I imagine – I hope! – many of you have had the opportunity to visit Hakone Estate and Gardens, joining the thousands who are drawn each year to admire its storied 18 acres. Many come during cherry blossom season in early spring, but Hakone, nestled into the hills along Saratoga’s southwest edge, delights year-round.
You can experience a traditional Japanese tea or kimono ceremony, walk over the arched moon bridge, listen to taiko drummers, or watch the koi fish. There are meticulously tended gardens dedicated to azaleas, camelias, wisteria, bamboo, Zen meditation, even a miniature tea plantation.
Hakone is a place of beauty and respite – more, it’s a living exhibition of the diverse cultures of our community.
I’m proud to have led the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors in continuing support for the preservation and renovation of this vital treasure, one of deep importance locally, regionally, statewide, even internationally.
More than a century old and one of the oldest Japanese garden retreats in the Western Hemisphere, Hakone is on the National Register of Historic Places and one of the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s premier sites.
Keeping history – natural, cultural, as well as social – alive is a key part of Hakone’s significance. I want to acknowledge the current exhibit at the Cultural Exchange Center, “Hakone Gardens and Executive Order 9066,” which features the story of Hakone’s long-time gardener, James Sasaki, and his American-born family, who were imprisoned in the Topaz, Utah Internment Camp during WWII.
This is a shameful and uncomfortable chapter in our past, to be sure. But bringing difficult issues like this to light is the right – and essential – approach. My series of panel discussions, “Understanding the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Experience,” held online last month, reminded me once again how much can be gained from listening, civil discussion, and genuine openness to the perspectives and experiences of others. (If you weren’t able to join us live, the discussions are available at www.supervisorsimitian.com.)
Silicon Valley has grown increasingly diverse since its more pastoral days as The Valley of Heart’s Delight. Venues like Hakone, where art, music, culture, and history come together, provide an opportunity for forging – and sustaining – a better understanding of each other and our community.
A new book “Hakone Estate and Gardens,” by former Saratoga mayor Ann Waltonsmith and local historian Connie Young Yu, shows the power of cross-cultural appreciation. Inspired by the Japan Pavilion at the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exhibition in San Francisco, Hakone survived the Great Depression and World War II. The last private owners sold the estate to the City of Saratoga in 1966, beginning the era of public-private partnership to conserve and enhance the gardens for the public benefit.
I’m delighted to note that through County support, more folks will have access to Hakone, with selected free community days extending through 2025. I hope you can take advantage of this wonderful resource in our midst and visit – or visit again – soon.
This article was originally published on July 2021 in the Saratoga Spotlight.