THE SHORT VERDICT:
A delightful little show that offers an educational peek into the world of maiko and geisha / geiko, through the journeys of our main characters.
Our protagonist, Kiyo, is so lovely, that I would have been sorry to have missed getting to know her, if I’d passed this show by.
Her friendship with bestie Sumire forms the anchor to our story, and I loved witnessing their friendship and their support of each other, through the good times and bad.
Well worth the journey for our protagonists, while the insights into maiko and geisha culture work out to be a wonderful bonus – even if Show probably meant for the cultural insights to be the Main Event, in the first place. 😁
THE LONG VERDICT:
You know how, sometimes, moms (maybe dads too?) bake vegetables into muffins, in order to trick their finicky kids into consuming something healthy?
Well, this kinda-sorta feels like that, except that the zucchini that Show baked into this brownie, worked out super well, and these metaphorical healthy brownies taste amazing. 😁
This is one of those times when I feel like I’ve been quietly taught something interesting and rare, without my actually signing up for it, or actively desiring to learn it.
I signed up for a heartwarming story, and I got a heartwarming story, with main characters that I quickly grew fond of – but at the same time, I learned a whole lot of stuff about maiko and geiko / geisha culture, which I never knew I wanted to know.
Now who says that watching dramas is a waste of time, eh? 😁
OST ALBUM PLAYLIST: FOR YOUR LISTENING PLEASURE
Here’s the OST album playlist, in case you’d like to listen to it while you read the review.
The music is on point and perfectly suited to our drama world, but the only one that actually sticks in my mind, is the first track on the playlist, Minarai; the opening theme, which we hear play at the beginning of every episode.
It’s got warm, whimsical vibes which I feel are perfectly in line with Show’s warm, whimsical nature.
Here’s just Minarai on its own, in case you’d prefer to just listen to that on repeat. Just right-click on the video and select “Loop.”
MANAGING EXPECTATIONS / THE VIEWING LENS
Here are a few things to keep in mind, to maximize your enjoyment of your watch:
1. This is not a romance
As drama fans, many of us have come to expect romance to be an automatic presence in almost all of our dramas, but this is one of those times when romance doesn’t really feature much at all.
Some of our characters do experience touches of romance – but the key word here, is “touches.” Romance really isn’t a big part of our story.
Instead, thinking journey of self-discovery, think friendships, think family.
2. Show vibes slice-of-life
There are bigger events too, that occur in our story, but alongside that, Show’s also got a heavily slice-of-life sort of feel to it, where it’s the smaller everyday beats in our characters’ lives that we get to observe.
I personally liked this, but I think being prepared for it always helps.
3. Not everything is explained
What I mean is, there’s a good amount of stuff that doesn’t get translated in the subtitles, and what we get, is basically the romanized Japanese terms in place of an actual translation.
I believe the reason for that, is because some of these terms are very hard to translate, and might exist for a very specific purpose within Japanese culture.
Short of putting in a lengthy translator’s note, which would be too clunky for Netflix’s modus operandi, there really isn’t any good way to include a proper explanation in the subtitles.
It is possible to get a fairly good gist of what the words themselves mean, by following contextual clues, but I personally found that looking up some of these words added a lot of richness to my understanding of what I was watching on my screen.
I include my personal findings here in this review, which I hope will help, but there’s lots more information out there, if you’d like to Google it.
4. It can take a while to get your bearings
I found that I needed a bit of time, to get my bearings, with the who’s who in this drama world.
For example, in episode 3, when Momoko (Hashimoto Ai) shows up on our screens without her geisha trappings, I couldn’t even recognize her, and thought that we were perhaps being introduced to a new character.
It was only several scenes later, that it clicked in my head, that the young woman with the short bob was actually Momoko, whom I only recognized in her geisha makeup and wig. Whoops. 😅
Hang in there, though, it should all start to come together in your head, given a bit of time.
STUFF I LIKED
Warm, likable characters
I’ll talk more about our characters in another section later in this review, but I just wanted to state for the record, that I enjoyed the fact that our characters are mostly warm and likable, and the few who are less immediately likable, eventually grow on you anyway, when their inner layers peek through.
My absolutely favorite character is Kiyo (Mori Nana). I could’ve and would’ve watched this show just for her, she’s just that delightful. 😍
Show’s calming vibe
I also wanted to state for the record, that I just love how calming this show is.
Regardless of the episode’s focus, I could be sure that I would come away from the episode steeped in Show’s warm, serene, calming vibe.
Very, very nice. 🥰
Insights into Japanese / maiko / geiko (geisha) culture
The minute that I saw this show’s trailer, I’d felt intrigued and wanted to watch it; it felt like Show would be a window into a whole new world.
And I have to say, it absolutely is.
I was immediately overcome by a fascination regarding the world of maiko, and geisha, and everything around them, as I watched this show, and I have to say that I’ve learned a lot about it, just from watching this show.
Importantly, I like that while this drama is definitely designed to be an educational experience, Show manages to weave the little nuggets of information into our story, so that it feels pretty organic for these details to come up.
E3. Like the way Tsurukoma (Fukuchi Momoko) moans about not being able to go to the convenience store because it’s against the rules for her to go while her hair is done up in the Wareshinobu (name of the maiko hairstyle, which is created using their natural hair, vs. geishas who wear wigs), and that it will be 5 more days before she will take her hair out of the Wareshinobu.
I thought that was a nice little educational little nugget, while telling us more about Tsurukoma herself, as a character.
