Solo Cherry Blossom Viewing Primer

Most springs back in Kobe I used to love heading to Shukugawa river for some I’m-not-fucking-lonely-at-all solo cherry blossom viewing, aka a getting drunk in public picnic by myself.

You too can enjoy this Emersonian contemplative past time (sophisticated alcoholism). Here’s what you do.

Pack a bag with:

  • A sitting sheet - this allows you to create a nice spread on which to set your food and drink and kick off your shoes
  • bottle opener
  • cups
  • paper towels
  • plates
  • music playing device (a portable speaker is nice)
  • camera - other than a smartphone if possible
  • book - yeah, your ebook is fine. It’s about the content not the medium.

Where to go:

This is easy in Japan where the end of March/beginning of April and no open container law means you can pop one open alongside any number of Sakura-lined rivers or parks and enjoy loads of cherry blossoms in bloom, cute dogs running around, and a pretty woman or two.

In the land of the free (US of A!) where cherry blossoms are not as ubiquitous and overzealous police might get bent out of shape about drinking outside and shoot your black ass, a discreet spiked thermos or favorite cup of third wave coffee are good substitutes.

Remember, the cherry blossoms are just an excuse. Wherever you live I’m sure there’s lovely cacti, old-ass castles, factories across the river, or whatever to provide a view.

Food & drink:

My go to is wine because it’s an opportunity to splurge on a more expensive than usual bottle.

My favorite types and areas are:

Pinot noirs, reds from the northern Rhone or Loire, anything from Austria, Margaret River or Tasmania in Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa.

There’s a reasoning behind these picks. These wines are solid but dextrous. It’s spring time and you want something reassuring yet bright. Although the Rhone can get heavy, the north tends to be a little lighter on its feet. But look, if you love a body slamming Zinfandel from Southern California or a “this is a knife” Shiraz from the Barossa, go for it. Just remember you’ll be solo, meaning you get the whole bottle to yourself.

Past hits:

I don’t remember the names of the bottles but here’s a little help.

Anything by Alain Graillot… dear lord… float like a butterfly…

Cabernet Franc from the Loire valley. I love Cab Francs… they are underrated and some people are put off by the vegetal hints (think V-8 veg juice) but a good one should have restraint.

The truth is French Pinots are often shite unless you spend enough coin and even then. If you’re not overly demanding about complexity, get something from New Zealand. They’re delicious and let’s quit with region bigotry, the good ones are just as complex as good Burgundy. The difference is that for reasonable coin you can easily get some juicy grown-up grape juice. Try that with a Burg. Good luck. California areas such as Russian River and Sonoma and so on are good, too. I’m just not that familiar with them. And living in Japan, I tend to find easier access to NZ wines than California.

Oh, and in case you’re like South Africa? Two words: Pinotage and bananas.

I’m mostly a red drinker so sorry to short change the whites (brown man giggles to self). But here’s a go.

  • Chablis - A dry dry chardonnay-based wine that I adore. If your splurge food is oysters then you’re in business.
  • Sauvignon Blancs - Loire or New Zealand are good choices. French tends be grassy and lemony, while NZ goes tropical passion fruit. Pick by preference. Both are great. Some Sauv blancs have been described as having an eau de cat piss smell. Sounds bad but somehow it works.
  • Sparkling - I’m telling you, bubblies are easy to get right and easy to impress with, except who are you impressing on your solo drinking expedition. However, you will look baller (albeit lonely) with your bottle of bubbles out on that blue tarp. Some good choices are cava from Spain, cremant bourgogne (non-Champagne sparkling from basically next door), or any of the affordable Cali or Aussie bottles by majors such as Chandon or Jacobs Creek, etc. I know, free advertising but hey, I aim to make it easy.
  • Riesling… praise be. Ok. Let me explain. Yes, a lot of them are sweet. That’s a style and tradition and if you get over that bias, German sweet wines bring loads of amazing complexity. But I get it. Most of us don’t want our teeth to hurt. Dry Riesling to the rescue. This is a bit hard with the German ones. Not because they don’t exist but because of the categories and the tradition is for the best wines to tend to be sweet. Save yourself a bit of pain and go Austrian or Australian…. Aus(sie) Aus(sie) Aus(sie)? But if sweet wines are your thing or you really want to try German wine (and you should) wines from Mosel, Nahe, Rheingau, or Pfalz are excellent.

You gotta bring some delicious eats. I love cheese, the more stank, the better. But if your childish palate can’t handle the Gorgonzola, then some cold cuts or chocolate is great too. The only rule is keep it a little gratuitous. If you normally snack on Pocky, step up your game to Lindt. A good luxury pick for sweet tooths are macaroons. If you have not had these magical little sugary cookie-like sandwiches of celestial delight, drop phone now and get some. Trust me, they are that good.

