Attended the 100th Year Celebration of Hakone Gardens—A Rich Multicultural Extravaganza

“If you look the right way, you can see the whole world is a garden.” —Frances Hodgson Burnett

Cecile and I attended the Hakone Foundation Centennial Gala Finale recently with our friends Nelson and Susan Bye. Established in 1918 by Isabel Stine as her private retreat, Hakone is one of the oldest and most authentic Japanese Estate and Gardens in the Western Hemisphere tucked away in the hills of Saratoga above Silicon Valley.

During our first visit here, when we first came to California in 1975, we were blown away by the serenity and harmony of our surroundings. But, it wasn’t until I began doing plein air watercolor painting here with the Saratoga Community of Painters, took Haiku Poetry classes, and participated in Japanese Tea Ceremonies that I began to fully appreciate this local treasure.

Selected by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, Hakone was designed to express the Japanese ideal of seamlessly merging art and nature.
The 18 acre property is comprised of manicured hillside tea and Zen gardens, historic structures, a gift shop, a series of waterfalls, Giant bamboo, koi ponds, bridges, stone lanterns, meandering walking trails and a pergola with blooming seasonal wisteria. Tai Chi, Karate and meditation classes take place in one of the tea houses.

This gala event was sponsored by Wing Nien Foods. We began our evening with a welcome reception, drinks, hors d’oeuvres, silent auction of Japanese art, clothing, liquor, trips, kimomos, dolls, and gifts, dinner and entertainment. Ann Waltonsmith, former Saratoga City Council member and chairperson of the Hakone Foundation board gave the opening remarks. Cecile and I had the pleasure of traveling with Ann to Japan on a Temple and Garden Tour, including Muko, the sister city of Saratoga.

Robert Handa, NBC Bay Area was the Master of Ceremonies. Being of Japanese heritage, he, his mother and grandmother always felt at home here. Tributes were given to the late, William “Bill” Glennon, former mayor of Saratoga, as well as the Partnership that included two Caucasian couples and four Chinese couples. Hence, a Gourmet Chinese Banquet catered by the Flourishing Gardens Restaurant was both an unexpected but welcomed surprise. 

Other notables present were Shoichi Nagayoshi, Deputy Consul General of Japan, Shozo Kagoshima, former general manager of the Winchester Mystery House, who took over the reins of the Hakone Foundation last March; Emily Lo, Vice Mayor and former Mayor of Saratoga; Faramarz Yazdani, Treasurer of the Foundation, who was seated at our table, and Historian, author, community leader Connie Young, whose parents were in the partnership that owned Hakone 1961-66. The estate was then sold to the City of Saratoga to preserve it's heritage. Connie was quoted as saying, “Imagine a Japanese Garden owned by Chinese Americans who kept it in the tradition designated by Isabel Stine." 

The entertainment for the gala event included, Italian arias and show tunes by renowned Japanese soprano Keiko Kagawa, traditional Chinese music by Emily and Emma Lin, and the Far East Dragon and Lion Dance Association. As we ate dinner under the stars at around the time of the new moon, I thought to myself, to simply call this a multi-cultural event would be an understatement: A Japanese garden, formerly owned by four Chinese partners, catered gourmet Chinese food, a Japanese soprano singing Italian arias along with her Japanese opera group, and sitting at our table, an Iranian American, who is Treasurer of the Hakone Foundation board.