A small hot spring resort in eastern Japan plans to recruit three women to become geisha in an effort to preserve a tradition and to boost tourism, a local official said on Friday.

Shimoda city, 130 kilometres (80 miles) southwest of Tokyo, has set aside 5.23 million yen ($68,000) for a six-month geisha training project, using national subsidies available for employment programmes, a city spokesman told AFP.

The trainees will receive a daily wage of roughly 6,200 yen ($80) and will be expected to work five days a week for six months to March, he said.

"Once they finish the programme, they will demonstrate their art" at a local festival celebrating the life of a 19th-century geisha, he said.

Despite their image in the West as little more than prostitutes, geisha are in fact highly skilled women who dance, play musical instruments and entertain their clients with games and conversation.

Demand for geisha has steadily dropped over the years across Japan, but their presence at various tourist events delights visitors, the city official said.

Three decades ago Shimoda boasted 200 active geisha, but only five part-timers remain, the city official said.

And they are the only people who have passed on local dance and songs -- unique cultural assets that the city hopes to preserve.

"We hope that (the new geisha) will eventually join our efforts to revitalise the city's tourism," and stay employed in the tourism sector, he said.

"Our hope is that they will join our five geisha and carry on our traditional art," he said.