An Introduction to Hakone Gardens in Saratoga, CA

by Karl Bareis (adapted from The Wooden Post, vol. 3, June 2016)

Hakone GardensWe were indeed fortunate to hold Kezurou-kai 2016 at the inspiring and serene Hakone Gardens estate. A more fitting setting would be difficult to find.

In its centennial year in 2016, HG was the vision of Isabel and Oliver C. Stine of San Francisco who embarked on the creation of a retreat with a Japanese garden and buildings in 1916. While inspired in part by the gardens and structures at the 1915 Panama–Pacific International Exposition (San Francisco) and the Japanese Tea Garden at Golden Gate Park, Hakone Gardens seems a natural extension of Mrs. Stine’s life-long fascination with Japanese performing arts and culture. Her visit to Japan early in 1917 (then the Taisho era) added further inspiration and work at the barren site began upon her return.

One of the first projects was to build a summer house. The Stine’s engaged Japanese master craftsman Tsunematsu Shintani to design and build the house in the shoin-zukuri style. Mr. Shintani had been living in the US since 1905, had created azumaya at the 1915 PPIE, and was known to the Stine’s. He was assisted at Hakone Gardens by his younger cousin Shin Shintani. The result was the “Moon Viewing House” (aka the “Upper House”). It is the original summer house and was finished in 1917. It retains its elegance and is little changed after nearly 100 years.

Facing east north east, the house is situated on a slope at the foot of the Santa Cruz mountains. Rectangular in plan, the house is 4 ken x 6 ken — Japanese proportions from the period. Taisho era houses in Japan were typically using glass doors. This house reflects that trend in its sliding glass door enclosed engawa that spans two sides. Appendages for a bathroom, porch, and storage extend beyond the basic footprint. Clearly the focus of the house is the expansive view out to the northeast toward the Santa Clara valley — and across what was soon to become the Stine’s Hakone-inspired garden.

The extensive use of glass in the inner and outer sliding doors in place of paper shoji and wood amado may not be conventional, and possibly not original in the former case, but it takes full advantage of the vista and looks simply elegant. The outer glass doors run on brass rails while the inner doors rest on conventional shikii.

Hakone GardensThe house is constructed with Douglas fir framing, old-growth redwood posts and siding, and roofed with cedar shingles. Siding on the house is a mix of board-and-batten (bnb) and wide board siding laid horizontally that is then framed by 2” x 3” battens. The front of the house above the doors uses this horizontal siding, as does the SSE end. The bnb boards clearly show evidence of the original charring via yakiita treatment.

The main (only) floor is 6-plus feet above grade at the front and 1 foot above grade at the rear. The hillside behind the house was dug away and retained by a low stone wall. This provides a path around the back of the house for access and drainage. Uniquely, there is a porch at the southeast end of the house that covers the main entrance. At the other end of the house is a stairway that leads up to a landing at the end of the engawa, and below which is found access to the basement.

The basement is a good place to begin to understand the unique bi-cultural experience of the builder and the realities of the project. The basement was never fully excavated and follows the contour of the hillside. It is somewhat unclear what original footings might have been, but presently there is a mix of poured concrete perimeter and concrete piers. Unlike traditional Japanese homes from the period, the Moon Viewing house has a thoroughly western platform of 2 x 12” Doug fir joists supported by 6×6” beams, angled T & G subfloor, and ample bracing. But above this substantial platform things start to take on a more Japanese appearance.

Hakone GardensThe perimeter redwood posts are continuous 6 x 6” from the piers to the eaves. The condition of these critical posts is actually good for 100 year old posts that sit on concrete and are exposed on at least one face for almost their entire length. They terminate at the heavy keta beams under the eaves and the outside corners look traditional, but exact dimensions, geometry, and the joinery used are not clear from the ground.

The rest of the irimoya roof framing is likewise not visible beyond the eaves and so remains an unknown. Four layers of cedar shingles cover the roof today, with thicker buildups along ridges. The top ridge is capped with a decorative hakomune that is book-ended by carved kagemori. Some gracefully constructed smaller roofs (hisashi) above openings around the house provide added protection from the weather.

Running from the main entrance to the far staircase is the L-shaped engawa, seen below. Inside of this is the main living area. Covered with tatami, the two primary room sizes are 17.5 and 10 mats. The floor plan below gives you a clearer idea of the layout. Interior scale and finishes are traditional but I will defer the details to a later article.

As with any structure of this age, there have been necessary repairs made over the years. There have been many visitors. But still this house retains it’s original character and beauty, and is a testament to the ingenuity and skill of its makers. Please be sure to inspect the Moon Viewing House and the other historic and unique structures at Hakone Gardens for yourself sometime—like when you visit in October.

Special thanks to Jacob Kellner and Keith Armstrong of Hakone Gardens for arranging access and providing insights and information about the structures at HG. Also, sincere thanks to Jack Tomlinson (HG Japanese garden specialist, ret.) who generously shared his time and knowledge of the garden and it history.


“100 Years – HAKONE’S CENTENNIAL CELEBRATION 2015 – 2017.” Hakone Foundation. 2016. Web.

Ishihara, Tanso and Gloria Wickham. Hakone Garden. Kyoto, Japan: Kawara Shoten, 1974. Print.

Various terms. Japanese Architecture and Art Net Users System. 2001. Web.

For more info on Hakone Gardens history, please browse to: