You are hereJapan's Finest Beef - $500 Steaks Anyone?

Japan's Finest Beef - $500 Steaks Anyone?

By Okinawa - Posted on 22 February 2009

These days many people know that the best beef comes from Japan, and Kobe beef has become a household name around the world. But what makes Japanese beef so good and how much does it really cost?


Wagyu is the name of Japanese beef cattle - wa means Japan and gyu means cow. While Kobe beef is the most well-known type of wagyu outside of Japan, there are actually many different kinds of Japanese beef and some of them are giving Kobe a run for its money.

Why is Japanese beef so good?

photo of japanese wagyu beef
Marbled fat content determines grade.

The most important characteristic of Japanese beef is the white parts of fat in the meat, known as sashi in Japanese. The sashi is interspersed between layers of red meat and gives the beef a marbled pattern. This marbling is the most prized aspect of Japanese beef and cattle farmers go to great lengths to create intense patterns that make the meat literally melt in your mouth. In fact, the beef grading systems in most countries are directly related to how much marbled fat is present.

In the US, prime beef must have 6-8% of marbled fat to qualify for the highest USDA grade. In order to achieve the highest quality grade for wagyu (A5), on the other hand, meat must be at least 25% marbled fat. While it may make the meat more tender and flavorful, high fat content is bad for you, right? Wrong.

Fat in Japanese beef is primarily monounsaturated, which is known to lower 'bad' cholesterol! Monounsaturated fats also have a very low melting point, making the beef literally melt in your mouth. A steak of top quality A5 grade wagyu can cost $500 or more in Tokyo's fine dining scene.

Great care is taken to produce marbling, and apart from the being killed and eaten thing, cows in Japan are said to live a king's (or emperor's) life. They are fed high quality grains, and each farmer has their own blends and secret ingredients, such as soybeans and okara (a byproduct of making tofu). Water is also an important part in the cattle diet, and local mineral water is often used to ensure the best quality product.

To keep their appetite going during the hot summer months, cows are sometimes fed beer or sake to give them, well, the munchies, which kind of makes you wonder how good the beef would taste if they started mixing pot leaves in the feed. The cows are raised in stalls to help create fatty marbling, so they are taken outside for leisurely walks in the afternoon to get some sun and fresh air.

Some farmers will also spit sake on their cows and rub it in with a straw hand brush, which they say helps balance the distribution of marble content, in addition to keeping the lice and ticks away. In order to ensure their cows stay as relaxed as possible, some breeders are rumored to even play soothing music for them. Beer, massages, afternoon strolls, mineral water, classical music...what a life!

Matsuzaka Beef

matsuzaka gyu beef photo
Many Japanese consider Matsuzaka beef to be the best in Japan.

Matsuzaka beef has some of the most expensive cuts, and is considered by many enthusiasts to be the best kind of beef in Japan. Female cows raised in the quiet and serene area around Matsuzaka in Mie Prefecture are slaughtered before being bred, and this virgin meat is said to be the tenderest in the world. Known for its high fat content and characteristic marbling patterns that border on fine art, Matsuzaka beef has a rich, meaty flavor and begins to melt as soon as it enters your mouth.

This beef can be hard to find outside of big cities as only a limited number of the cows are slaughtered every year. Check for it in department stores and expect to pay around $50 for 100 grams ($225 per pound) for cuts of sirloin. If you live in Japan and want to order some Matsuzaka beef, this Japanese website sells various grades for up to 10,000 yen for 150 grams of A5.

That's a lot of money for a little bit of beef. How much does the whole cow cost? A standard Matsuzaka will go for around $10,000 while the most expensive one was sold for $392,000 in 1989...holy cow!

Kobe Beef

Japanese Kobe beef, photo
Kobe beef is known for its intense marbling and rich flavor.

