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Preserving a West Valley treasure – and extending free access

I hope you’ve 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.

Hakone Gardens and Estate - View of the Moon Bridge

View of the arched moon bridge at Hakone Gardens.

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 and turtles. 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, and 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 magnificent resource.

For smaller communities like the City of Saratoga, it can be a challenge to underwrite the cost of a treasure like Hakone, one of deep importance locally, regionally, statewide, even internationally.

Hakone Gardens and Estate - View of the koi pond

View of the koi pond at Hakone Garden and Estate.

While the County’s primary focus is appropriately centered on maintaining a social safety net for those in need, from time to time we are able to make funds available for historic and cultural preservation. For Hakone, County support has meant improvements to the beautiful tea ceremony rooms, as well as restoration and repair of the koi pond and garden pathways.

It’s a wonderful win-win-win opportunity for the County: helping Hakone; taking budget pressure off of Saratoga and its tax payers; and, just as important, enabling the extension of monthly free admission days for County residents through 2025.

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 vital part of Hakone’s significance. I want to acknowledge the current exhibit at the Cultural Exchange Center, “Hakone Gardens and Executive Order 9066,” which runs through December 2021. This exhibit features the story of Hakone’s long-time gardener, James Sasaki, and his American-born family, who were incarcerated in the Topaz, Utah Internment Camp during WWII.

To be sure, this is a shameful and painful chapter in our past. 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 earlier this year, 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 online.)

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.

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.

I hope you can take advantage of this wonderful resource in our midst and visit – or visit again – soon. With verification of Santa Clara County residency, entry is free on the first Saturday of the month (November through February) and the first Tuesday of the month (March through October). You can find more information on the Hakone Estate and Gardens website or call (408) 741-4994.

Joe Simitian
Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors

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