A bit on cheese, because I can’t help myself:

Washed cheese: The kings of foot stank. The king of kings is Epoisses (the last ’s’ is silent because it’s snobby). If you like cheese that smells like you rubbed your finger in between your toes and quickly across your bunghole then this is it. Terrance! Really? Yup, it smells like balls and it’s amaze balls. Another more sane choice is Munster.

Blue cheese: I appreciate but stylistically don’t enjoy Rochefort that much. I know, the quality and stank is top class. Just not my thing. Gorgonzola is pretty good but my go to is Stilton. But my heart is in Espana. Valderon is probably my favorite cheese on the planet. U-mah-meeee!

Cheddar, brie, camembert, mimolette, parmesian, gouda, etc. are all good, too.

Ham: Jamon Iberico… ‘nuf said. Proscuitt… the fuck up. Ok ok, it’s not bad but it’s hard to beat cured meat from acorn fed pigs running around the hills of Andalusia or wherever in Spain it is that they run around. Sorry Italy, but trust me.

Camera that’s not your smartphone. Look, if all you got is a smartphone that’s all good. And if all you got is a digital point-and-shoot, really that’s fine, too. And yes, your big ass monster DLSR is cool too. But if you’ve got an old ass camera from the previous century that shoots rolls of celluloid, then we’re really talking.

Some film cameras to check out:

  • Leica M - yeah yeah, they’re expensive German jewelry boxes. Whatever. If you’ve got one good. If not but interested, the M4 is probably the easy choice. The weird M5 is an underrated but interesting one and if you enjoy torturing yourself with antiquated machinery a Leica III is your perfect poison. Truth is, it’s the Leica lenses that are crazy. However, the M-mount was super popular back in the day, so you can get a wide range of compatible Japanese, Russian, etc. lenses for a lot cheaper than Leica lenses. Look, if you’ve got a Leica a Summicron or Elmar is the dream but while you’re pinching pennies, that Rokkor or Nikkor will do you just fine.
  • Old school Pentax such as the MX, LX, and K1000. I’ve always been a fan of Pentax’s stripped down ergonomically friendly design. Example: Compare switching lenses on a Pentax to every other SLR.
  • Old school Nikons. The FE, F2, FM2, and my mini-dream (meaning, it’s perfectly attainable, I just haven’t gotten around to it) the F3 are all amazing. The F3 is probably the ultimate old school pro-level manual SLR. It’s got amazing build quality, top class features for its day, and surprisingly it’s not that expensive. It was designed in collaboration with Italian designer Giorgetto Guigiaro and I’d argue it’s one of the most beautiful cameras ever made. Nikon’s rangefinders are amazing too but the collectors have made most of them unreasonable. Damn, I’d love an SP.
  • Olympus OM-1 - I’ve never shot with any Olympus camera but their philosophy small and light is right up my alley.
  • Wonderful oddities - Rollei 35 (one of the first truly usable compact cameras), Rolleiflex or Rolleicord or any twin-reflex medium format camera. The Konica Hexar rangefinder… what the fuck, but man… what the fuck! Contax, anything by Contax will have you scratching your head in wonder.
  • I’m not hating on Canon or Minolta. Just less knowledgeable. The AE-1 has an amazing rep. The F-1 (not to be confused with Nikon’s F1) or New F-1 are beautiful, too. Minolta is a quirky company that may have made its best and biggest impact on today’s Sony D-SLRs because Sony bought Minolta’s camera division a few years ago. Some of the popular models are the SRT and the XK. Apparently, their rep really lies with their lenses.

Your book should be old school, too. A classic. I love them self-help books as much as you do, but let's leave them at home for a minute. Genre fiction is fine. The point is to slow your roll and either enter deep artistic meditation or escape to lasers and phasers or sucking and fucking or whatever toots your horn. The schlock we love is very personal, so I’ll mostly leave that to you. Here are some recs.

  • Snow Country - Yes, I’m nuts about this book but damn is it good.
  • All the King’s Men - Perhaps my favorite novel in the English language.
  • Moby Dick - I’ve never finished it but that’s my fault. I know it’s good. It’s just long as a porn star’s dong.
  • Norwegian Wood - Murakami at his most normal yet sublime.
  • Starship Troopers - High schlock, perhaps, but brilliant. And so is the movie.
  • The Great Gatsby - No, the movies don’t count.
  • No Country For Old Men - Cormack McCarthy has such a quirky yet simple writing style. I actually recommend it for people who are put off by long, complicated sentences and overwrought grammar. It’s as good as the movie and the movie, as we know, was really good.
  • Crime and Punishment - I have a sneaky feeling all of us who don’t read Russian are missing out on an amazing literary world. I think the closest I get is when I listen to Russian composers. Bat. Shit. Brilliant. And so is this novel with a super fucked up and fucked protagonist(?).

So, there you are. Now you’re ready for the perfect one-person cherry blossom viewing picnic. Pick a day, head out, spread your tarp, get your goodies in order, open your bottle, lie down and with a book in one hand and cup filled with libation in the other, enjoy some quality me-time underneath the puffy pink petals.