Maiko vs. geisha / geiko
I also found it quite thrilling, to watch Sumire (Deguchi Natsuki) get into her maiko journey, because through her, we get to see the various things that a maiko would go through. This is the educational part of the watch journey that I really do appreciate.
I found it fascinating to get a glimpse at how the Wareshinobu is created, because it looks so complicated and intricate.
And I also love that we eventually get to see Momoko (Hashimoto Ai) and Sumire next to each other, when they’re performing the mai, because this is a great visual representation of the differences between how geishas dress vs. how maiko dress.
I’d learned about the difference from this article, which offers a great overview for the differences in hairstyle, kimono trappings and accessories, and why.
But, it really came alive for me, on my screen, with Momoko and Sumire performing side by side. Suddenly, all the things I’d read about, made total sense on my screen. I thought that was pretty great.
Like, of course, yes, the maiko wears a much more colorful outfit, with flashier accessories, and it’s to make up for their relative lack of skill, whereas the geisha wears more muted colors – because she has no need to make up for a lack of skill.
I love how Show manages to make it all pop like this, while keeping it all organic to our story.
The Kagai Soken
I found it another piece of interesting culture, to see the Kagai Soken in episode 6, which is an annual event in Kyoto, where geishas and maikos gather to see a special Kabuki show. The event is aimed at improving the performance of arts, and takes place every December.
As per this article, it is customary for maiko to put on a “kanzashi” hair accessory with flowers that resembles a “maneki” wooden signboard showing actors’ names that is hung in front of the theater building.
Each maiko visits a dressing room to get their favorite actor to write their name on the hair accessory.
This is what we see play out, this episode, with the various maiko discussing which actor they will approach, to autograph their kanzazhi.
Again, I found this a very enlightening spotlight on part of the maiko and geisha culture.
[MODERATE SPOILER ALERT]
And, I thought it was a nice touch as well, that Show uses the Kagai Soken to, again, explore the idea that getting married isn’t the only way for a person to cherish someone they love, via the love story between Mother Chiyo and her favorite actor, Bando Yajuro (cameo as himself).
[END MODERATE SPOILER]
Additionally, I also appreciate the various glimpses into Japanese culture, like the way Show gives us peeks into the various Japanese traditions at New Year’s, like eating soba, giving out personal cards, and eating mochi (here’s a quick article that talks about a couple of the things we hear mentioned in the show).
The showcase of different dynamics between people
To be honest, I wasn’t sure where else to park this, but I just liked this showcase of dynamics, and wanted to talk about it, a little bit.
There’s an arc in episode 4, where we see the dynamics within the maiko world contrasted with the dynamics when the outside world is involved, and I found it pretty fascinating.
E4. This episode, I’m pretty struck by the different dynamics at play, among different people.
When we see Sumire’s father (Takahashi Kazuya) with the two Mothers, Chiyo and Azusa (Matsuzaka Keiko and Tokiwa Takako) he’s all assertive hotshot doctor-father, indignant at the way the maiko house treats their apprentices.
But then, the moment Sumire appears on the scene and lashes out at him for even being there, he turns into this meek lamb who’s quite afraid of her.
What an ironic contrast, to also see that in front of Sumire’s father, the two Mothers are meek and polite and seeking for understanding, but with Sumire, their word is law, and she immediately obeys, when they tell her to show respect to her father.
You can see Dad’s eyes practically boggle out of his head, with the way Sumire submits to the words of the Mothers, and I do think that that’s a big part of the reason he starts to rethink his perspective on maiko training.
STUFF THAT WAS OK
Quite a few terms are not explained
Full disclosure, I took Japanese lessons for two years, back when I was in school, and I did live in Japan for a year or so, when I was 9, but I wouldn’t say that I have much of an understanding of the language and culture, to guide me through my watch.
And, because there are quite a few terms that are left untranslated in the subs, I found myself floundering somewhat, at times, during my watch.
Good subs are so important, aren’t they?
However, this problem of feeling out at sea, wasn’t something that Google couldn’t solve, and so, I went and consulted Google, and found out a few important things.
Here’s a look at some foundational stuff I found out, after watching episode 1:
1. Maiko are trainee geishas.
2. The reason that Sumire and Kiyo go to Kyoto, is because Kyoto is the only prefecture in Japan that has a maiko culture. In Kyoto, geishas are referred to as geiko.
3. While I’d thought that Sumire and Kiyo were really young to be moving prefectures on their own, they are actually the typical age for girls to start maiko training.
4. Geishas are very highly respected in Japan, and it’s not surprising that young girls would aspire to become geishas.
5. Maiko live in a maiko house (known as a yakata), and geishas live in their own homes, within various geisha districts. That’s why Sumire and Kiyo start their training at a maiko house.
6.. Also, geishas in different districts specialize in different dances and other art forms, so it’s a very rich and intricate culture, where no geisha actually knows all of the dance forms, for example.
7. There are distinctive differences between the way a maiko dresses vs. how a geisha dresses.
Although the differences might not be immediately apparent to those of use who are new to this culture, once you acquaint yourself with the differences (check out this article for a great overview), they become easy to spot.
8. I had been wondering about the men who help the maikos and geishas dress, this episode, and apparently, geishas always need the help of a dresser, because the geisha kimono is heavy and intricate and it’s basically impossible for a geisha to dress herself.
9. The phrase “makanai” refers to both the cook and the meal served in a boarding house, which is why the phrase is used interchangeably.
