Just under an hour from Kyoto, the small picturesque castle town of Hikone is a much-loved day trip destination. It’s also the location of Dharmakur, a wellness facility built to be a place for self-care, washing away life’s stresses and finding a good balance.
Dharmakur is a name coined by owner Mina Okumura. It consists of “Dharma,” a concept of social order and duty from Sanskrit that emphasizes balance and harmony, and “kur” from German, meaning to cure or heal. Mina wanted to create a wellness facility that would heal visitors, while also helping them connect with their inner and outer worlds. There are several ways to do that at Dharmakur, including through yoga, meditation and an Ayurvedic massage. There’s also a spa and hair care facilities.
Grounded in History
Opened in 2019, Dharmakur is located in a century-old traditional Japanese house in Hikone. Built in 1917, the residence, owned by a local merchant, was built to last 100 years and it has now passed that milestone. Drinking Shiga Prefecture organic green tea in the tatami room and looking at the garden, you can feel the history and culture of the place.
The kura storage house behind it is even older. It was built in 1910 and is now an Ayurvedic therapy salon. Using different aromatic oils and flowers, an Ayurvedic treatment here is a luxurious experience.
Importantly for Mina and travelers, Dharmakur is in Hikone, a town of history, culture and, above all, calm. Unlike other samurai strongholds that were demolished at the turn of the Meiji period (1868-1912), the Hikone Castle tower still stands to this day. It’s one of only 12 original castle towers in Japan.
Mina describes it as a peaceful town with friendly and welcoming locals. It stands in contrast to places that are suffering from overtourism, such as nearby Kyoto. It’s a place with a deep history and culture, yet one without large crowds. A self-care day trip here starts as soon as you leave Hikone Station and stroll the streets, passing by the castle that’s not too far from Dharmakur.
Relaxing at Dharmakur
Dharmakur owner Mina is a certified hair stylist, yoga and aerial yoga instructor, trichologist and angelic care instructor. She also runs the Vie Riche beauty salon, which she has owned for a decade now. Dharmakur is her additional passion project. She personally leads the yoga classes and provides hair care and beauty treatments.
As you enter the house, there is the more modern annex, which is a beauty salon. A little window opens to an unobstructed view of Hikone Castle, visible to customers sitting for a haircut or a head massage.
“I wanted to block out the parking lot but keep the view of the castle. It was probably what people could see from here 100 years ago,” says Mina.
She goes on to explain that the design choices at Dharmakur are meant to further disconnect you from the stresses of modern life and give you a moment of timelessness.
After a head spa and a newly developed Angelic hair care treatment, Mina offers an organic coffee and delicately shaped raw chocolate from the local shop, Hareto-Keto. Dharmakur collaborates with many local businesses, to bring the best of the town and the prefecture together as part of the experience.
Aerial Yoga and Meditation
Dharmakur offers a rare opportunity to do aerial yoga, with colorful strips of synthetic fabric called airsilk that hang from the beams. This is very gentle on one’s skin. It additionally offers support for some yoga poses that might be difficult without certain fabrics.
Mina has studied yoga for many years and aims to provide a gentle yoga experience for her guests. “Yoga for balance and beauty, easy simple yoga for a better daily life,” is how she describes it.
Dharmakur provides everything needed for a yoga class, such as yoga mats and clothes. A yoga class at Dharmakur is always followed by meditation. Mina realizes that meditation is key to relaxing the brain.
“Even when you’re doing something fun and not stressful, the brain is still working,” she says. “To rest after yoga helps the brain calm down.”
She plays a recording of a mantra in English and places a heated eye mask and a blanket on you for maximum relaxation.
Beauty is Health
After being invited to try aerial yoga, meditation, an Ayurvedic massage and Angelic hair care treatment by Mina, I understood her mission firsthand. It’s not only about beauty or being pampered, but also about leaving the facility healthier inside and out. She wholeheartedly gives advice on how to maintain this relaxed state she puts you in and how to live a better life.
“It’s wonderful to see beautiful things, and it’s also wonderful to notice beautiful things that are already inside of you,” says Mina.
Her mission is to draw out the beauty in all her visitors, so they can look in the mirror and feel better about themselves overall. Highlighting everyone’s beauty instead of chasing unattainable and unrealistic beauty standards, the emphasis is placed on people’s wellbeing and health.
“I want to make Hikone known as a beauty town. A healthy town,” she says, sharing her dreams with me. She sees wellness activities as preventive healthcare. Working hard to raise awareness for this, Mina created Dharmakur as a project to present to the local government.
Finally, Mina’s most poignant message is, “Become who you want to become.” For Hikone, that’s a peaceful town. For visitors to Dharmakur, it’s about having a peaceful body and a peaceful heart.
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*Limited English language guidance