery and came to be known as the Nigao-e Coin Laundry.
Today, the coin laundry has four locations in Katsushika City of Tokyo, all in the neighborhood of Shibamata. It’s quite unusual for such a small laundromat business to branch out like that, but of course, that is not the only peculiar thing about it. Each location exhibits a different set of hand-drawn pencil portraits, totaling over a thousand artworks.