Koshōgatsu 小正月 is celebrated as “Little New Year” on the 15th day of the first month. Before Japan adopted the Western calendar, the old calendar was based on the phases of the moon. The full moon always fell on the 15th day of the lunar month, and the full moon of the first month of the year was celebrated as Koshōgatsu 小正月. Today in Japan, this festival is often celebrated on the 15th day of the 1st month; that is, January 15th, although this now has no connection to the full moon (what a pity!). Since the Heian era, on the morning of Koshogatsu, a special rice porridge made with red azuki beans and mochi is eaten: In Japanese, this special dish is called azuki-kayu 小豆粥, but in Kyoto it is called azuki-no-okaisan.
At Tōrin-in 東林院, a sub-temple within the Myōshinji 妙心寺 temple complex, from the 15th Jan to 31st Jan, you can enjoy a visit to the beautiful karasansui Zen garden at this usually private temple. You can also enjoy the azuki bean and rice porridge served on a lacquer tray of shōjin (vegetarian) cuisine. After the meal, you will be given an amulet to take home that is for protection from illness and for the prosperity of the family for the year. Tōrin-in is the home of Genbo Nishikawa, a Buddhist monk who is a master of shōjin cuisine and author of many books on this style of cooking.
Before eating the azuki-kayu, each guest is invited to donate seven grains from their own dish that is then placed in the garden as an offering to the spirits of the trees in the sacred grounds of the temple. This kind of offering is also an expression of gratitude.
Here is the recipe for azuki-no-okaisan from Kyokarashi, a website dedicated to Kyoto obanzai (home-style cooking)
Some azuki beans*
Water as needed
Rice ~ 1/5 cup per person
Round mochi ~ 1 per person
1. Soak the azuki beans overnight and then rinse.
2. Fill a pot with plenty of water and simmer the beans
3. While the mixture is still hot, transfer it to a thermos flask and leave it overnight
4. Make okayu with the rice.
5. Add boiled mochi to the okayu, then add a suitable quantity of the now-softened azuki beans from the thermos.
6. Add salt to taste
With the leftover beans and water remaining in the flask you can make ozenzai by adding sugar, salt, and grilled mochi
*Not giving clear measurements is very typical of Japanese recipes: there is always leeway given for you to experiment and decide how much of an ingredient is to your own taste. Also, where you live affects the ingredients, especially the quality of your water, so the quantity of ingredients will vary according to where it is grown, how old it is, where you live, etc. It is up to you to refine your own sense of taste. However, if you would like a recipe with more concrete details, you can read about how to make red bean okayu (in English) at Just Bento
Location: Tōrin-in 東林院, within the grounds of Myōshinji 妙心寺
Dates: 15th – 31st January
Time: 11am – 3pm
Cost: 3800 yen (reservations not necessary)
Nearest station: Hanazono on the JR line to Arashiyama