“The oldest form of theatre is the dinner table.” –Michael J. Fox
Kiyo and her best friend, Sumire, move from their home in Aomori to Kyoto’s Gion district so they can fulfil a promise of becoming maiko. While Sumire finds herself with a talent for the practises and customs of the maiko, Kiyo struggles to keep up with the lessons and is asked to consider returning home. However, Kiyo shows aptitude with the housework and cooking; when the maiko‘s live-in cook develops back problems, and one of the senior maiko, Tsurukoma, accidentally starts a fire while attempting to cook something, the house mother allows Kiyo to remain with them as the new live-in cook. While Kiyo spends her days browsing around Kyoto’s markets in search of ingredients that let her to cook wonderful meals for the maiko, Sumire’s focus and growth allow her to quickly hit her debut as a maiko. All the while, everyday life at the maiko house is portrayed – other maiko consider their own desires and futures, at times struggling to decide if being a maiko is right for them, but while Kiyo is present at the maiko house, everyone is assured of a delicious meal. The Netflix live-action adaptation of Maiko-san chi no Makanai-san, known as The Makanai: Cooking For The Maiko House (and in this post, The Makanai for brevity) brings to the table another interpretation of Aiko Koyama’s manga. Unlike the anime, which was an eclectic combination of cooking and tidbits into the lives and roles of maiko, The Makanai has a drama component, favouring a portrayal of the maiko and glimpses into their lives while they’re preparing for their work, and during duty. In a manner of speaking, The Makanai is a slice-of-life series in that there isn’t a single overarching goal; instead, the nine Netflix episodes showcase more important moments in the series that portray how Sumire rises rapidly as a maiko, and how along the way, Kiyo does her best to support her. Along the way, other trials and tribulations are depicted; some maiko feel that their hearts aren’t in the profession and leave to pursue other goals, and others desire to return after realising the joys of being a maiko. Altogether, The Makanai is busier than its predecessor, with a larger emphasis on the other maiko besides Sumire and Tsurukoma, and less time is spent on the cooking piece. This allows The Makanai to explore the world of maiko to a greater extent than Maiko-san chi no Makanai-san: the anime had suggested that maiko go through a great deal, but otherwise, were quite committed to their duties. Conversely, The Makanai hints at the fact that while some maiko do make it in a difficult profession, it isn’t for everyone, but even then, people do end up finding their way. Kiyo discovers this early on and, when asked by the other maiko, she replies that she’s more than happy to be the cook, allowing her to support everyone in her own manner.
In The Makanai, there is a greater emphasis on making the most of the hand one is dealt: older maiko find themselves torn between continuing on in the profession or pivoting and exploring other aspects of their lives. Questions of the future are asked, and people wonder whether or not they can commit themselves wholly to their chosen profession, as well as how changes down the line impact how they feel. This was a secondary aspect to Maiko-san chi no Makanai-san‘s anime run – Kiyo hadn’t been too worried about not making it as a maiko and had accepted that she’d be returning to Aomori quite readily, but here in The Makanai, Kiyo experienced a bit of difficulty in accepting that she might not be able to remain with Sumire after she was required to withdraw. Similarly, whereas Maiko-san chi no Makanai-san was quite free of drama and elected to go into great detail behind how dishes are prepared, along with their history, The Makanai presents more of the maiko‘s work and their interactions with the customers. Ancillary characters are given more screentime, and this creates the distinct impression, more so than the anime, that being a maiko is no walk in the park. For lesser maiko, they constantly wonder if this is a field for them, while talented maiko have their share of troubles: Sumire’s father initially finds it difficult to accept her decision to choose such a path, but over the course of The Makanai, Sumire proves her dedication and worthiness. At the opposite end of the spectrum, Tsurukoma decides being a maiko isn’t for her and sets off on a new journey. The gentle and supportive atmosphere in The Makanai indicates that there is no right answer, and through dialogue from Azusa and Chiyo, who oversee the maiko‘s training and day-to-day, it is supposed that so long as one picks a path and owns their decisions, then one has fulfilled their obligations. This message is conveyed at a very gradual pace, slowly utilising every second of The Makanai: this drama is very slow, deliberate in its pacing, giving viewers a chance to really take in details surrounding the maiko‘s lives. This element is where The Makanai really shines. Critics have suggested that other works, such as Memoirs of a Geisha, have unfairly portrayed these traditional performers as being glorified prostitution, and it is through things like The Makanai that maiko and geiko are more accurately presented as highly skilled and focused performers with celebrated and respectable traditions. By The Makanai‘s conclusion, Sumire makes her debut as a maiko, possessing the skill and drive to rival the last generation’s best, but despite her rising prominence, she remains mindful of her best friend’s endless support for her, too.
