Feature: Meguro-gawa Hanami
If you're in town during hanami (blossom-viewing) season, don't miss one of the city's best parties, along the Meguro-gawa in Naka-Meguro. Here vendors line the canal selling more upmarket treats than you’ll find anywhere else. Rather than stake out a space to sit, visitors stroll under the blossoms, hot wine in hand.
Feature: Hara Museum of Contemporary Art
The Hara Museum of Contemporary Art fills the rooms of a rare Bauhaus-style mansion from the 1930s, the residence of the founder's grandparents. It was taken over by the Allied occupation after WWII and used as an officer's residence. Left in a shambles, it was coaxed into its present form – as a museum on the vanguard of Tokyo's art scene – in 1979.
The permanent collection includes works from Japanese artists Morimura Yasumasa and Nara Yoshitomo, both of whom have created installations designed especially for the house’s nooks and crannies. Exhibitions feature both domestic and international artists.
The patio cafe (which overlooks the sculpture garden) and excellent gift shop will make you extra glad you made the trip.
The museum is 1.5km from Shinagawa Station. You can walk or take bus 96 from platform six (¥210, every 20 minutes) one stop to Gotenyama, from where it's a three-minute walk.
The story of the 47 rōnin (masterless samurai) is legend in Japan. Their master was Lord Asano of Akō domain (in present-day Hyōgo prefecture), who was manipulated into pulling a sword on a rival, Lord Kira, inside the shogun's castle Edo-jō – an act for which he was punished with death. For over a year, Lord Asano's now masterless samurai laid low, plotting vengeance, eventually trapping Lord Kira and beheading him. On a winter day in 1702, they brought the head to the grave of their lord as an offering of fealty.
For their actions the rōnin were sentenced to death; however, according to lore, so moved was the shogun by the their display of loyalty that he allowed them to commit seppuku (ritual suicide), an honourable death for a samurai. Their ashes are interred, alongside their lord's, at the Zen temple, Sengaku-ji. It's a story that resonates today: Sengaku-ji – out of the way in a residential neighbourhood – is never crowded, but it's never deserted either; it's common to see a visitor or two lighting incense at the graves.
Attached to the temple is a small museum with artefacts relating to the samurai, and also a video reenactment of the fateful events (there's an English version). On the grounds is the well where the samurai washed the head of Lord Kira before presenting it to Lord Asano's grave.