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Ning Huang

MA work

Contemporary Kyoto Confectionery: Urban History, Cultural Legacy and Regional Identity

Kyōgashi, Kyoto confectionary, is not simply an edible Japanese sweet, but has deep cultural meanings for the Japanese public. Jōnamagashi, in particular, is often considered the epitome of Japanese confectionaries for its fine taste, sophisticated design, historical significance and specific functions. The present-day jōnamagashi is a 5×5cm rice cake filled with azuki red or white bean paste, primarily intended as a complement to the taste of Japanese powered green tea at tea ceremony. The birth and development of jōnamagashi is so deeply rooted in Kyoto, Japan’s former Imperial capital, that it is identified as an important component of this city’s cultural legacy. The term ‘Kyōgashi’ was first made a proper noun in the late nineteenth century, referring to confectionery produced in Kyoto for Imperial ritual functions and tea ceremonies. This designation has arguably become a self-conscious mode of branding a culinary product that is exclusive to that city, whose influence on the industry and beyond remains prominent today.

This thesis focuses on the jōnamagashi produced and mainly consumed in Kyoto today, and attempts to unpack the close relation between the industry’s development and Kyoto’s urban history, cultural heritage and regional identity within Japan and alongside growing local-global interactions and conflicts. It takes into account the social-economic and demographic shifts within Japan and how these affect the design and branding policies through which the jōnamagashi industry justifies itself to an ever-changing Kyoto public. Based on first-hand sources such as Kyōgashi makers’ archives, interviews, and historical and contemporary wagashi-related literature, this thesis is among the first to explore the contemporary wagashi industry from a history of design point of view. It not only gives thorough analysis on jōnamagashi’s material and cultural aspects and its cultural significance to its Japanese consumers, but also it suggests a critical reading of jōnamagashi industry’s economic and cultural branding strategies, absent in contemporary wagashi-related writings.


  • self portrait image
  • MA Degree


    School of Humanities


    MA History of Design, 2014

  • After receiving her BA History of Art degree from the Courtauld Institute of Art, London, Ning spent a few years in Japan for the study and experience of Japanese language and culture before arriving on the MA History of Design programme. Kyoto, the old Imperial capital embodying nostalgia for and fantasy of a traditional Japan, fascinates Ning from all aspects, including its nature widely-celebrated in Japanese classics, well-preserved cultural heritages and highly regarded arts and crafts. Her current research interest seeks a possibility of understanding contemporary Kyoto in relation to its past and future through the study of Kyōgashi, an edible design object of Kyoto specialty.

  • Degrees

  • BA History of Art, Courtauld Institute of Art, London
  • Experience

  • Curatorial Intern, Mori Art Museum, Tokyo, Japan, 2010