Pretty fascinating stuff – at least, to me. 😁
You might also like to check out these articles (here and here) for more information.
The focus on zombies in episode 8
Your mileage may certainly vary, but I have to admit that I was a little thrown by the sudden focus on zombies in episode 8. 😅
Zombies were the farthest thing from my mind, given the vibe and feel of this drama world, y’know?
But, Show does make it make some kind of organic sense, so it all evens out to ok, for me.
First of all, we’ve already seen, in an earlier episode, that Momoko likes zombie movies, from that scene where she’d scared Masaru (Morisaki Win) with her imitation zombie moves.
And so, I suppose it’s not completely out of left field, that she chooses a zombie theme for the performance that their yakata will put forward at the Obake.
Additionally, I appreciate Momoko’s thought behind it, which is that she’s using it to break tradition, so that the maiko get to perform as well, when traditionally, it’s only the geikos (or geishas) who perform at the Obake.
It’s also pretty cute that all the maiko get so into it, that they rehearse with lots of earnest gusto, while filling the house with screams; that was a silver lining for me, for sure. 😁
The introduction of Riko being played for comedy [VAGUE MILD SPOILERS]
Also in episode 8, Show introduces a new maiko apprentice, Riko (Narumi Kanon) to the yakata, and the whole thing seems to be played for comedy, with how loud and gruff Riko naturally is. In fact, I find her more like a soldier than a maiko, and I think that’s Show’s whole point?
I just feel like Show’s using her for comedy, which I don’t prefer, actually.
But, I do appreciate the idea that just because Riko’s not dainty and graceful, doesn’t mean that she can’t have an appreciation for the beauty in the art of geisha.
Also, while I can’t imagine Riko actually being able to fully assimilate into the life of a maiko apprentice, I also appreciate the idea that Azusa gives her a chance anyway.
..Which is why this evens out to ok for me, too.
SPOTLIGHT ON CHARACTERS / RELATIONSHIPS
We do have quite a few characters in our drama world, and I’m only going to focus on a handful, in the interest of brevity.
Mori Nana as Kiyo
Like I mentioned earlier in this review, even though this drama is a showcase of maiko and geisha culture – and I do enjoy learning about it, no lie – it’s our protagonist Kiyo who’s got my heart in the palm of her hand. 🤩
There’s just something very sweet and likable about her, that really shines through, I feel.
She’s gentle, cheerful and good-spirited, and just seems to have such a wholesome, childlike innocence about her. I like her a lot, right away.
She’s so warm and gurgly, and I just love her positive energy. 🥰
I would watch a hundred episodes of her just doing her thing, and being as lovely and sweet as she always is. 🥰
E1. After my consultation with Google on the skills of a geisha, and the strict training it requires, to reach that level of mastery, I can immediately see that there’s a mismatch between Kiyo’s maiko dreams, and her natural abilities.
I do love, though, that even though the training is hard, and she’s not making the kind of progress that’s expected of her, it seems like nothing can get our Kiyo down.
I mean, after she gets taken aside to be reprimanded for her lack of progress, she cheerfully and guilelessly tells Sumire about how their master asks for Japanese pepper if it’s udon and black shichimi (a Japanese 7-flavor spice mix) for soba noodles.
There’s just something very earnest and hardworking about Kiyo that I really, really like. She’s basically like a pure and innocent cinnamon roll, that should be protected at all costs. 🥰
E2. This episode, Kiyo gets told that she’s not cut out to be maiko, and while I feel bad for her, I have to agree with the master’s conclusion, that the demands of being a maiko, just don’t suit Kiyo’s strengths.
And, even though Sumire is very upset at the idea of Kiyo not getting to train as a maiko anymore, I have to agree with Ryoko, that it would actually be more cruel, to try to keep her in the maiko training program, knowing that she would only get scolded all the time, while struggling to keep up.
How telling, really, that Kiyo’s first reaction, when she’s told that she doesn’t need to go to lessons anymore, and can think about returning to Aomori to find a job, or go to high school, is to be worried that she won’t be able to keep her promise to be with Sumire forever and always.
This is the biggest indication, I feel, that the maiko dream is more Sumire’s than Kiyo’s, and that Kiyo is there more for the friendship and loyalty, than for any particular maiko dreams of her own.
I’m so glad that Kiyo finds her niche so quickly, after being told that she’s been let go from the program.
At first, my instinct was to think that Kiyo could do better than being a makanai, and that she could go back to school, and gain more options that way.
However, taking into account the fact that Sumire brings up, that Kiyo’s always been slower than her peers, I’ve changed my mind, and now think that it’s actually a blessing that she’s found a niche where she can play to her strengths, and really shine.
Because, if she’d gone back to school, she’d still have struggled to keep up, and if she’d then gone on to more traditionally recognized “successful” professions, it’s more than likely that she would have struggled, too.
It’s far better, I think, for her to find her niche early, and start to build a strong foundation in it, so that beyond shining naturally at what she’s good at, she also builds a mastery that commands respect.
Honestly, I do love watching Kiyo cook.
The quiet joy that I feel from her, as she prepares food, feels so wonderfully pure and wholesome, and I feel like that would naturally infuse into her food, so that her food is also pure and wholesome, like her.
Simple, but special. 🥰
The way Kiyo goes up to that shrine to get that talisman for the kitchen, which will now be under her purview, demonstrates her simple tenacity, which Sumire talks about.
Even though the various maiko in the house think that she’d be too scared of the dark, and would give up very quickly, Kiyo not only makes it, but also, makes some friends while she’s at it.