Screenshots and Commentary
- The Makanai became available on Netflix back in January, and this coincided with a very large number of inbound searches for Maiko-san chi no Makanai-san. The Makanai is, strictly speaking, the English-language title for this live-action adaptation, as well: both the anime and live-action share the same title as the original manga. However, the manga and anime are officially known as Kiyo in Kyoto: From the Maiko House in English. The distinction does mean that there’s going to be a bit of ambiguity, so for discussions here, Maiko-san chi no Makanai-san refers to the anime, and The Makanai will refer to the Netflix adaptation.
- While The Makanai and Maiko-san chi no Makanai-san both follow the same premise and series of events, the former places a much larger emphasis on the world of maiko, whereas the latter splits episodes up with an instructive cooking segment featuring Kiyo, Sumire and Tsurukoma. The end result is that The Makanai feels a little more fluid and captures the maiko‘s tribulations more vividly. The large cast of characters makes things a little difficult to follow at times, but the intention here appears to be showing the different stories for maiko at various levels and everyone’s unique challenges.
- Kiyo and Sumire had both aspired to become maiko as a promise to one another, and The Makanai indicates that Sumire had originally held this desire, prompting Kiyo to follow. Unsurprisingly, while Sumire’s drive and determination means she picks up the basics quickly and draws the eye of instructors and senior maiko, Kiyo’s not able to keep up. I have noticed that when people follow others, they tend to find less success than they would like because their objective wasn’t pursuit of a discipline or skill, but rather, to be with someone important to them.
- I understand why people follow this approach: friendship and companionship is of indisputable value, and people find that their best selves are brought out in the company of those they care about. However, there are realities that make this impractical at times, and this is why for one’s future, it is necessary to part ways. A lot of fictional works suggests that this parting can be difficult (it’s a recurring theme in many anime), and stories often end with characters forgoing what might be seen as the more practical path in favour of friendship. This is admirable, but there are costs attached to doing so in the long term.
- Thus, when Maiko-san chi no Makanai-san chooses to portray Kiyo as managing to find a way to fulfil her promise with Sumire even though she lacks the skills necessary to become a maiko, the series shows that there are other ways. The Netflix drama is, for the lack of a better word, more dramatic than its anime counterpart: in Maiko-san chi no Makanai-san, Kiyo had accepted her fate stoically and didn’t seem too saddened after she was asked to return to Aomori, but here, Kiyo is visibly disheartened. The anime had felt a little idealised in this manner: the object there had been the food, so many emotions associated with the path to becoming a maiko were abstracted out in favour of showing nuances in cooking for maiko.
- Nana Mori plays Kiyo: I know her best as Weathering With You‘s Hina Amano. Natsuki Denguchi portrays Sumire. The Makanai also introduces Yoshino, a former geiko who left the field some time ago after she got married and returns in the hopes of picking up the profession again. I was admittedly lost with some of the stories in The Makanai: the original anime had been very minimalist: besides Tsurukoma, all of the other maiko were unnamed, and have a much smaller presence. Similarly, Tsurukoma became a regular, accompanying Kiyo and Sumire as they discuss food.
- While Kiyo is resigned to the fact that she’ll have to return home to Aomori without Sumire, one evening, Tsurukoma decides to try her hand at cooking after growing weary of convenience store food, but accidentally starts a fire in the process. Maiko-san chi no Makanai-san had stated that the maiko take turns with the housework and help with cooking where needed, but unsurprisingly, variation in experience means some maiko are more proficient than others. With their current makanai out, the maiko haven’t had a good meal in a while, and this incident is what lets Kiyo shine. I will remark that in response to a pan fire, the safer route is to dump baking soda into the pan and then cover it with a lid. Kiyo had no idea what was in the pan, and if grease was present, adding water would have resulted in a steam explosion, spreading the fire.
