The simplest and least expensive accommodation in the Japanese countryside is minshuku. Minshuku is the budget version of ryokan, a traditional Japanese inn, similar to the British boarding house. The facilities may consist simply of rooms for rent in a family home and minshuku accommodation normally includes bed and breakfasts in the price. Meals are always fixed (usually Japanese-style dishes) and you should make a special order if you want to eat something different. At any lodging the host will serve tea to you on your arrival. It usually happens in your room and gives you a chance to ask a few questions.
The quality of minshuku varies greatly. In a tiny village you will get a little more than a small room for the night, a bath and a simple meal in a family home. In a tourist town you can expect a nicer place with good food and a lot of local information. Some minshuku are really much more like ryokans, serving a delicious dinner in your room, having nice baths and priced accordingly.
Minshuku usually has a common dining room in the Japanese style, where you sit on the floor at low tables and everyone eats at the same time of the day. Meals are not as those that famous chefs serve in exquisite Japanese restaurants, but minshuku hosts have a tradition to serve some specialty food of the local area that can be truly great. Sometimes minshuku allows to pay only for the room without meals, but you could miss some local delicacies.
In the traditional minshuku, common baths, toilets and washing-up areas are all in separate or adjacent locations. If you do not have a washbasin in your room, you will do your morning and evening washing up (shaving, tooth brushing, etc.) at a common area, called the senmenjo. Senmenjo is an open area with long wash "troughs" and several spigots with cold water. There are mirrors, soap and sometimes toothbrushes.
Although there is such discomfort for washing and shaving, any minshuku will provide you with a light cotton robe, usually blue and white, called yukata, a casual Japanese kimono. In cold weather there may also be short quilted jackets, called hanten, which the Japanese wear over the yukata. Typically, you undress and put on the yukata in your room before going to the bath, then wear it for the rest of the evening.
Minshuku is often provided with a pay phone, local train and bus schedules and local maps. The host is always eager to tell you about local attractions, prices, opening hours and vehicle rentals. You, in you turn, should be ready to follow the Japanese inn etiquette. Some, but a few rules, are the following: you should observe the regular set meals times and never wear your shoes inside any lodging.
How to find minshuku in Japan? In fact, many inns of such type, located in small villages and towns, are not listed in any travel agency; hence, you can wonder around and stop in at a minshuku, most appealing to you. Larger towns and popular tourist spots have one or more accommodation agencies, called a "Minshuku Kyokai" (the association), that will find an inn for you for no extra payment, since minshuku pay the agencies for this service.