Already, I take that as a sign that she’s just made for this. 🤩
As Takeshi (Kitamura Yukiya) says, as he eats the rice ball that she gives him, Kiyo’s got a gift in her hands, and I can’t wait to see her grow into that gift, with the acknowledgement of everyone else, at the maiko house.
E3. I just love that we get to watch Kiyo be her sweet, unassuming, lovely self.
It’s a joy to watch her prepare food, honestly, and I perk up significantly, whenever Show turns its attention to Kiyo having anything to do with food, from admiring ingredients, to prepping them, to serving her food to her friends.
With Kiyo, there’s no sense of this being a chore to her. In fact, the vibe I get, is that she feels privileged that she gets to work with food. I love that.
The careful way she dissolves the miso in the soup; the way she gingerly tastes the seasoned okra; the gentle manner in which she turns over the salmon on the grill; it’s all just very soothing to watch, for me. 😍
Even more than that, I love how she seems to have such a personal relationship with her food.
I love how she whispers a “Good morning” greeting to the anchovies and kelp in her broth, and I love how she tells the plums that she will look after them for the next 3 days, as she lays them out in the sun.
In fact, with that little detail, where she asks Ryoko (Makita Aju) whether she’s eaten one of the plums, it makes me feel like Kiyo practically knows each plum by name, y’know?
It’s endearing and adorable and so very precious; I just want to fold her up in my pocket and feed her delicious foods all the time. 🥰
E3. I’m struck all over again, by how good-natured and amiable Kiyo is, particularly when it comes to feeding others with her food.
When Tsurukoma sidles into the kitchen in the early hours of the morning and expresses that she would like to eat some bread, Kiyo’s so agreeable, as she makes that caramel bread pudding for her.
There’s absolutely no sense of her feeling miffed that Tsurukoma is giving her more work to do. Instead, she exudes a quiet joy, of being able to bless Tsurukoma with that bread pudding.
Gosh, I love that about her.
I’m so glad that Tsurukoma shows such a strong appreciation for that bread pudding, and that the other girls show so much interest and excitement over it too.
Because, the one thing that I really want for Kiyo, right now, is for everyone around her to love and appreciate her, for the wonderful blessing that she is. 🥰
E4. How sweet, that when Asuza asks Kiyo what she’d wish for if she had a four-leaf clover, Kiyo’s answer is that she’d wish for Sumire to successfully become a maiko.
Aw. How sweetly selfless is that? I luff her. ❤️
But also, even though Kiyo seems to be so content in the little everyday things – like a hot bath, and an ice cream bar – it does look like she would like to have something to wish for, for herself too.
And now that’s my wish for her – that she will find her way to what her heart wishes for. 🥰
E5. One of the things I love about Kiyo, is just how easygoing and gurgly she is.
I really, really love that she gurgles happily, so easily. It gives me the impression that she’s generally at a level of happiness where she’s just one small step away from gurgling with joy, and that’s why she gurgles so easily and often, when interacting with others.
I love this idea, that she’s basically spilling over with happiness, because that indicates just how much joy she takes from everything in her life. 🥰
Even when people are telling her to hurry with the tempura because they can’t wait any longer, she doesn’t get annoyed; she just chirps cheerfully, that it will be just a little longer. I freaking love how sweet-tempered and genial our Kiyo is. 😍
I’m so tickled, that when the girls start talking about romantic types, Kiyo’s response, when asked, is that she’s in love with her frying pan – and with gyoza too. Tee hee! How adorable is she?!? 😍
I also love how sweet and considerate she is, to think of making fried chicken for Sumire, because it’s her favorite, and it’s about time that Sumire would start to miss having it.
What makes it even more special, is just how happy she looks, as she prepares that fried chicken for Sumire. I love her generous spirit. 🥰
E6. I’m rather amused by the idea of Momoko trying to vie with Kiyo, for Sumire’s affection.
When she and Kiyo meet at the yakata, I feel like Momoko’s trying to establish some alpha lines or something, with the way she low-key tries to face off with Kiyo.
And, I freaking LOVE that it all slides off Kiyo like water off a duck’s back, and instead, it’s Kiyo who disarms Momoko, with her guileless cheer and her delicious food.
Ha. I love the idea that perhaps Momoko will end up falling for Kiyo’s charms instead, and become Kiyo’s biggest fan? 😁
In fact, Kiyo even manages to accidentally pass on a bit of perspective to Momoko, in the way that she describes how, depending on the ingredients and the season, food can taste completely different, even with the same recipe, which is why she greets the food, “It’s nice to see you again.”
Applied to Momoko’s life as a geisha, this also means that every mai is different, in the moment, even though it might be the same steps.
E6. I love that everyone gets involved in getting tickets to Kiyo, so that she can get one more spin at the market raffle.
I love that even though Sumire’s got a lot of new and exciting stuff on the horizon, as a new maiko, she doesn’t ever forget that those tickets are important to Kiyo, and perks up every time there is a new opportunity to perhaps get an additional ticket or two, for Kiyo. 🥰
And in the end, even reticent Ryoko gets in on the act, and gives Kiyo the last ticket that she needs, to get a spin at the market raffle.
I’m bummed that Kiyo doesn’t get her bread maker in the end, when she’d been so thrilled by the idea of having a bread maker, so much so that I want to buy Kiyo a bread maker, so that I’d get to make her day, heh.