- The original Maiko-san chi no Makanai-san simply had Tsurukoma burning dinner into an inedible crisp, so I imagine that The Makanai chose to go with a pan fire for visual flair. In both cases, dinner is ruined, but for Kiyo, there’s another way, and in moments, she manages to turn things around entirely, whipping up a simple, but delicious dinner for the other maiko, who are impressed as they watch Kiyo working away in the kitchen. In this moment, it becomes clear that, just because Kiyo lacks any promise as a maiko does not mean she’s useless, and this incident is what convinces the House Mother, Azusa, to keep Kiyo on board as the makanai, the live-in cook.
- Throughout The Makanai, closeups of Kiyo’s cooking are prominently shown. From cutting up vegetables, and putting ingredients into a pot or pan, the beauty of each step in the process is rendered in detail. Recipes aren’t shown in The Makanai, and similarly, anyone looking for history and background information on some of the dishes would find them in Maiko-san chi no Makanai-san, but the care and attention to detail is plainly visible in The Makanai. Photographing food is a skill, and I remember in Tamayura, Fū had initially found it difficult to take good food photographs, wondering how to best capture the flavours of a dish.
- As a novice food photographer, I find that a good image of food captures the texture and colours in a given dish. One should compose the image so the centrepiece of a dish stands out, and use the appropriate white balance so different colours can stand out next to one another. The Makanai manages to do this in a video format, and the end result is that everything Kiyo cooks looks amazing. The maiko certainly agree, and Kiyo’s ability to turn things around show that she has skill as a cook. Although she isn’t going to be training and performing alongside Sumire as a maiko, being the makanai allows her to continue supporting Sumire in her own way, and in a manner of speaking, this does mean that the pair’s promise is honoured.
- After Kiyo becomes the makanai, her days change from practising basics with Sumire, to heading over to Kyoto’s shopping districts and picking up fresh ingredients for that day’s meals. It was pleasant to see Kiyo and Sumire hanging out in the kitchen in a manner reminiscent of Maiko-san chi no Makanai-san. Although the cheerful conversations surrounding food are now absent, The Makanai still manages to showcase its appreciation of food in a different way.
- To most viewers, The Makanai would be a very slow-moving series, with an end-goal that isn’t immediately apparent, and very little in the way of open conflict. Bill Watterson had mentioned this in Calvin and Hobbes – people favour entertainment that’s filled with drama and disagreement. By comparison, peaceful introspection and quiet contemplation isn’t as marketable. However, this is precisely how days would go for most people. The Japanese appreciation of the everyday speaks to their cultural values, but I’ve also argued that slice-of-life works encourage viewers to not take their everyday lives for granted.
- Although people express a desire for excitement and adventure, of freedom, recognition and luxury, the reality is that we are wired for routine and stability. Slice-of-life series encourage the appreciation of the ordinary and suggest that there is merit in slowing down. Emphasis on the cooking in The Makanai accentuate this – in reality, we often blaze through the meal preparation process, but loving close-ups of moments like Kiyo roasting fish over an open fire remind viewers of how there is beauty in most everything. Appreciation of the ordinary in slice-of-life series goes well beyond small moments in life: at scale, the slice-of-life genre also acts as a celebration for consistency and normalcy in life.
- The aspect I most strongly respect about The Makanai is its portrayal of individual growth – Sumire is hailed as being the next great maiko with limitless potential, but she’s shown as being uncommonly dedicated and disciplined, putting in a great deal of effort into being the best that she can be. On the other hand, Kiyo might lack the disposition to be a maiko, but she finds that cooking is her way of helping support the others, and in time, she improves as a cook by experimenting with different ingredients that shopkeepers recommend to her, learning from their suggestions to produce dishes that increasingly wow the maiko.
- In this way, The Makanai shows both Kiyo and Sumire as being happy despite walking completely different paths. While a lot of self-help gurus and influencers will argue that anyone can become exceptional in whatever field they set their mind to, the reality is that anyone who’s exceptional chose a field they excelled at and then did what’s often ignored: they put in a lot of hours to hone their craft. No one ever comes out of left field as a powerhouse, and while social media gives the impression otherwise, the reality is that anyone who’s achieved anything of note did so through the admittedly unexciting process of hard work. This is something that’s shown in The Makanai: otherwise unremarkable moments are portrayed to show how Sumire and Kiyo improve in their respective areas.
