The minshuku is probably my favorite way to travel. Basically a room in a private home, minshuku usually provide much the same experience that you would have in a ryokan at about half the price. The big differences seem to be (a) in a minshuku, you eat in a room with all of the other guests rather than being served in your room; (b) in a ryokan you usually get served tea and crackers in the afternoon; and - most importantly - (c) the dinner in a ryokan is likely to include much more gourmet fare. Minshuku can be found practically everywhere, making them an even more viable option for don't-know-where-I'll-end-up-tonight cyclists (however, usually you must reserve in advance, at least by the morning of that day, to get dinner - reserving the night before is a better idea). As with ryokan, the quoted price includes two meals unless it is listed as “su-domari” which means accommodation only sans meals.

Detailed information on minshuku throughout Japan can be found in Japanese language references such as the one shown at right (which is quite old at this point and probably no longer available). Here is the publishing information for this particular guide; undoubtedly there are more recent ones available as well:

Ryokan are often established places with long histories, and so there is more likely to be information about them available on the Internet. Minshuku, by contrast, are extremely local in nature, and so in many cases you will only find them if you have a guide like the one shown above.

Also note that often the information in these guides can be rather vague, giving a brief overview of the general area and then the name of one minshuku and then saying "plus 6 others". Often the number given is the local (very local) town office number. That's OK: that all-important phone number will get you in contact with someone in that area who will at least know who else to call. Note that, in the case of very remote locations, it is very, very unlikely that anyone at these phone numbers will speak much English. Get a Japanese friend to phone for you or be prepared to test your Japanese under real-world conditions (albeit with people who will usually do everything they can to help you).

Of course, there is also an amazing amount of information available on the Internet. Even if you can't get your hands on a minshuku guidebook, you should try getting a Japanese friend to do a search in Japanese for the area you want to stay in and the word "minshuku."

For other reference materials that you may find useful in route planning, see RESOURCES.