But, I get the idea, that her journey of getting to those 10 tickets, from those around her who care about her, is more important than the actual bread maker itself.
I love that fact that our girl Kiyo is the kind of person who makes lemonades out of lemons – or, as is the case this time, apple pie out of apples. 😁
I’m sure those apple pies will be absolutely delicious, and I’m convinced that those pies will somehow make everyone’s lives better, too, while Kiyo’s at it. 🥰
E7. I love that moment when Kiyo sees Momoko on TV, when she comes out tops as the geisha with the most number of ozashiki booked in the past year.
Clearly, Momoko is at the top of her game, to be the winner 6 years in a row. And, when she’s asked about her new year’s resolutions, she says,
“To treasure every instant.” … “Instead of treasuring every interaction in the spirit of “Farewell,” I’d like to say, “It’s my privilege to see you again.” I will honor every moment in every encounter in that spirit.”
That is clearly inspired by her earlier conversation with Kiyo, when Kiyo had talked about greeting her ingredients, saying, “It’s nice to see you again,” and how, even though they are the same ingredients, depending on the weather and such, foods can taste very different.
Ahhh. I am so pleased, honestly, that our little makanai, who’s supposedly a humble position in the hierarchy of this world, is having a real influence on the top geisha of the entire prefecture.
I LOVE THAT, SO MUCH. 🤩 Our Kiyo is a treasure indeed. ❤️
E7. I love the way Kiyo goes out of her way to make that bowl of udon for Sumire, just because she learns that in Kyoto, udon is the typical sick food served to people who are under the weather, instead of rice porridge.
I love how she learns about how to make the best tasting bowl of udon, and that she learns all the various aspects, from people whom she encounters at the market and at the shops.
It’s so cool, that the people at the market know her now, and are happy to offer advice when she asks for it. And it’s just as cool, that when she approaches new shop-owners for the special ingredients that she seeks, they immediately take to her and treat her with warmth and favor.
I love that. I love every little indication that our Kiyo is doing well, in her chosen vocation. 😍
I also love how Kiyo goes far, far out of her way, in order to visit the specialty shops, in order to get the best ingredients for Sumire’s udon, and doesn’t have a single grumble or complaint about it.
In fact, she’s got her lovely sense of wonder with her, that’s so often radiating out of her, and I find that extremely endearing.
It says so much, really, that when Ryoko asks her whether she has any complaints because she’s always doing the cooking, Kiyo’s answer, as an afterthought, is that she wishes everyone could eat the food while it’s hot.
Augh. How precious is she? She just wants people to enjoy the food when it’s at its best, so that they can taste it at its most delicious and gain the most satisfaction from her food. I luff her. 😍
And, back on the topic of Kiyo positively affecting those around her without even really needing to try, is how she gets Ryoko to see Mother Azusa in a different light, by telling her that Azusa surely very much enjoyed cooking for Ryoko, and it’s just hard for her, to be everyone’s mother.
Ryoko does remain her gruff self, but you can see that Kiyo’s words have an impact on her, and later, we do see her soften towards Azusa, and even address her as “Mom,” which she hasn’t seemed to do, in a long time. Aw.
E8. Last but not least, it’s just good to see that Kiyo’s written to Gran and Kenta (Shiraishi Kayoko and Jyo Kairi)), and sent then a picture of her and Sumire. It’s not quite the same as an in-person visit, but seeing the contentment in Gran’s face, as she reads Kiyo’s letter, tells me that it’s close enough. 🥰
Deguchi Natsuki as Sumire
I enjoyed Sumire as a character too, particularly since we get to learn about the maiko journey through her experience.
Additionally, I like that Sumire’s got a very sweet spirit about her too.
I have more Sumire thoughts to share in the next section, which focuses on her friendship with Kiyo, but for now, I wanted to give the quick spotlight to Sumire’s relationship with her father, which Show does focus on, a little bit.
E4. There’s nothing quite like seeing for yourself, so I do really like that the Mothers invite Dad to observe Sumire’s training, so that he can put at least some of his concerns to rest.
I think that’s also a good bit of meta for us as viewers, because, generally speaking, there’s so little understanding of maiko and geisha culture, outside of the world in which it exists.
This is a good chance, not only for Dad to see and understand, but for us as viewers, to see and understand as well.
I’m glad that in the end, Sumire and Dad make peace, with Dad showing understanding of Sumire’s choice, and her right to independence, and Sumire offering Dad the 4-leaf clover charm, and promising to become the number one maiko in the whole province, and asking him to visit her then.
Also, how cool of Dad, to decline the charm, so that his wish that Sumire would quit being a maiko, won’t come true. Aw.
And how sweet, that he asks that Sumire give the charm to Kiyo – for the eggplant which had made him cry. 🥲
He’s just a big ol’ marshmallow heart, isn’t it? 🥲
Kiyo and Sumire together
I really love the friendship that Kiyo and Sumire share. Honestly, the more I see of them together, the more I’m convinced that they truly are soulmates, and will be besties for life.
One of the greatest things about this show, is how this friendship is allowed to be rock-solid and completely steady, from the beginning of our story, all the way to the end.
Even when things happen, which might potentially put a rift between Kiyo and Sumire, or at least create some kind of misunderstanding between them, they are completely unwavering in their love for and trust in each other, and I love that, so much. 🥰
E1. I really like the friendship between Sumire and Kiyo.
We aren’t told a lot about their friendship just yet, but the fact that they’re traveling to Kyoto together, to train as maiko together, gives me the idea that they are very close.