- Here, at Tsurukoma’s request, Kiyo prepares to make some bread pudding for her. As memory serves, Kiyo does end up whipping up a bread pudding at some point in Maiko-san chi no Makanai-san. However, the iteration seen in The Makanai looks delicious; anime has always been well-known for its loving portrayal of food and its enjoyment, but the main advantage about live-action series is that things like texture is better captured. The syrup that Kiyo adds to the bread pudding provides a light jolt of flavour, and the result is something that Tsurukoma greatly enjoys.
- Tsurukoma occasionally joined Kiyo and Sumire in the cooking segments of Maiko-san chi no Makanai-san, but here in The Makanai, her appearances are fewer. The live-action version of Tsurukoma is portrayed by Heather Muriel Nguyen. Unlike her anime counterpart, who was quite happy with being a maiko and provided a comedic commentary of cooking, The Makanai presents Tsurukoma as being someone who wonders if being a maiko is right for her.
- The question of who’s suited for being a maiko is a lingering one in The Makanai – although Kiyo’s made peace with her path, others who’ve made it in, or formerly were involved in the profession, occasionally wonder if this is a suitable calling for them. I’ve experienced this before: exiting secondary school, I had been pulled between studying computer science and medicine. After I earned my undergraduate degree, unsuccessful applications to medical school, and the revelation that software development had been more of my strength, led me to pursue a career in software. Finding one’s strengths and interest is always a challenge, hence the sheer number of works that deal with this topic.
- I’ve now been around long enough to say that one way to approach this is to be open minded as a youth, because this lets one to try a variety of things. This way, even if one’s original hopes don’t pan out as one had hoped, there remain alternatives one can be satisfied with. Back in The Makanai, on a rare day off, Sumire and Kiyo end up hanging out together – they make a prayer at a local shrine and swing by an upscale café, before returning to the maiko house, where they make tarts together.
- The practise of hitting a local market to buy fresh ingredients is still a way of life in some parts of the world, but with the advent of the automobile and refrigeration, things changed considerably. In my case, I buy my groceries every week and stick what I pick up in the refrigerator. Food still remains somewhat fresh, with the tradeoff that I need to plan for meals ahead of time based on what flyers indicate are on sale. The world today does not favour walking to the nearest market and picking up only one what needs for that day’s meals – between urban planning necessitating a vehicles and scheduling, people simply don’t have time to go out for groceries daily. This renders the process in The Makanai a bit of a romantic one.
- Throughout the course of The Makanai, other maiko and even the house mother asks Kiyo if she enjoys what she does. Kiyo’s answer is unchanged every time – being the makanai is something she wouldn’t give up for the world, and on several occasions, Kiyo’s cooking is characterised as having a very nostalgic taste. There is no higher praise than this – for someone to comment on how food brings back memories implies that the cook has manage to achieve a sufficiently high skill level as to faithfully do something the same way someone in one’s past has done it, and remarks from the senior maiko, as well as the house mother give the sense that Kiyo’s cooking skills rival Sumire’s skill as a maiko.
- The vivid, but laid-back portrayal of Kiyo’s life in Kyoto is counted as one of The Makanai‘s greatest strengths, with some critics suggesting that short of visiting Kyoto for oneself, The Makanai is probably the closest one will have to getting a very intimate journey of Japan’s most ancient city, in a manner that most visitors and tourists won’t experience. Maiko and geisha are traditional Japanese performers well-versed in singing traditional songs, playing traditional instruments and performing traditional dances at specialised teahouses. Originally, geisha performed for a male audience, but in modern times, geisha and maiko perform for men and women alike.
- After looking into things, I found that the misconception of geisha stems from a law passed during the Meiji Restoration that misclassified prostitution and performances, leading to the belief that the two were related. This brand of thinking was reinforced during the Allied Occupation of Japan, when prostitutes declared themselves as geisha, and the term entered the English language as being erroneously synonymous with “prostitute”. These impressions have lingered to this day, so seeing a more accurate portrayal of maiko in The Makanai makes Maiko-san chi no Makanai-san and its adaptations a welcome one, serving to dispel some of the impressions people may have previously had.
- Looking at the kanji and their original meaning gives insight into what the geisha and maiko professions are about – geisha (芸者) approximates to “art performer”, and in Kyoto, is synonymous with geiko. Maiko (舞妓) translates to “dancing woman”, referring to geiko-in-training. This clarification shows that Yoshino was once a full-fledged performer, and everyone at the maiko house are apprentices. With the meanings behind things in the open, the merits of such an exercise are apparent, allowing one to gain a modicum of insight into things that would otherwise be hidden by misconceptions.
