The Origin of the Black Wagyu

Muscle Power and Stamina

Japanese cattle were used for labor, not for food.

The name Wagyu does not have a specific meaning; rather it is a combination of words. “Wa” is an old word for Japan or Japanese products and “Gyu” translates to, among otherthings, “living beef”. Experts on Japanese culture can easily derive from the name that the breed has not been present for more than a century. Until recently, the eating of meat was forbidden in Japan due to Buddhist influence. Late into the 19th century, theJapanese used cattle exclusively as draft animals, for agriculture, mining and forestry. Therefore, Wagyu were bred primarily for strength and stamina. Villages in the mountainous regions were isolated from one another, preventing interaction between the herds and leading to inbreeding. Only the few large landowners had enough pasturage to expand their herds properly.

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Western Influence

Japanese are permitted to breed cattle for their meat and milk.

During the reign of Emperor Meiji (1867-1912), Japan opened its borders to the West, and the religious ban on eating meat was repealed. Cattle breeders began to establish criteria for animal husbandry. They started to crossbreed their cattle with foreign breeds,withthe emphasis on increasing meat quality and milk production.The limited supply of cattle caused prices toskyrocket, and by 1910 the market collapsed. The import of foreign cattle was no longer permitted because crossbreeding had failed to maintain a consistent level of muscle power in the animals. It is only on the islands of Mishima and Kuchinoshima that breeders had not mixed their cattle with foreign breeds for half a century. The Mishima breed has been proclaimed to be a national heritage and it is forbidden to export them. The purebred Japanese Mishima are not genetically connected to the Wagyu, whose ancestors were introduced from the Asian mainland in the 2nd century AD.

National Stud Registry

The Wagyu is a result of consciously breeding for good traits and is registered in the National Stud Registry

After World War I, the Japanese government introduced a new breeding program designed to improve dairy and meatproduction and to increase muscle-strength. This program had various results. In the past, throughout the country, crossbreeding had been donewith breeds from countries outside Japan and yet very little genetic material was exchanged between the herds, which created differences in build, size, character, beef quality and quantity. After the mechanization of Japanese agriculture in the 50’s, it was no longer necessary to breed for muscle power. The practice ofcattle breeding was replaced with a new need to concentrate solely on the quality of the meat. In 1948 Japan introduced a national stud registryandthe regional breeding programs united in order to combine the best characteristics of a number of breeds. This way they were able to establish a uniform standard. Since 1968 all stock is judged according to this program resulting in three main categories of Wagyu, of which, the Black Wagyu is the most renowned. The Black Wagyu can consist of one of three blood lines: the Fujiyoshi, the Kedaka, and the Tajiri. These are the brand names of native herds with foreign bloodlinesbut also have authentic Japanese blood.

 

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