I’m also getting the idea that Sumire might be more passionate about training as a maiko, than Kiyo, because she’s basically defying her father’s wishes, in order to pursue this path.
Kiyo, on the other hand, just has this very amiable air about her, and doesn’t seem to mind training as a maiko, as long as she and Sumire can be together.
E4. This episode, I’m pretty stoked to see Sumire and Kiyo spend their day off together.
Since their pact is to stay together forever, and since Kiyo and Sumire and now technically on different career paths, this feels like a precious pitstop, where context melts away, and their different paths don’t actually matter.
It’s honestly so lovely to see them enjoy their time together, from going to the Monument of Sports to pray for Kenta (Kiyo’s to-do item), to eating cloud pancakes together (Sumire’s to-do item), to talking about baking and sending treats to Kenta, and saving up their allowance so that they can eat sushi together.
They are adorable together, and their pure joy in the simple things, like in each bite of those cloud pancakes, is wonderfully infectious. 🥰
E5. I’m so happy for Sumire, that she gets accelerated in her maiko apprenticeship, and is allowed to start performing earlier than originally expected.
That’s a Very Big Deal, considering how strict the training is. This means that she’s really surpassed her Master’s expectations, and that’s quite the accomplishment, since, as we’ve seen, it’s hard enough to try to just meet those expectations. 😅
It says so much about their friendship, that when Sumire is given the good news, she runs through the yakata looking for Kiyo, and ends up running all the way to the bathhouse, just so that she can share the news with Kiyo as soon as possible.
And then, how wonderful is it, that when Kiyo registers the news, there is no trace of jealousy in her; she’s just thrilled to bits for Sumire, and the joy in her face, is as if the good thing had happened to her, personally. 🥰
I love – SO MUCH – the voiceover that we hear from Kiyo, as she and Sumire walk back to the yakata from the bathhouse.
“Sumire was so beautiful today. I even took a detour back to the yakata so I could look at her face from the side for a little longer.”
Awww! How pure and beautiful is that, seriously?!? 🤩🥰
I didn’t think I could love Kiyo more – but I do. ❤️
And, what a perfect day for Sumire to get to enjoy her favorite fried chicken – on the day that she gets fast-tracked as a maiko apprentice!
Kiyo’s instincts are spot on, aren’t they? 🤩
I think it’s perfect, that Sumire’s putting her wish to eat those tiny sandwiches that are reserved for maiko (so as not to mess up their lip makeup), in Kiyo’s hands.
I couldn’t think of a better way to commemorate this big milestone, because it celebrates both of their strengths: Sumire’s talent for the mai, and Kiyo’s talent for creating beautiful and delicious food. 🥰
E6. I continue to love the friendship between Kiyo and Sumire.
I love how Kiyo is so thoughtful and considerate, that when she hears the other girls talking about how Sumire is unlikely to get much sleep once she has her hair in the Wareshinobu, she prepares a warm drink of amazake (a fermented Japanese rice drink) for Sumire, and then waits up for her, until Sumire actually comes down to the kitchen, because she can’t sleep.
I find this so generous and pure; Kiyo voluntarily stays up in the kitchen, with the amazake ready to warm, on the stove, JUST IN CASE Sumire can’t sleep, and needs some help.
Guh. Is she not the most precious darling? 😍
E7. I do find it sweet, that the reason Kiyo and Sumire don’t feel the need to go back to Aomori for the New Year holidays, is because all they need is each other.
Their simple answers, in response to questions about why they’re in Kyoto for the New Year celebrations, are so simple and sweet. For Kiyo, it’s because Sumire’s there, and for Sumire, it’s because Kiyo’s there.
Although, I have to admit that part of me wishes that they would have taken the trip back to Aomori, so that they could have spent time with Gran and Kenta, whom they both miss.
But, I looked it up, and Aomori IS quite a distance from Kyoto (more than 13 hours by train!), so it makes more sense to me now, why both Kiyo and Sumire are content to stay in Kyoto, in each other’s company, instead of taking the trip to see Gran and Kenta.
Also, there’s the issue of cost. We’ve seen that both Kiyo and Sumire don’t have a lot of money, and are always budget-conscious even with daily necessities like toothpaste, so I’m sure that also is a factor in terms of why they chose to stay in Kyoto over the New Year holidays.
All that said, it really is heartwarming to see how much joy they gain from just being in each other’s presence. They honestly don’t seem to need anything more than each other, and I love that thought, so much. 🥰
E7. I’m so glad that Sumire loves the udon that Kiyo cooks for her. It’s like it revives her, almost, because the very next morning, she’s feeling well enough to sit with Kiyo, while Kiyo shovels snow.
I love hearing them reminisce about the winters they’d spent together in Aomori; it just brings out the depth of history that these two have shared together.
It feels apt, that Sumire would give Kiyo special permission to address her as Sumire, even though she’s officially now Momohana.
ALSO. How adorable are those two mini snowmen, in our final shot?!? 😍😍 They’re tiny and smiling together, just like Kiyo and Sumire – or at least, that’s how I like to see it. 😁
E8. One of my favorite moments, this episode, is when Sumire comes back from her first dining out experience as a maiko apprentice, and has eaten all sorts of expensive cuisine – but describes it as bland and uninteresting, compared to Kiyo’s cooking. Aw. 🥰
Hashimoto Ai as Momoko
I wanted to include a section on Momoko, our top geisha, because I found her arc with her love interest, Masaru, of particular interest.
