Photo/Illutration Higashiyama-based geisha Fuyuka boards a tour bus and introduces herself in Aizu-Wakamatsu, Fukushima Prefecture, on Dec. 3. (Shinji Ueda)

AIZU-WAKAMATSU, Fukushima Prefecture--Just past noon on a recent day, 13 tourists boarded the Akabe tour bus at a stop near JR Aizu-Wakamatsu Station.

Much to their surprise, a "geigi" (geisha) wearing a long-sleeved "furisode" kimono boarded the bus as well. 

"My name is Fuyuka, affiliated with the Hanayoshi lodging house in the Aizu-Higashiyama Onsen spa resort. Please allow me to accompany you today," she said before taking a seat on Dec. 3.

The tourists looked dumbfounded because they weren't informed of her visit in advance.

"I was surprised. I thought she was going to a shop somewhere to celebrate its opening," one tourist said, while another added: "Is it all right to talk to her?"

Fuyuka spent about 30 minutes with the tourists before getting off at a stop near Tsuruga Castle to greet other passengers on another tour bus, the Haikara-san.

Aizu Noriai Jidosha (Aizu Bus) and other organizations have been collaborating with geigi working in the Higashiyama district to accompany passengers since November.

Tourists are thrilled by getting to interact with Higashiyama geigi, who have remained true to the geisha culture since the Edo Period (1603-1867).

The event is aimed at adding an exquisite ambience to the ride itself by allowing tourists to share the same space with geigi, with whom exchanges are limited to parties and other special occasions.

It is also intended to support geigi in dire straits after the coronavirus pandemic has deprived them of numerous parties to attend.

"It is nice to have people learn about geigi working in Aizu-Wakamatsu, and I hope it helps the geigi culture to carry on," said Fuyuka, who is appreciative of the support.

The event is offered on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays until February 2022.

Passengers are left uninformed of which geigi boards which bus "to keep the mystery alive," according to the operator.

Passengers are required to pay a bus fare of 210 yen ($1.90) for adults and 110 yen for elementary school pupils and younger children.