Kobe beef is what put wagyu on the map, and for many people around the world, is synonymous with Japanese beef. Kobe beef comes from cows raised, fed, and slaughtered in Hyogo Prefecture, where Kobe City is located. These cows require a marbling ratio of at least level 6, a Meat Quality Score of A or B, and a weight of under 470 kilograms. In order to be called Kobe beef, the meat must also come from Bullock or Virgin cows, ostensibly to keep the beef pure.

If you live in Japan and want to get your hands on some Kobe beef, Mitsukoshi department store sells 870 grams for 31,500 yen ($170 a pound). Or, you can order top quality A5 Kobe beef from this website (Japanese only).

Kobe Style Beef

When demand for Kobe beef shot through the roof, American ranchers began using the term 'Kobe-style' beef to refer to wagyu cattle raised in the US. While, at $20 per pound for the cheapest Kobe-style beef, it may be much more affordable than their Japanese brethren and of higher quality than American Angus beef, it just doesn't compare with the real thing.

In general, the cattle feed in the US is of lower quality than what is used in Japan, and the individual care for cows is in the two countries varies significantly. Some cattle farmers in Japan are known to treat their cows as members of the family and lavish them with amenities they might not have themselves - some farmers don't even know how good their beef is because the thought of eating one of their pets makes them sick to the stomach.

Fukutsuru 068

Fukutsuru, a wagyu bull sent the American from Japan in the early 90's, deserves a special word of mention. Known for his genetic tendency to produce high levels of marble content in offspring, Fukutsuru is in many ways the father of Kobe-style beef. He was bred countless times and his genes were considered so magical that, prior to his death in 2005, over 100,000 sperm units were collected and put on ice for future generations.

Mishima Beef

Mishima beef is a rare type of beef that comes from the small island of Mishima Island of the tip of southern Honshu. Unlike Kobe beef, which came from crossing Japanese cows with European breeds, Mishima cattle are pure-bred from the original strain introduced to Japan via Korea over 2,000 years ago. One reason local farmers have been able to prevent interbreeding is because of the isolated location of the island.

"Belly blocks" of Mishima beef go for a relatively reasonable 13,600 yen per kilo ($73 per pound), while 450 grams of sirloin steak will cost you 15,000 yen.

Omi Beef

Omi gyu beef, photo
According to local legend, the Shogun was given Omi beef for medicinal purposes.

Omi beef is a less well-known, but equally scrumptious type of wagyu that comes from Shiga Prefecture. Despite beef consumption being forbidden in Japan up until 140 years ago, rumor has it that the Shogun and some feudal lords (daimyo) would eat Omi beef, ostensibly because of its "medicinal purposes". The fact that it tastes great surely had nothing to do with it.

Expect to pay about 8,500 yen ($90) for 180 grams of Omi beef sirloin ($250 per pound) - if you can even find it in the store, that is. Alternately, you can order it online from this Japanese website

Ishigaki Beef

photo of Ishigaki gyu beef in Okinawa, Japan A relative new-comer to the stage of high quality Japanese beef, Ishigaki beef comes from the southern island of Ishigaki in Okinawa Prefecture.

Ishigaki beef is sold all over Ishigaki Island and throughout Okinawa Prefecture. People in the mainland can order it online for about 15,000 yen per kilo here.



What's your favorite kind of Japanese beef?

Photo of Omi beef taken by skasuga under CC license. Photo of Kobe beef taken by goldfile under CC license. Ishigaki beef photo taken by eightydaysjet under CC license.

"which kind of makes you wonder how good the beef would taste if they started mixing pot leaves in the feed."

Well, the cows wouldn't get the munchies from it.

Its the buds that count. :)

lol right on :D

Marijuana leaves actually do, in fact, contain THC. And given the body fat percentage of these cows. I wouldn't doubt they could possibly get them high. If I were a farmer I would definitely give it a try.

ahem. thc is stored in body fat once it has been metabolized, but the ratio of body fat/weight has no bearing on intoxication. if yall spent half as much time reading as you do runnin yo mouf , you would know this. but don't worry scro! there are plenty of 'tards out there living really kick ass lives.