- By showing moments like how the maiko are prepared for their evening’s work, and showing the performances, The Makanai is able to capture things in detail that other portrayals may skate over. Having the live-action adaptation ends up being quite valuable: while I greatly enjoyed Maiko-san chi no Makanai-san, its emphasis on cooking meant that being a maiko was idealised. Some of the challenges maiko must endure (such as sleeping on a special wooden block meant to preserve their hair, being forbidden from entering convenience stores while on duty, and being barred from eating certain foods) were shown, but everyone in the anime had seemed quite happy.
- The struggles were, in short, abstracted away, whereas here in The Makanai, the impacts of this lifestyle and its demands are shown in greater detail. Some maiko can accept this and begin considering making a profession of things, while others choose to retire in favour of other pursuits. Regardless of whether it’s the live action adaptation or anime, both Maiko-san chi no Makanai-san and The Makanai excel in its portrayal of food. Here, Kiyo’s homemade cakes, complete with entire strawberries, can be seen.
- Whether it’s the manga, anime or live-action, Maiko-san chi no Makanai-san‘s celebration of food is a reminder to appreciate all meals in life, whether they’re extraordinary or mundane. On some occasions, meals can become wonderful memories, and for me, yesterday was such an instance – it’s been four years since I volunteered as a judge for a local private academy, and as the story goes, my secondary school biology instructor ended up taking a post with this private academy. I was invited to help out years earlier, and accepted once I had graduated from university. While the global health crisis put that on hold for the past three years, this year, things re-opened.
- Because the event was scheduled to start at noon, I ended up going for breakfast rather than lunch: there’s a quaint breakfast joint in that side of town that’s renowned for serving breakfasts made from farm-fresh ingredients, and this time, I splurged a little: the Rancher’s Breakfast is their premium offering, consisting of two dark-yolk eggs (over easy for me), thick-cut bacon, maple sausage, braised beef, breakfast potatoes, apple-cider coleslaw and two large pieces of cheese garlic toast with the house tea. Hearty and delicious, it proved the perfect meal to keep me going into the afternoon. All of the projects I was assigned involved machine learning, and it was quite encouraging to see students taking an interest in the most cutting edge of technology and its applications in biology.
- Youth form the foundations for the future, and science fairs are a pleasant reminder that most of society’s young minds do have what it takes; with the right support and encouragement, all sorts of incredible projects result, and this year, I found all of my assigned projects commendable. Back in The Makanai, the maiko enjoy their day off buy swinging by a McDonald’s before stopping to enjoy their burgers at the Turtle Rocks bridge on the Kamo River. Most of The Makanai is set at the maiko house and their performing venues, a world that most locals might not see, but on occasion, glimpses of the scenery around Kyoto are shown.
- Seeing a more intimate side of Kyoto reminded me of my old promise to one day take a trip to Japan. The promise dating back to August 2021, when I commented in a blog post that I’d like to soak in an onsen and enjoy the tranquility of a ryōkan, and since then, conversations with readers have acted as a further source of inspiration. The thought of a future vacation has flitted through my mind, and I’ve caught myself daydreaming out a prospective trip and its destinations on more than one occasion. Seeing something like The Makanai only elevates my desire to go back, and it hits me that Kyoto wouldn’t be a bad place to check out. Of course, in any visit to Japan, I’d like to visit several places in one trip to make the most of things (and to this end, I’d probably need to use two weeks of vacation time).
- One of my favourite stories in The Makanai comes when Sumire falls ill, and Kiyo learns that Kyoto tradition is to make a bowl of udon rather than congee (rice porridge, an equivalent to chicken noodle soup as the go-to whenever one is sick in Asian cooking). Kiyo thus sets out to buy ingredients, and in the process, learns more about how Kyoto residents like their udon by speaking to shopkeepers and listening to their feedback. I vaguely remember different kinds of udon were presented in Maiko-san chi no Makanai-san: regional variations of dishes inevitably mean that, similarly to how there’s different interpretations of sandwiches and pizza in the United States, every region in Japan prepares their noodles slightly differently.
