Japanese cattle were work animals, not meat providers.
The name Wagyu has no particular meaning: wa translates to “Japan” and gyu means “cow”. Japan aficionados know this beef breed cannot be older than one century. It was not until recently that meat had not been eaten at all in Japan. Originating in the early 19th century, Japanese cattle were introduced as work animals in farming, mining, and transportation. Until then, they had been bred because of their strength and endurance. The mountainous Japanese back country with only a few villages constituted a natural barrier, providing the cattle’s physical isolation and therefore impeding crossbreeding. Inbreeding was the consequence. Only landlords who possessed large pastures could afford to keep large cattle.
Wagyu cattle are the result of the breeding of specific traits. They are registered in the national Japanese breed book.
Following World War I, the Japanese government launched a new breeding program with the aim of raising the quality of meat, milk and heft, which led to different results. Once, crossbreeding with foreign breeds was practiced to a various extent, and only little genetic material was exchanged between the cattle, which resulted in considerable differences as far as stature, height, character, meat quality and yield were concerned.
When Japanese farming became mechanized in the 1950s, the number-one concern of breeding shifted from heft to meat quality. In 1948, Japan began the record of a national breed book, in which different breeding programs with the aim of synthesizing the best features in a few breeds are registered. Cattle have been rated accordingly since 1968. Three main Wagyu breeds are distinguished: Japanese Black, Japanese Shorthorn, and Japanese Brown. There are three major bloodlines within the Black Wagyu breed: Fujiyoshi, Kedaka, and Tajiri, the names of local Japanese cattle. Not only foreign but also authentic Japanese blood flows through their veins.