The leaves of marajuana does NOT get you high. It's the buds of the plant, ree ree.

what do you think shack is retard ?

How do they accomplish "Fat in Japanese beef is primarily monounsaturated" if the cattle are fed on grains, rather than grass?

Hey, I don't want to spoil this article, but it is also very well known that the best beef is from Argentina. Beef is completely AWESOME there!

have you had argentinian beef? doesn't compare. not nearly as tender, succulent, or flavorful. good beef, yes. they eat more beef there, absolutely. the quality though? not even in the same ballpark.

I've been to Japan and had the best beef, and I've had beef all over Argentina also. While the Japanese steak might be "higher quality" with more fat marbling, because of the price your steak is generally small and thin.

The Argentine's know how to cook and prepare a steak, so in my mind, while the Japanese beef might be better, I'd pick a properly Argentine cooked steak over a Japanese steak any day.

That combined with the fact they produce amazing Malbec to go with it! Sake with a steak - I think not...

Just from your comment I can tell that you have not had the best beef in Japan. There are all kinds of cuts and prices. The size of your steak is not generally dependent on the price. Eg. More expensive does not mean smaller cut.
Argentina best steak? Well that's purely subjective. As taste is but an opinion. Japan best beef? Virtually a fact as over there they've got producing beef down to a science.
Highest quality and freshest ingredients will always trump the chef no matter how skilled he/she is. And that is what makes a single dish or an entire restaurant better than its competition. That is a golden Michelin rule.
Bearing that in mind, I'd pick the Japanese quality beef prepared by a Japanese chef over an Argentinian quality beef prepared by an Argentinian chef any day.

I spent a month in Japan traveling and I had a decent steak that wasnt one of the top 3. But during my last week in Japan I went out to a really nice sushi resturant with a bunch of friends I made there. I was lucky enough to try all sorts of sushi that I just can not get in pennsylvania even with Morimoto in Philly now but my favorite of the night was Kobe beef sushi. I had 2 pieces, 1 completely raw which was amazing and the second was slightly seared like tuna and that piece was like an out of body experiance. Seriously it was hands down the best I have ever had or probally will ever have. By the way one the my best friends I made in japan who was with was also there on vacation and he is Argentinian, I didnt get his opinion on it which I do regret but I will hit him up to see what he thinks. Now since it was the end of my trip I was low on funds so I could only afford the 2 pieces of Kobe but at the end of the night when it came down to settle the bill I found out they treated for me as a going away present, (maybe I should have got alot more of the Kobe, lol). Great time all around, I had my first kobe and first cuban cigar plus a bunch of other food items I tried.

There are three top quality Wagu Beef in Japan

Among them, I love Kobe the best.

The best way to cook them is Twisted version of Korean BBQ

It is sooooo tender to chew them!

Half the fat in beef in general is monounsaturated. Japanese beef isn't special in that sense.

The fact that Wagyu beef has monunsaturated fat isn't the point. The fact that it has /so much/ of it is.

The other half of the fat contains stearic acid (a saturated fatty acid) which increases the HDL cholesterol (the good cholesterol), so imagine that, a saturated fat that increases the good cholesterol combined with the monounsaturated fats that lower the bad cholesterol. Give me another steak and stuff the veggies!

Great article on the various types of beef you can find in Japan. But I've also heard that Yonezawa beef from Yamagata is also very good beef. Do you have any info on that beef?

Ummm... you said beef too many times in that comment post. LOL

What is your beef with that comment? Seems rather beefy to me.

He was just trying to beef himself up a bit; Nothing to beef about.

I have lived in Japan for a while yet and have still yet to try "Kobe beef". At these prices it is hard to justify.

Teach English in Korea


Join us on Facebook Follow us on Twitter Subscribe to the Japan Guidebook RSS Feed


Japan Accommodation