Unbeknownst to me, there’s a sliver of Japan nestled in the hills just outside Saratoga, CA. Hakone Estate and Gardens is a recipient of the Save America’s Treasures Award by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, and is recognized as one of the oldest Japanese-style residential garden in the Western Hemisphere. The 18 acres include a large main gate, a koi pond with waterfalls and moon bridge, a bamboo garden, tea house and other structures.
The gardens originated from a visit to the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition by San Francisco philanthropists Oliver and Isabel Stine. Isabel fell in love with Japan after seeing the Japan Pavilion at the Exposition. In fact, she acquired several pieces of the Pavilion at the conclusion of the Exposition and used them at the property the Stines had purchased for a retreat home in Saratoga. In 1917 Isabel and one of her sons traveled to Japan, visiting estates and gardens for further inspiration.
Even today it’s quite the oasis, calm and peaceful. From the upper part of the garden one can catch a glimpse of the sprawl of the South Bay below through the trees, but it seems far away. Back in the day the location must have felt very remote.
My favorite part was the bamboo garden, in part because it was unexpected – we came around a corner – the sign said Bamboo Garden and then WHOA BAMBOO! towering above us so much green and graceful in the slight breeze. There were many different kinds, which was fascinating to see, and, although not wild forest by any means, it did seem a bit freer and less manicured than the rest of the gardens, which, yeah, I know, they’re Japanese gardens, and I do appreciate the aesthetic, but I really enjoyed the bamboo just being bamboo.