- The end result is a meal that brings the warmth back into Sumire, and Kiyo is all smiles after Sumire enjoys the udon. Viewers favoured with a keen eye will have noticed an interesting contrast in The Makanai, where the maiko‘s living quarters are highly cluttered and filled with personal effects, while more formal spaces are styled in a minimalist fashion. The decision to show this in The Makanai is meant to remind the viewers that the maiko, while extremely elegant, are still human and therefore, can still get sick, desire home cooking and the like.
- One aspect of The Makanai that I vividly remember seeing in Maiko-san chi no Makanai-san was Sumire joining Momoko, a senior maiko, on a dinner with a well-respected client at a fancy restaurant. In both cases, Sumire remarks that she wasn’t quite sure what she was eating and feels a little empty after the meal, leading Kiyo to whip something up for her. Moments like these are done to accentuate the value of uncomplicated dining – as much fun as it is to sit down to a kaiseki or meals made from the finest ingredients, it does take a bit of background to fully appreciate things, and I feel that for most people, a simple meal made from fresh ingredients is all that’s needed to create a feeling of satisfaction.
- I was a little surprised to see Tsurukoma calling it quits in The Makanai – while she had enjoyed the work, she found herself wondering more than once if this was something she could see herself doing for long, and in the end, decides to pursue other things. There is no right or wrong answer to these decisions, and I’ve long held that when people make decisions, so long as they own their decisions (and the consequences), I’d respect said choices. To see Tsurukoma off on a high note, Kiyo makes her favourite dish.
- One thing I’ve not mentioned until now is the soundtrack to The Makanai – unlike Maiko-san chi no Makanai-san, whose soundtrack never released despite being a delightful addition to the anime, The Makanai‘s incidental music was released alongside the drama back in January. Composed by Yoko Kanno, the live action drama’s music has a much greater emotional range than the bouncy, spirited tunes that Go Sakabe composed for the anime. From introspective to whimsical, Kanno’s music adds to the tenour of each scene in The Makanai, but the series also makes use of silence where appropriate. At the time of writing, there’s still no word on whether or not Maiko-san chi no Makanai-san‘s soundtrack will ever become available for purchase.
- Towards the end of The Makanai, Kiyo writes home and indicates a whole year has now passed. In this time, things have settled down for Kiyo, and here, she prepares egg-salad sandwiches for the maiko. On the topic of egg-salad sandwiches, I’ve never been too fond of the North American recipe; when hard-boiled, the egg yolk takes on a sandy texture I’ve not been too fond of. On the other hand, the Japanese recipe uses milk bread, Japanese mayonnaise and a bit of extra seasonings, which creates a smoother, creamier texture with a mild bit of sweetness that is absent in the North American recipe.
- By The Makanai‘s end, Sumire debuts as a maiko and is hailed as the youngest to ever hit this milestone so quickly. Although Kiyo couldn’t fulfil her promise to accompany Sumire, her own ability as a cook and attention to detail in meal preparation has given her a chance to stay alongside Sumire. The end result was Kiyo’s own growth is not diminished by Sumire’s achievements in any way: the outcomes in The Makanai are such that both Sumire and Kiyo can share in the moment together.
- The costumes in The Makanai are ornate and capture the intricate designs that maiko wear into their performances and work. Maiko-san chi no Makanai-san had the advantage of being an animation, and the art team had done a wonderful job of striking a balance between respecting the simple aesthetics of the manga, while at the same time, conveying some of the smaller details. In the live action adaptation, things become significantly more detailed, conveying a sense of tradition and history that was absent in the anime. Previously, in my discussions for the Yuru Camp△ live action, I had mentioned how different formats can lend themselves to different aspects of storytelling.
- In the case of the Yuru Camp△ dramas, the live-action format sacrificed the anime’s humour and adorable designs while at the same time, accentuating the food and locations. Similarly, here in The Makanai, being a live-action means that the series can showcase details in the maiko‘s costumes and the food Kiyo cooks to a much higher level of detail than was possible in the anime. Overall, I did find the story in The Makanai to be a bit slower and tricky to follow in places compared to its anime adaptation, but once I took the time to take in the events being shown in The Makanai, I came to appreciate the series’ portrayal of a life that I otherwise would have no exposure to on top of its signature cooking elements.