Not only does it provide insight into geisha / geiko culture, I thought it was also handled in a thought-provoking and rather beautiful manner.
First, though, I have to sheepishly admit that the first time we are shown Momoko without her geisha trappings, which happens in episode 3, I did not recognize her, like, at all. I legit thought that we were being introduced to a new character, oops. 🙈😅
Not only did it take me a while to figure out that the young lady with the bob haircut was, in fact, Momoko, our top geisha, it also took me a fair while, to piece together the fact that the young man who hangs out with her, Masaru, is in love with her, and hopes to marry her.
That definitely brings up the thing where geisha (and maiko) are expected to either not marry, or retire upon marriage.
This means that if Momoko were to decide to pursue a serious relationship with Masaru, she would have to give up her career as a geisha.
E4. This episode, Momoko confronts the elephant in the room, and talks with Masaru about why he likes her, and what he hopes for the future.
And, she makes it abundantly clear that she is not about to give up being a geisha, in order to marry him.
I respect that Momoko sees being a geisha as her calling, and something that she wouldn’t give up for someone else.
At the same time, it’s a pretty wistful thing, I feel, that this vague relationship is the closest thing that Momoko can come, to having a significant other in her life.
However, Momoko is firm in her decision, and there’s just something pretty awe-inspiring, about how much clarity she has, in terms of what is important to her, and what she’s willing to sacrifice for it.
E5. This episode, I’m quite struck by the way Momoko’s choice – to say goodbye to Masaru – is portrayed.
When she first performs “Kurokami,” we’re told that it’s a sad dance, about the deep loneliness of a woman how longs for her forbidden lover, as she tosses and turns in her sleep.
At this point, the impression I get is that Momoko is torn about Masaru’s departure, and his proposal to her. Even though she’s turned down, the fact that she’s practicing the “Kurokami” dance makes me think that she is perhaps wrestling with it, a bit.
It’s only after Momoko’s conversation with Hoshino, that she realizes that the problem isn’t that the art of geisha will be neglected after marriage; rather, in her case, the problem is that even if she were to get married, the art would always be #1, to her.
And that’s why she shouldn’t leave her life as a geisha, to get married.
The conclusion that she comes to, is reflected in her words to Sumire:
“Listen, Sumire. If you’re ever in love, just make sure it’s real, yes?
Marrying someone doesn’t… doesn’t make it real. And if you choose not to, it doesn’t mean it wasn’t real, either.
Also… real love isn’t just a romantic feeling. You can fall in love with your art, not just a man. Nor does love for the art stop you from loving someone.”
Momoko’s request to be allowed to perform the “Kurokami” makes so much sense, in the light of these words, and also, in the light of Sumire’s description of Momoko’s performance as being resolute.
This gives me the idea that Momoko is making the choice to both love Masaru, and say goodbye to him and miss him, at the same time.
She’s resolute, in the way that she misses him and longs for him. That.. really sums it up so well, I feel.
I thought this was very well done, and the fact that this decision was conveyed as part of Momoko’s dance, felt so perfect.
Matsuoka Mayu as Yoshino [SPOILERS]
In episode 3, we are introduced to Yoshino, and along with that, the idea that geisha can quit to get married, but they aren’t actually allowed to continue where they’d left off, if they wanted to return to being a geisha.
That lines up with the reading that I’d done around geishas. What I’d learned was that geishas can get around this rule, by starting over in a new prefecture, from scratch.
And therefore, Yoshino is being extremely audacious to even entertain the idea of the maiko house taking her back.
I honestly don’t mind Yoshino’s presence, though, because she’s candid and outspoken, and therefore can be quite helpful to us international viewers, in the way she talks frankly about things.
Like the way she tells the maiko that they can’t get caught using cellphones, because it breaks the maiko illusion that they’re selling.
That.. reminds me of how Disney employees are expected to be fully in character, from the moment they enter the park, so that they, too, don’t break the illusion that they are selling.
I found this quite fascinating, and learning this definitely added a layer of complexity and interest to my onscreen maiko education.
Over the course of our watch, Yoshino acts as that mouthpiece for us, and thus educates us, a little bit, even as we watch the show.
Tokiwa Takako as Azusa [SPOILERS]
I found Mother Azusa’s arc quite interesting, the more Show reveals about her.
I was most surprised to realize, in episode 5, that Ryoko is actually her daughter, and that Azusa had quit being a geisha, in order to have Ryoko.
I appreciated that Show gives a bit of screen time to this mother-daughter relationship, as Ryoko slowly grows to understand her mother more, thus allowing the rifts in their relationship to heal.
I also appreciate the fact that Ryoko comes around to the idea of Azusa potentially marrying Tanabe (Iura Arata), and even proactively gives them her blessings.
I found this all quite fascinating, because it delves into the potential journey of a geisha who steps away from the spotlight.
In this show, we have Momoko choosing to love from afar, in order to remain a geisha, and so it feels fitting and balanced, that we also get to see what might happen for a geisha who chooses to give it all up for love.
THOUGHTS ON THE ENDING [SPOILERS]
Y’know, approaching this finale, I’d wondered what kind of ending would be good for our story, and I’m really so happy with the ending that Show chose.
It feels fitting and perfect, in so many little ways.
Essentially, this episode is a final chapter on following your heart, and finding the thing that makes your heart sing, in life.
For Tsurukoma, following her heart means acknowledging that she will never be in love with being a maiko / geiko, and that it’s just not her true calling, in life.
