Minshuku: The Lesser Known "Ryokan"
While I was scrolling through Facebook one day, I stumbled upon a post by a thread artist I follow, where he described a kind of farmhouse accommodation in Japan. He was trying to promote it so that people would go and visit it. Think that "Minshuku" was the name of the property, I decided to Google for the place, only to learn that "Minshuku" is actually an umbrella term for farmhouses in Japan which offer food and lodging to tourists. Which occurred to me as very interesting, since even with all the time I've spent learning about Japan, I only just heard of this. Which means that few foreign tourists must know of these places, and fewer still would be enjoying the advantages of staying in such places. So, I decided I'd share what I learned here. Minshuku vs. Ryokan There are a number of ways that Minshuku and Ryokan differ from each other. Typically Minshuku will be in remote rural areas, which can contribute to why they may be hard to find, but also why they are often more affordable than Ryokan. Ryokan are usually located in cities or well populated towns, so while they may offer comparable services and quality, the lifestyle you live while you stay there is very different. At a Minshuku, you are surrounded by countryside. So you get to experience and see farm life more often then not. They are a good option for the nature lover, or people fond of hiking, or those who want to learn more about rural Japanese life. Ryokan are a better option for people who want to experience town or urban life. Both offer traditional experiences and typically serve food within a traditional setting. But Ryokan can be more ritzy and upperclass, which Minshuku are often going to be more simple and organic.
How to Find Minshuku Locating Minshuku to book online can be tricky since not all Minshuku will refer to themselves as such. Some will call themselves a "guest house" but then, not all Japanese guest houses are technically Minshuku, since a guest house can be located in a town or city. So, the easier thing to do seems to be to identify a rural or semi-rural area in Japan you would like to visit and then to search for "minshuku" or "farm houses" in the area through accommodation booking websites like Booking.com and tripadvisor.com. While these areas will often also have Ryokan and Onsen where you could stay, Minshuku will be distinct in that both Ryokan and Onsen will visibly have been built to be for commercial purposes. Minshuku will clearly be simply someone renting out part of an existing farm house. As such, AirBNB may yield some results that might give a similar experience to Minshuku. But what I found is that most farm house listings on AirBNB have you renting the entire home, which means you would miss out on the personalised service that Minshuku usually represent.
(Photos of the Kumano Winery Guest House in Wakayama, borrowed from Booking.com. Though this property doesn't call itself a Minshuku, it would well qualify as one due to its rural setting, the rustic living style, and the presence of farm animals.) Another way I managed to find minshuku was to simply Google for Farm Stays in Japan. It did bring up a list of "10 Best Farm Stays in Japan" from Booking.com. I've embedded it so you can have a look right away to get a sense of how varied Minshuku can be.
This lead me to another page, which listed farm stays people had journeyed to within the month. Again, I have added it so you can look.
One of the prime advantages this style of accommodation seems to have is that it will take you well off the beaten path and allow you to see a more rarefied perspective on Japan. All the better, it will probably lead you to stimulate the ailing economies of Japanese rural towns. And since it is so well off the beaten path, you will likely find that the food and local experiences will be more affordable, too, meaning a cheaper stay in Japan without missing out on a very special experience. Dream Location? Looking around, I happened upon the Fukui Furusato Chaya Kine to Usu. While it is expensive to stay in alone, if you can gather a large number of friends to stay there and potentially get a lower rate per person by dividing the cost. And while you are technically renting the whole building, which means a great deal of freedom of movement, you still get the quality care that Minshuku usually mean, since there will be a couple manning the building and making quality meals you can pay for relatively cheaply. I'm uncertain of whether or not I've correctly identified this as a Minshuki, since I see no evidence of rural activity on the property itself, and it seems heavily manicured. But the name includes the word "furusato" which means "hometown" and is typically used to conjure up feelings of nostalgia and security, which would be the pleasant sensation of Minshuku, I imagine. And it does indeed look like a repurposed home.
(Images borrowed from Booking.com, 2021.)
Since the space is located in Fukui, there is the option of seeing various local Fukui traditional crafts, and participating in local craft activities.
If you would like to supplement your experiences of Japan with real life, wearable objects, you could try perusing my online store. I try to keep my prices reasonable, and my products a blend of the fun and practical:
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