- While Sumire might be a maiko now, she and Kiyo retain their friendship – after the evening’s events, the pair share a quiet moment at the maiko house’s kitchen, and Kiyo whips up something comforting for her best friend. With this post in the books, readers coming in hoping for a discussion on the live-action adaptation of Maiko-san chi no Makanai-san will no longer be met with just a talk on the anime. I realise that I’ve not covered all possible aspects of The Makanai in this post, and therefore, I have no objections to hearing what readers made of things.
The preparation and enjoyment of food, a core part of Maiko-san chi no Makanai-san, is prima facie present to a much lesser extent in The Makanai. However, just because recipes aren’t presented to the same level of detail as the anime did doesn’t mean it isn’t lovingly presented. Kiyo is shown speaking with various store owners about the best ingredients and often finds herself surprised with the knowledge shopkeepers have. Back at the maiko house, close-ups of Kiyo cutting up vegetables and frying things in oil make the preparation process all the more visceral. When a given dish is finished, the sighs of contentment and smiles on the maiko‘s faces speak volumes to the wonders a good meal can do for people. Kiyo might have access to some of the most seasonal ingredients and cooks for people that might be seen as otherworldly, far removed from everyday life, but at the end of the day, preparation and enjoyment of food is something that everyone can relate to. As such, emphasising the cooking and eating of food at a maiko house helps The Makanai (and Maiko-san chi no Makanai-san) to drive home the point that food is something that all people share in common, and as such, while the perception of maiko and geiko might be impacted by works like Memoirs of a Geisha, at the end of the day, maiko and geiko are still human and therefore, receptive to a good meal the same way common people are. This aspect of Maiko-san chi no Makanai-san and The Makanai serves to convey one important notion: while people are interested in categorising one another into neatly defined buckets so they can identify how different others are, the reality is that people are more similar than different, and it is through food that our commonalities are made visible. Regardless of one’s culture, nationality or creed, all people share the same love and enjoyment for food. If food can be utilised to frame the maiko and geiko as being just like the viewer, then at scale, it is logical to conclude that irrespective of where one goes in the world, there is a universally-shared enjoyment for food. I’ve long held that the fastest way to understand another nation or culture is through their cuisine, as how a people prepare and eat their food speaks volumes to their values and beliefs. In the case of maiko, there are nuances in their cooking to fit their unique lifestyles (e.g. in Maiko-san chi no Makanai-san, Kiyo mentions that food must be cut into bite-sized pieces so the maiko can eat gracefully, and the maiko are prohibited from eating garlic while they’re on duty), but throughout different cultures, food speaks volumes to how a people regards its environment. In Cantonese cooking, for instance, the bewildering array of meat and use of offal is indicative of a people with a complex history: royalty enjoy exotic meats, and traditional medical practises involve eating unusual parts of animals. Similarly, tough times resulted in uncommon meats entering the diet. Details like these can provide a profound insight into a culture, and in both The Makanai and Maiko-san chi no Makanai-san, the respective anime and Netflix series both succeed in reminding viewers to be a little more mindful, and appreciative of the foods they might otherwise take for granted.
Kiyo’s shopping adventure in search of the perfect ingredients for Sumire’s get-well udon was also one of my favorite episodes. We got to see little shops presided over by expert elderly shopkeepers — not the sort of old-fashioned stores tourists are likely to encounter. Pure slice of life — and absolutely perfect.
Kore’eda frequently portrays food preparation (often featuring the late Kirin Kiki — who was famous for a very long-running series of commercials involving cooking, as well as being a famed actress). There was a bit more focus here than in Kore’eda’s movies, but it still felt a lot more integrated into the story-telling than the similar scenes in the anime.
Kore’eda may well be the best director of young (sometimes amateur or near amateur) actors. And he did a great job with his young stars here. Of course, his direction of older performers is equally masterful. I loved the whole cast here. Even characters with small parts came to life.
Patty and I have stayed in the same general area of Kyoto which is featured in this show twice. albeit a bit south of the main area portrayed here. We still have plenty of Higashiyama to explore (and hope to get more done on our next visit).
Hirokazu Kore’eda is my favorite active movie director. I’ve seen all his feature films (and his two TV series), and most of his early documentaries. This series was more mainstream than his quirky first series — Going My Home (sort of a slice of life quasi-fantasy). Neither series is quite as “focused” as his films (which are all wonderful, each in their own way), but both are highly enjoyable. His first feature films — Maborshi no hikari (Maborosi) and Wandafaru raifu (After Life) were key ingredients in cementing my fascination with Japanese cinema (and Japan itself). I suspect his Makanai is as authentic (and loving) a portrayal of life in Kyoto’s modern day geisha world.
