Photo: Sowannabee

Nigaoe: Caricature culture in Japan and a peek inside So Watanabe’s work

By cinnamonellie, grape Japan

Whenever I travel to a new place, I like getting something that will make me remember my trip and one thing I fall for (besides the magnets that I usually end up on my fridge) are caricatures.

Caricatures are such a lovely souvenir and not only will make you laugh every time you look at it, but it is also personalized and such a unique and fun experience to try out.

What is Nigaoe? Caricature Culture in Japan

Photo: Sowannabee

Nigaoe (似顔絵) means “caricature” in Japanese and wherever you go in Japan, be it strolling on the streets, going to a shopping center, or a mall, it is impossible not to spot the colorful booths with nigaoe that look so cozy and cute.

They usually have a lot of familiar figures displayed at the entrance such as Japanese celebrities or famous figures from other countries.

Who is So Watanabe?

Photo: Sowannabee

So Watanabe is a caricature artist and illustrator born in the Yamagata Prefecture of Japan. He likes fishing, traveling, and painting and also speaks fluent English and is currently studying Arabic.

From 2008 to 2011, he went back and forth from Japan to the United States due to his work, and afterward, he decided to pursue the path of caricature.

He came back to Japan in 2011 and decided that he wanted to do something to make people happy and slowly took steps towards his dream job.

For around four years (2014-2018), he worked for a caricature company where he drew more than 10,000 people and improved his skill while doing what he enjoys: making people laugh.

In 2018, he became a daddy.

He then decided to go freelance. Now, he draws caricatures and illustrations not only for Japanese people but for overseas clients as well.

He has clients all over the world, including Japan, the United States, Singapore, India, Saudi Arabia. He enjoys saying that art and nigaoe is the bond that connects everyone.

Sowannabee and So Watanabe’s goal

So has his website and business, Sowannabee, where you can also make requests and reservations. His goal is to make people happy, as I said above, and leave them with a precious memory. Through caricature, he leaves something behind.

Photo: Sowannabee

He draws with all his heart hoping to bring a smile to people all over the world.

“Through caricature, we are connected”; that is one of the things he strongly believes in. So puts a lot of emotion into his work, hoping to expand the nigaoe culture, make people laugh with hilarious caricatures, contribute to society and express a lot of feelings, such as gratitude through his art.

“Not just a good picture, but something that will make you happy.”

Through caricatures, you can become your favorite superhero, fly wherever you want to, and have any superpower you’ve ever wished for. It can be a great gift or souvenir for anyone

Photo: Sowannabee

In Japan, it is popular to request it for anniversaries, weddings, Mother’s Day, Christmas, etc.

Photo: Sowannabee

So says he had many such requests. You can request anything that you’d like. Besides the above, he also draws for many other important events.

If you want a great souvenir to remind you of Japan, you can ask for something specific to the country such as Mt.Fuji or Tokyo Tower, or you can leave it up to him and see what he surprises you with.

Some people also leave a message together with the caricature, such as a message of gratitude. Others want to transmit their feelings of love, so anything is possible.

Style Options

So takes any crazy request. You can make your caricature super unique and include whatever elements you want.

You can also pick a style you want. On his website, he gives an example of three options available: Cute (キュート/kyuto), Cool (クール/kuru) or Plump/Chubby (ぽんぽこ/Pon Poko).

The cute style has a soft touch, no wrinkles/too many shadows, no eye bags, while the cool option has more details added and is quite popular for gifts, surprises, and important events such as anniversaries.

The Pon Poko style is probably one of my favorites! It is simple but adorable. The basic facial expressions are there and, it makes a great present to yourself or your friends. It is popular for many occasions and a great piece to decorate your apartment with.


Cute Style

One person: 3,000 yen

Two people: 6,000 yen

Three people (or more): +2,000

Full Body: +1,500 yen

+Vehicle (bikes, cars, planes, etc.): +1,500 yen

+Scenery (buildings, mountains, seaside etc.): +2,000 yen

+Item (cake, musical instruments, etc.): +500 yen

Cool Style

One person: 5,000 yen

Two people: 9,000 yen

Three people (or more): +3,500 yen

Full Body: +2,500



+Item: +1,500

Pon Poko Style

One person: 1,000 yen

Full Body: +500 yen

+Vehicle: +500 yen

+Scenery: +1,000

+Item:+500 yen

※ If sent via email/Line, no other fees included

※ Via post, 2,000 yen (frame included) transport

How to Order

You can order through email on, Line, or Instagram.

If you are not sure what kind of caricature you want, you can also consult with So first.

Due to the pandemic, he currently accepts orders online and also has a guide on the flow and how the pictures should look like when you send it.

You can check it here.

Sowannabee Official Website

Official Instagram Page

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