Zenya Hamada

Philanthropy ‘letting 1,000 flowers bloom’

Guest contribution by Eilidh Lawrence


Background: Interested in golf, theatre and gambling, the Japanese businessman and philanthropist Zenya Hamada first started to visit Scotland around 1965. With his fortune linked to the Japanese boom in golf course construction and a keen playwright himself, St Andrews and Edinburgh received most of Hamada’s attention.

In the case of St Andrews, he sought permission from the St Andrews Town Council to recreate a replica of the Old Course in his hometown of Tokyo, Japan. Geographical differences – such as that St Andrews was flat while his replica would be placed amid 600-foot hills –  were only of concern to his American golf course designers, not to Hamada (1). St Andrews granted the request. The Old Course’s ‘twin’ the ‘New Saint Andrews GC’ in Otawara, Tochigi, Japan, began to take shape and opened for play in 1973 (2).

Eccentric, and keen to foster an aura of drama and mystique, Hamada went to great length to ensure that his personal details remained, and remain, elusive: he has not been seen or heard of since summer 1993 (1).


Image: Letter by Zenya Hamada outlining his gift to the community of St. Andrews – Displayed at the Enduring Gifts exhibition

Philanthropy: Hamada’s gifts to St Andrews cover a broad spectrum. They include the donation of The Hamada Trophy to the St Andrews Golf Club in 1973 (3), a reproduced typescript of one of his own plays The Sound of Paris dedicated ‘to the students of St Andrews’ in 1975, as well as a donation of £100,000 as a means of thanks to be used for the benefit of the town. The latter formed the basis for The Hamada Charitable Trust which was established to administer the gift (now subsumed into The Kinburn (St. Andrews) Charitable Trust) (4).

Hamada’s most prominent gift, however, is his donation of over 1,000 cherry trees to the town in 1973, giving new meaning to the idea that philanthropy can let a thousand flowers bloom. Including five different varieties, these cherry trees were given to St Andrews’ locals and 179 members of University staff on a first-come-first served basis. After being initially placed in the St Andrews Botanic Garden for six months, different collection points were set up around St Andrews for the trees to be picked up and planted in gardens around the town. The trees regenerate and bloom every spring, covering St Andrews in a blanket of cherry blossoms (5,6).

Relevance for philanthropy: Hamada’s gifts to St Andrews point to philanthropy as part of a cultural exchange. This is reflected in Hamada’s own words in The Sound of Paris:

“…in the grey town under the grey Scottish sky, the fragrant cherry blossoms from the mountains of Yoshino would hang like a mist. Yamada had presented to that old Scottish town 3000 saplings of Japanese cherry. The town’s name was St Andrews, and the greens of St Andrews were suited to the Japanese climate, and the pink of the Japanese cherry blossoms seemed to suit the grey masonry of the town of St Andrews…”.

Image: Some of the cherry trees donated by Hamada, about to flower in spring 2018

Eilidh Lawrence is a postgraduate student on the University of St Andrews’ Museum and Gallery studies course and a curator of the exhibition ‘Enduring Gifts – 600 Years of Philanthropy in St Andrews’. The exhibition runs from 17th March till 30th June 2018 and further information, opening times and a schedule of accompanying events can be found at https://www.st-andrews.ac.uk/musa/whatson/



(1) Fraser, D. ‘Largesse Than Life’ The Sunday Herald, August 31, 2003, p.6

(2) Nicklaus Design, Course Overview, http://www.nicklaus.com/design/New-Saint-Andrews/

(3) St Andrews Golf Club, Our History Timeline, http://www.thestandrewsgolfclub.co.uk/our-timeline

(4) The Kinburn (St. Andrews) Charitable Trust, Report and Unaudited Financial Statements  for the year ended 31 March 2016

(5) Putter, Anna-Kate, ‘Hamada’s Trees’ in St Andrews in Focus, Issue 53 (July-August 2012).

(6) Mitchell Bob, ‘St Andrews Botanic Garden, Plant of the Month’ (January 2017), https://www.st-andrews.ac.uk/~gdk/stabg_new/poms/2017/jan17pom.htm