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Lets think about the history of Wagyu!!! Part1

I have questions to ask

Since when do you think Wagyu existed?

Kuchinoshima Bull
Mishima Bull

What kinds of impression do these photos on you?

“The cattle are Wa-gyu (Wa means Japanese so Wagyu means Japanese cattle) but not Japanese cattle.” I think everyone is confused now.

I would like you to think about “bloodline”.

Bloodline history

It is said that cattle came to Japan mainly through China and Korea. I will introduce four cattle from “KUNIUSHIJUZU, which is the oldest book that describes the concept of bloodline in Japan.

1. Tajima cattle (Hyogo Prefecture) – strong and round body, produces great cattle

2. Tanba cattle (Kyoto Prefecture) – similar to Tajima cattle, great cattle in recent years

3. Echizen cattle (Fukui Prefecture) – large frame, great cattle

4. Yamato cattle (Nara Prefecture) – large frame and weak horns

1 Tajima cattle
2 Tanba cattle
3 Echizen cattle
4 Yamato cattle

The author’s consideration is very interesting. He didn’t talk about the bloodline as it is now, but described characteristics by the production area. What he called “great cattle” at the time were not as food but as working animals.

In Ukiyoe – paintings produced by using woodblock – in the 1600s,

we see lots of cattle with black hair. Most of them have black hair but there are also some with red hair and a mixture of black and white hair. We can imagine that there were lots of cattle with black hair like today.

Cattle that are very similar to the paintings above still live in Japan.

Kuchinoshima Bull
Kuchinoshima  heifer

According to the literacy, the cattle came to Kuchinoshima – a very small island in Kagoshima prefecture via Japanese main land. They had developed front half but rather poor back legs. It had white spots around the belly. The spots are completely different from Holsteins’ genetically. Thanks to the continued mating on the closed island, the characteristics of ancient native species are still preserved.

Aren’t they like Wagyu version of coelacanth?

Even now, though it is very rare, we have calves with small white spots. It means that the genetic characteristics of tens of generations of native species have come out. Every time I see this, it reminds me of my longtime predecessor. With the efforts of them, here we are now. How fantastic!

Mishima Bull
Mishima beef

This cattle is Mishima-Gyu. They are small and have weak back legs. Males grow to  400 Kg and females grow only to 300 Kg.

They are designated as a protected species and only up to 12 animals are allowed to be taken out of the island per year. We have to pay attention to the meat. You can see it has intermuscular fat that is one of the major characteristics of Black Wagyu. This is the evidence that Japanese native species had this feature all the way through the process of later mating with the Western species to produce Black Wagyu.

Both survived by chance due to the closed environment. There are the only two existing native species.

From 1900 onwards, it is believed that the government led the improvement by crossing superior varieties from abroad and native species to create Wagyu. The government at that time had no intention of keeping the native species as it was.

The answer to the first question is that Wagyu is a crossbreed of Japanese native and foreign species and has only around 100 years of history.

Crossing native species with European breeds for many generations, we have created the Wagyu you know today.

We will write the story of the improvement of Wagyu after the 1900s next time!

Wagyu is so deep and so interesting!

Written by Yusuke Takeda