As much as it had required courage for Sumire to defy her family’s wishes and come to Kyoto to pursue her dream, it’s taking just as much courage for Tsurukoma, to acknowledge that this just isn’t the right path for her, and bring it to a close.
That can be a difficult and scary thing, especially since she would have put everything else in her life on hold, for the last few years, as she’d pursued the maiko life.
It’s not going to be easy for her to start over now, because her peers, whom she’d have left after middle school, would be several years ahead of her now.
But, it’s still the right choice for her personally, and I’m glad that Show shines the spotlight on that, for us.
Pretty early on in this finale, Tanabe remarks that people all just want a place where they feel they belong, regardless of their age, and Asuza replies that those who find it, are the lucky ones.
I feel that sums up so neatly and effectively, the journey of our two besties, Sumire and Kiyo.
They’ve both given up various things in order to be where they are today; Sumire’s given up a normal life where it would have been ok for her to pursue a relationship with Kenta, and Kiyo’s given up being close to her Gran.
But, in exchange, they’ve both found the places where they belong.
It’s true that Kiyo’s role as a makanai isn’t a prestigious or sought-after sort of vocation, but Show makes no bones about it; this is where Kiyo shines. This is where her talent flows, and this is where she belongs.
And, it is a blessing, not a mistake, that Kiyo’s found her calling early in life, because this will allow her that many more years, to flourish in her chosen field of work.
As for Sumire, Show is clear that she has not only interest, but a real and rare talent, as a maiko, with her even being introduced to that new apprentice, as the hope of the maiko house.
Even though she has to choose to care for Kenta from afar, it is a choice that she makes willingly, because she is that much in love with her chosen field. It’s worth it, for her.
And that’s what matters, in the end.
I think it’s perfect, that we end our journey with Sumire and Kiyo, with Sumire’s debut as a maiko.
Firstly, it’s a wonderful insight into this very special milestone within maiko culture, and I feel our cultural education, via our story, would have been incomplete without it.
It’s so fascinating to see Sumire go through this important milestone, from having her makeup done, to being dressed in the very intricate ceremonial robes, to making her rounds in the ochaya (tea houses where maiko/geisha entertain) and to other supporters, to ask for good favor and future support along her path to becoming a geisha.
I love that for Kiyo, this occasion is as momentous and important, as it is to Sumire.
As Sumire gets dressed, Kiyo’s quietly and intently – and very carefully! – making those tiny finger sandwiches that Sumire and she had talked about, and that she’d promised to make for Sumire, once Sumire officially became a maiko.
The day is finally here, and Kiyo’s keeping that promise, with gladness and wonder, which I love.
It feels like such a momentous thing, when Sumire puts that first finger sandwich into her mouth.
She’s not just eating a sandwich, she’s marking a milestone; one that she’s looked forward to, and worked so hard for, for a really long time.
And I love that Kiyo’s there, not just to witness the moment, but to be part of that moment, together with Sumire. 🥰 I love that.
And how meaningful and lovely, that as Sumire steps out of the yakata to make her debut, her father is there to watch her take that step, just like she’d asked, and just as he’d promised.
It’s so touching, really, to see that Dad’s now got tears in his eyes, as he witnesses just how far Sumire has come, in her maiko journey, and how she really is on her way to becoming the top maiko, just as she’d said.
I do love the detail, that as Sumire experiences her debut night among all the pomp and fanfare, that Kiyo isn’t forgotten.
I am so glad that Seino, the photographer who’s always taking photos of the maiko and geiko, specifically asks to take a picture of Kiyo, and I love that Kiyo chooses to have her photo taken right there in the kitchen that she loves, because that’s where she belongs. 🥰
Thank you, Seino-san, for acknowledging that our Kiyo is just as important to the yakata, as the maiko themselves. ❤️
I love that we end the show, with Sumire coming back to the yakata, and eating the bread crust rusks that Kiyo’s saved for her.
It feels significant, that even though everyone else has said that it’s unlikely Sumire would be in the mood to eat anything, after a tiring debut night, she gladly eats the rusks that Kiyo’s saved for her.
I love that Sumire feels so much more at home, eating Kiyo’s food, and I love that Kiyo gets so much joy, in watching Sumire enjoy the food that she’s made.
It feels perfectly perfect, that we end on this note, where we see that even though Sumire and Kiyo walk on different paths, ultimately, they are two souls who are on this journey together.
And despite their different experiences, they have this space where they decompress together, and all their differences melt away, and they are just Sumire and Kiyo, soul mates and besties, forever. ❤️❤️
THE FINAL VERDICT:
Wholesome and warm, and educational, to boot. Very good.
FINAL GRADE: B++
The next drama I’ll be covering on Patreon, in place of The Makanai, is The Heavenly Idol. I’ve taken an initial look, and I’m happy to say that I’m feeling nicely entertained, and quite optimistic, two episodes in. 😁 My E1 & 2 notes on The Heavenly Idol can be found here.
Here’s an overview of what I’m covering on Patreon right now (Tier benefits are cumulative)!
Foundation Tier (US$1): Entertainment tidbits + the first set of notes of all shows covered on Patreon (2 eps for kdramas, 4 eps for cdramas)
Early Access (US$5): The Glory Part 1[Korea]
Early Access Plus (US$10): +The Heavenly Idol [Korea]
VIP (US$15): +Meet Yourself [China]
VVIP (US$20): +Our Blooming Youth [Korea]
Ultimate (US$25): +Crash Course In Love [Korea]