Hakone Gardens started as a private estate in 1915, when Isabel Stines started planting a garden just outside the village of Saratoga, California. She hosted Japanese-themed events at her property, including the West Coast premiere of Madame Butterfly.
The property changed hands a few times, from one private owner to another, until a partnership of four Chinese-American families acquired it in 1961. In 1966, after deciding that it was impractical to keep the property, the partnership sold it to the City of Saratoga.
When I first visited Hakone about 20 years ago, I remember the dense bamboo forest towering over me with the tea house, cherry blossoms, and koi pond at the center of the property. It was, and still is , popular for weddings and other events. I visited off and on for a few years, and after a hiatus of not seeing the gardens, I ventured back about three years ago. The bamboo forest was dying due to the drought and the rest of the property seemed to be going down hill.
Today I went back to take some photos and see what state the gardens are in. They have an upcoming fundraiser and a program of night time viewing, so I am hopeful they can raise funds to continue to care for the gardens.
The bamboo forest appears to be new. It is not as dense as it had been, but all the bamboo looks healthy. There is also evidence of a watering system, something that I think is no necessary due to the long drought. A few arms of the koi pond have been drained, and the koi population is reduced dramatically. One of the staff told me that there is a significant leak in the pond. The restoration requires $4 million dollars. She seemed pessimistic about being able to raise the money.
I commiserated with her about that fact that Saratoga is part of Silicon Valley, an area full of wealth, but not full of philanthropists. The amount of money they need is insignificant to what one of the tech giants makes, yet the tech industry is not known for philanthropy that doesn't serve its own cause. That made me reflect on my visits to Houston and Dallas, were the oil industry tycoons have stepped up to bankroll the performing and visual arts. It astounding how much money the Texas arts groups are able to get donated due to oil wealth.
I enjoyed my time at Hakone and plan to go back in a few weeks for their night time program. I need to visit more, encourage my friends to visit, and donate something to help them thrive.