Netflix Original “The Makanai” Brings Us Into the World of Kyoto’s Maiko and Geiko

In the ancient capital of Japan, beloved for being a treasure trove of immersive experiences that showcase the country’s rich history and traditions, as well as its teeming nature, Kyoto is where you come to find maiko and geiko roaming the streets on their way to work.

What most of us know about the maiko and geiko (also known as geisha) pretty much only scratches the surface of what they really are. But Netflix’s new original series, “The Makanai,” opens that world up to us in a way that allows us to actually understand the life that these professional entertainers live, the joys and sorrow they face in separating their work with their personal lives, and the passion they put into what they do every day—all through a delightful slice-of-life story mostly told in the point-of-view of a young cook working in the maiko house.

the makanai sumire natsuki deguchi

“The Makanai” (complete title: “The Makanai: Cooking for the Maiko House”) is a live-action series that is based on the manga MAIKO-SAN CHI NO MAKANAI-SAN by Aiko Koyama. Set in the geiko district of Kyoto, best friends Sumire (Natsuki Deguchi) and Kiyo (Nana Mori) begin work at a house where maiko live together, where Sumire trains to become an apprentice geiko while Kiyo prepares their meals and supports her from the sidelines.

There is much to be learned from the series other than the daily routine of the maiko and geiko but it’s that which makes the show so intriguing, urging us to gain a deeper understanding and appreciation of this line of work—that they aren’t just cultural icons to be ogled at or stopped for pictures in the street. They’re real people, real girls pursuing something they love.

And at the end, when both Kiyo and Sumire reach a pivotal moment in their individual lives that provides a satisfying and comforting conclusion to the season, you also take with you that feeling of awe over how geiko culture could be such an elegant art form. 

the makanai sumire maiko

“I originally did not know much about maiko. I got the impression that they live in this glamorous, very colorful world and I also did not know much about Kyoto and I actually didn’t know what they do as maiko,” shared Natsuki Deguchi in a press conference with When In Manila. “But from the experience of being a part of this show, there are many things I learned about maiko and also Kyoto. Kyoto is not only a beautiful place but I also learned more about it and about the lifestyles of these maiko. And because I was able to go into that world, I believe the viewers will also get the experience of going into that world and I think they will find it very interesting.”

Personally, I loved “The Makanai.” It’s heartwarming, has a wonderful balance of seriousness and silliness, contains little to no drama, and features a colorful set of characters with their own stories you’ll become invested in, all with the added bonus of drool-worthy visuals of cooking and food prep that would make you crave Japanese food after each episode!

Fun fact: Nana Mori learned cooking just for the show with the help of their food stylist and would practice chopping vegetables at home. Her favorite meal she cooked as the makanai Kiyo? Tempura!

the makanai kiyo nana mori

the makanai sumire kiyo

I look forward to a second season to learn more about maiko training, get to meet new characters while discovering more about the ones we’ve already met, and just admire the tender and genuine love that two friends share.

“The Makanai: Cooking for the Maiko House” is showing on Netflix on January 13, 2023.

All images from Netflix.

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