The rich history of the Black Wagyu. From pack and draught animal to exclusive quality meat.


The starting point of this life story is often disputed, but it must have been around the second century AD that cattle were imported from the Asian continent into Japan. The animals were used as pack and draught animals for agriculture, mining and forestry until far into the 19th century AD. The development of their muscles and stamina were the selection criteria par excellence for centuries. Until today, their offspring are characterized by their firmly developed shoulders. Inbreeding was consciously used in this period, because the rough Japanese mountain areas as well as the isolation of the farms prevented the exchange of herds. Breeding was only done by privileged owners of the scarce Japanese pasturelands. Even then, these cattle were invaluable.


Long live Emperor Meiji (1867-1912) who opened Japan for the Western world after years of protectionism and who abolished the ban on eating meat. It were his soldiers who discovered the power of meat during times of war. When the wars were over, eating meat became an elitist habit. It was many years later that also ‘regular people’ were able to enjoy the luxury of meat. The government encouraged the crossbreeding of the native stock with foreign types of cattle, like Aberdeen Angus and Shorthorn. This would raise the yield of meat and milk. In 1910 this came to an end. The cattle were proved to be no longer suitable for the hard work and the meat quality had deteriorated strongly. The cattle were protected against foreign influences once again. Only the cattle on the Japanese islands Mishima and Kuchinoshima remained free from cross-breeding with foreign breeds. They form the authentically Japanese Breeds. The Mishima cow has been acclaimed as the Japanese national monument.


After World War I there was a time of recovery. They tried to improve the zest for work and the meat quality of the Japanese cattle by a strong selection and by the goal-oriented utilisation of inbreeding. The results developed very regional. Big number of bloodlines came into being and they were characterised by differences in size and build, character, milk yield, meat yield and meat quality. For instance the following bloodlines: Fujiyoshi or Shimane, Kedaka and Tajiri or Tajima. Guided by the upcoming industrialisation, the attention shifted to the breeding of meat cattle from 1950 onwards. To this end, a National Herd book was drawn up. Some twenty years later, they started to systematically judge the offspring on the basis of meat quality and meat yield. This eventually led to the creation of two important “Wa Gyu”, which means ‘Japanese cow’. The most famous one is the Black Wagyu, know all over the world for it’s excellent meat quality.


The export of the wagyu cow and her exclusive quality meat outside of Japan has been forbidden for centuries. Very exceptionally, a few cows were exported to the United States in 1976 to participate in a scientific research programme at the University of Washington. Research was done on the possibilities to use the superior genetic qualities of this breed to use it for the improvement of American cattle types. In 1993 a second export to the United States followed in cooperation with Japanese organisations. This way Wagyu could be produced outside Japan for the home market of the United States. It was the beginning of an international successful story.