History & Origins

Wagyu History in Japan

The Japanese term “Wagyu” translates in English to “Japanese cow”. This is a broad term that collectively refers to the four major breeds of native cattle in Japan. These are the Japanese Black, Japanese Brown, Japanese Polled, and Japanese Shorthorn cattle.

In Japan, Japanese Black cattle make up approximately 95% of the national Wagyu herd. These make up the majority of the cattle and genetics that were exported from Japan to the USA between 1976 and 1998. Japanese Brown cattle comprise approximately 4% of the national Japanese Wagyu herd. These cattle are commonly referred to as Red Wagyu or Akaushi outside of Japan and were the only other major native breed exported from Japan. The Japanese Polled and Japanese Shorthorn breeds are very niche with both estimated to comprise less than 1% of the national Wagyu herd. These breeds have never been exported and are only present in Japan today.

Japanese Black cattle were raised for more than 2,000 years as labor and pack animals. There is even evidence that traces the Japanese Black to 3,500 years ago. The Japanese Black had heavy selection for hard working animals that can work long hours on difficult terrain. This is speculated to have resulted in the production of an animal with large fat stores in the muscle, creating wagyu’s trademark marbling ability. During the Meiji Era starting in 1868 through around 1910, Japanese Black cattle were crossbreed with foreign breeds. It was also at this time that a ban on eating beef was lifted. Depending on the prefecture, crossbreeding occurred with Brown Swiss, Shorthorn, Devon, Simmental, Ayrshire, and Holstein cattle. From 1910 on until the end of WWII breeding was heavily segmented and crossbreeding between prefectures was not practiced. Japan’s forced prefectural segregation was dismissed after WWII, the only modern segregated herd in Japan today is Hyogo prefecture’s Tajima cattle. During the 1950s modern mechanization swept across the agricultural industry reducing the demand for draught animals. This led to a shift toward beef production. Performance and progeny testing were established in Japan in 1968. The subsequent creation of the marbling index lead to the creation of the dominant modern Wagyu bloodlines.

Japanese Brown cattle, known as Red Wagyu or Akaushi are comprised of two major strains. The Kumamoto prefecture and the Kochi prefecture strains. The Kumamoto strain is the most prominent and the only strain exported from Japan. Kochi have been influenced by cross breeding with Simmental and Korean cattle. The Kumamoto strain was influenced by crossbreeding with Simmental, Devon, and Korean cattle. Korean cattle, and more specifically the Hanwoo breed is closely related to the Japanese Brown.

When & Who Exported Genetics

Wagyu were first exported from Japan in 1976 when four fullblood Wagyu bulls were sent from Japan to the USA. Imported by Whitney Morris of Texas, the shipment consisted of two Japanese Black (Black Wagyu) and two Japanese Brown (Red Wagyu/Akaushi) bulls. The Black Wagyu bulls were Mazda a Tottori bull and Mt Fuji a Tajima bull. The Red Wagyu bulls were Rueshaw and Judo both of the Kumamoto strain. These bulls formed the foundation of the American Wagyu herd through crossbreeding to European breeds in Texas and Washington state to create purebred (93.75%) Wagyu.

The niche purebred Wagyu industry and research done in Texas and Washington sparked the further importation of Wagyu in the 1990s. The USA was one of the few countries with protocol in place to export live cattle from Japan. This is ultimately why all live exports first came to the USA before many left for Australia, which is much closer to the Japanese and Asian markets, where the demand for Wagyu beef was and remains extremely high.

In 1993 the next fullblood Wagyu would be live imported from Japan to the USA. This is when Mannett Group (Later World K’s Group) imported three fullblood Black Wagyu females and two fullblood Black Wagyu bulls.

In 1994, Mannett Group imported four Black Wagyu females and two Black Wagyu bulls. It was at this time that Dr Al and Marie Wood imported Red Wagyu from selections made by Yikio Kurosawatsu and Dr King from Kumamoto prefecture. This included nine fullblood Red Wagyu females and three fullblood Red Wagyu bulls.

Also, in 1994, Japanese Venture Partners (JVP) imported a group of Wagyu to the USA. Their shipment contained three fullblood Black Wagyu bulls, ten fullblood Black Wagyu females, and two fullblood Red Wagyu females.

In 1995 Mr. Shogo Takeda imported his first group of Wagyu from Japan to the USA. This shipment included five fullblood Black Wagyu bulls and 35 fullblood Black Wagyu females.

1997 saw Mannett Group import a further seven fullblood Black Wagyu females and one fullblood Black Wagyu bull.

Mr Takeda also went on to import another six bulls in 1997. Five of these were fullblood Black Wagyu and one (TF 152) is recognized as Mishima (a rare Native breed of Japanese cattle).

From 1997 to 1998 Westholme import from Japan to the USA happened, marking the last live export of Wagyu from Japan. This was the largest import in total consisting of a 84 fullblood Black Wagyu females, 3 fullblood Black Wagyu bulls, and semen from a further 3 fullblood Black Wagyu bulls.

The Japanese government placed significant pressure on Japanese breeders to prevent the further export of live animals and genetics. In 2001 the BSE “Mad Cow” disease outbreak in Japan would close the borders and export protocol. Effectively closing the door on the possibility of further genetics exports.


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2020, https://issuu.com/australianwagyuassociation/docs/wagyuupdate_april_19_web

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2020, www.wagyuinternational.com/global_Japan.php

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2020, www.wagyuinternational.com/foundation.php


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“What Is Wagyu?” American Wagyu Association
2020, wagyu.org/breed-info/what-is-wagyu