We have a friend — who now lives in Vancouver, BC — who worked as part of the support staff at a teahouse in Kyoto. We met her on our first trip to Japan. She felt it was tough dealing with that world — but had not yet seen this series when we visited with her last year. I will need to check to see whether she managed to see this — and find out what she thinks about it).
The sort of experience Kiyo experienced was akin to what shopping through Chinatown’s stores feel like; at least in Calgary, they’re staffed by elderly shopkeepers who know their stuff, and one can always strike a conversation up with them for recommended ingredients and the like. The caveat, of course, is that the shopkeepers only speak Cantonese. Seeing moments like these in The Makanai was a reminder of how much there is in life to take in and savour, a far cry from grocery shopping nowadays, where it’s possible to waltz through a supermarket and only ever say “have a nice day” to the staff manning the self-checkout.
I didn’t even think to look up director Hirokazu Kore’eda’s other works, but a quick look around shows that he has a very distinct style, making him suited for driving The Makanai. I did become a little lost initially when the other makanai and Yoshino appear; it was a little tricky to keep track of everyone, especially when considering that Maiko-san chi no Makanai-san was almost entirely focused on Kiyo and Sumire. However, once I got into things Kore’eda’s inclusion of the other characters become important and makes the world of The Makanai more vivid, lived-in. This is one thing the drama nails. With all this being said, I will have to make an effort to check out more of his films: contemplative and slower experiences are exactly what I enjoy!
Regarding Japan, watching The Makanai has definitely strengthened my desire to visit Japan in the near future. Supposing one has two days in Kyoto (as a part of a larger trip), what recommendations would you have as far as attractions and destinations go?
Finally, if you get in touch with your friend, I’d be curious to hear what she makes of The Makanai: works of fiction that portray things in real life do take liberties with some things, so I’d love to learn if The Makanai is an authentic portrayal of things (minus the fact that secondary students are unlikely to be permitted to become maiko at their age). As a software developer, I admittedly become bemused when fiction portrays us as either über-hackers that can break into any computer system with command line actions or presents in a manner similar to the “Silicon Valley Tech Bro” stereotype when the reality is that developers are a diverse bunch!
I don’t know if you have ever watched Haibane Renmei, but Maborosi and After Life both had some impact on this series (confirmed by Kore’eda at a convention Q&A — due to a question I suggested to an acquaintance who atttended). Kore’eda’s Our Little Sister is also based on a manga (Umimachi Diary — set in Kamakura), and is much more compelling than its source (with fantastic performances).
My understanding is that girls from rural Japan do indeed still go straight from middle school graduation to basic maiko training. Not sure if some start after high school also. (Our two Aomori girls in Makanai both did graduate from middle school, I’m pretty sure).
A great classical Japanese movie about geisha is Mikio Naruse’s Nagareru (Flowing) — and it depicts the Kyoto scene when the profession had not yet recovered from the war years.
Most of our exploration of Kyoto has been in the Higashiyama area (and nearby) — and there are countless places to explore there, especially Kiyomizudera and Sanjusangendo and Sannenzaka and Yasaka Shrine and Fushimi Inari Shrine. Further afield you have Hiei-zan. We’ve spent about a week (total) in Kyoto over 2 trips and feel we have barely scratched the surface.
Thanks for the clarification. I was under the impression that young women had to be older than middle school age to become a maiko owing to something I read, so I’ll have to double check on things.
I’ve heard about Haibane Renmei and had been curious to check it out, but I’ve had no luck in finding it so far. With this being said, I do appreciate the recommendation. This year, I’m a little swamped since there’s a bunch of posts I’m planning to write, but it’s good to know that there will always be something to check out if things get a little quiet (my backlog continues to grow!).
It does feel like someone could live somewhere, and there’d still be no shortage of places that can prove surprising. Even my hometown, Calgary, continues to offer new adventures, so it definitely follows that as a visitor to another place, one can only really just begin seeing some of the best. I’ll keep your considerations in mind, of course, for any future trips to the Kyoto region of Japan that I may be planning out 🙂