Cows @ Japan


Eating meat from four-legged animals was prohibited in Japan for more than a thousand years prior to 1868. Buddhist influences were primarily responsible for this dietary restriction, and the need to protect working animals in times of famine may have reinforced a non meat-eating diet.

From about 1955 onwards, the mechanization of rice cultivation led to an increase in the availability of beef, as large numbers of draught cattle were fattened and slaughtered. The term “Kobe beef” traditionally comes from Japanese cattle, and the term “wa” is old Japanese language used for Japan, or things Japanese, and one of the meanings of “gyu” is cow. So we have the wagyu, a phenomenon of Japan, a modern cross-breed.

There are four commercial breeds in Japan:

Name of modern breed

Region Breed Developed

European & Native Cattle

% of national Beef Herds

Japanese Black

Kinki – Kyoto

Brown Swiss


Kinki – Hyogo

Shorthorn, Devon, Brown Swiss

Chugoku – Okayama

Shorthorn, Devon

Chugoku -Hiroshima

Simmental, Brown Swiss, Shorthorn, Ayrshire

Chugoku – Tottori

Brown Swiss, Shorthorn

Chugoku – Shimene

Devon, Brown Swiss, Simmental, Ayrshire

Chugoku – Yamaguchi

Devon, Ayrshire, Brown Swiss

Shikoku – Ehime


Kyushu – Oita

Brown Swiss, Simmental

Kyushu -Kagoshima

Brown Swiss, Devon, Holstein

Japanese Brown

Shikoku – Kochi

Simmental, Korean Cattle


Kyushu – Kumamoto

Simmental, Korean Cattle, Devon

Japanese Poll

Chugoku – Yamaguchi

Aberdeen Angus

< 2,000 breeding females

Japanese Shorthorn

Tohoku – Aomori

Shorthorn, Dairy Shorthorn

Tohoku – Iwate

Shorthorn, Dairy Shorthorn

Tohoku – Akita

Shorthorn, Devon, Ayrshire

Source:  Animal Genetic Resources in Japan, in S. Barker (ed.)

These four breeds are now considered indigenous to Japan, but are not genuinely native cattle. There are two isolated populations of native cattle barely still in existence. Mishima wild cattle on Mishima Island (located in the Sea of Japan off Yamaguchi Prefecture) have never been crossed with modern European breeds. While they represent a genuine genetic curiosity, as of 1983 there were fewer than 40 head.

Mishima cattle can be thought of as the original type of Japanese Black cattle. They were designated a natural monument in Japan in 1928. After this designation, Mishima cattle have been kept as farm animals and for in situ conservation. More than 300 female Mishima cattle were kept up to 1961. The number decreased after that and only 33 females remained in the middle of the 1970s (Furukawa et al., 1997). The number of females has gradually increased to nearly 100 in 2002. Mishima is classified as late maturing cattle with dark brown coat color and small horns as well as narrower body compared to the modern Japanese Black. The average wither height, chest girth and body weight of a mature Mishima female (60 months old) are 112.8 cm, 152.1 cm and 261.1 kg, respectively (Harada et al.,1996).

The second, and more numerous, are a group of wild cattle on Kuchinoshima Island south-west of Kagoshima Prefecture. Biochemical and genetic tests indicate that the native cattle are more closely related to the cattle of Northern Europe and Scandanavia than they are to the cattle indigenous to Taiwan, the Philippines, and other South East Asian Countries.

After World War II, the National Government moved to rationalize the registration process and formally recognized three major Wagyu types or breeds:  Japanese Black, Japanese Brown, and Japanese Poll.  The National Wagyu Cattle Registration Association was established in 1948.

The Japanese Black breed included several fairly distinct types, and this is still the case today (e.g. Tottori, Tajima, and Hiroshima strains).  The Japanese Shorthorn was not formally established until 1957. While the ideal mature body weight and height at the withers differ marginally between the four breeds, the targets for the Japanese Black are typical:

Male Body weight – 940kg
Wither height – 142cm

Female Body weight – 560kg
Wither height – 128cm