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Because huge extended families living under one roof are a thing of the past, many residents of Ogimachi have turned their gassho-zukuri homes into minshuku. Staying in one gives you the unique chance to lodge in a thatched farmhouse with a family that might consist of grandparents, parents, and children. English is often limited to the basics of "bath," "breakfast," and "dinner," but smiles go a long way. Most likely, the family will drag out their family album with its pictures of winter snowfall and the momentous occasion when their thatched roof was repaired. What I like best about staying overnight is that most tourists (about 4,900 on average daily) are day-trippers, which means you have the village pretty much to yourself by late afternoon. Be sure to take both an evening and early morning stroll.

Most minshuku are fairly small, with about four to nine tatami rooms open to guests. Rooms are basic without bathroom or toilet, and you may be expected to roll out your own futon. Privacy may be limited, as only a flimsy sliding partition may separate you from the guest next door. All recommended minshuku below are in thatch-roofed homes; rates include breakfast and dinner (add ¥400 in winter for heating charges), and none accept credit cards or have private bathrooms. Check-in is at 3pm; checkout is 9am. The tourist office can make a reservation for you at these or any of the others around town.

Although all minshuku have public baths, I like soaking in the indoor and outdoor hot-spring baths at Shirakawa-go no Onsen (tel. 05769/6-0026). Open daily from 7am to 9:30pm, it charges ¥700 for adults and ¥200 for children, but ask your minshuku for a ¥200 discount coupon. If you didn't bring your own towel, you can buy or rent one here.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.