Kiyo in Kyoto
Photo: Screenshot from NHK World

Watch: ‘Kiyo in Kyoto’ is an anime about modern day geisha

This charming anime is all about the secret life of Kyoto’s geiko and maiko in training – and you can watch it for free

Emma Steen
Written by
Emma Steen

It’s rare to catch a glimpse of Kyoto’s revered geiko (a more common term for geisha in the ancient capital of Japan) and maiko (a geisha in training) when exploring the city, let alone see what life looks like inside an okiya (geisha house). An encounter with the traditional performers over tea or dinner is a strictly members-only affair, hence the world of this historical art form is especially full of mystery and intrigue to an outsider. 

If you’ve ever wondered about what everyday life looks like for the handful of geiko and maiko in Kyoto today, you’ll gain a surprising amount of insight from this free anime series available on NHK World called ‘Kiyo in Kyoto’.  

The series is adapted from a manga of the same name by Aiko Koyama. The story centres on 16-year-old Kiyo who moved from Aomori to Kyoto to become the resident cook at an okiya. Her childhood friend Sumire is also there, but unlike Kiyo, Sumire is training to become a maiko. 

The anime is especially popular among food lovers as it features close-ups of the mouthwatering meals Kiyo whips up for her housemates. The show also explores the day-to-day aspects of life outside of the kitchen. 

NHK has edited the series to include explanations about aspects of life that deviate from the norm, like a rule that prohibits a maiko from carrying a mobile phone. For the most part, however, the show reveals that geiko and their maiko apprentices are more similar to us than we imagined, in the way that they eagerly trade heavy kimono for thick rimmed glasses and sweatpants at home, or have an insatiable appetite for dumplings at the end of a long day.

There are currently five episodes available to watch for free online. Each episode runs for 25 minutes and there are English subtitles. 

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