As we discussed in our What Is Wagyu post, Wagyu is a breed of cattle which hails from Japan and is renowned for its genetic predisposition to produce intensely marbled and tender beef. This definition, however, is only scratching the surface. Within the Black Wagyu breed, there are four strains of cattle, each with its own unique characteristics and stories. After this 5 minute read, you’ll be able to educate your family and friends on the finer points of this phenomenal breed.
The 4 Strains of Wagyu Cattle
Under the umbrella of the Wagyu cattle breed are four strains of Wagyu cattle:
- Japanese Black
- Japanese Brown (Referred to as Japanese Red outside Japan)
- Japanese Shorthorn
- Japanese Polled
Of these four strains, only Japanese Black and Japanese Brown are found outside of Japan.
Image of Japanese Black cow via Lone Mountain Cattle Company
These entirely black cattle are the most popular breed of Wagyu. They are raised throughout Japan, accounting for over 90% of the country's cattle.
Japanese Black have the strongest genetic predisposition to the quality Wagyu is renowned for - intense marbling. Within the Japanese Black Strain, there are different bloodlines, each with their own specific traits. The three primary bloodlines include:
1. Tajima [Tah•ji•ma] also referred to as Tajiri
Tajima are the marbling Wagyu. Even within the Japanese Black breed, this specific bloodline is the one known best to produce the highest percentage and best quality marbling. They are generally smaller framed, have slower growth rates, and expected to yield superior meat.
Tajima originally hail from the Hyogo Prefecture in Japan and are responsible for the best beef in the world. All beef that is eligible to be certified as Kobe is pure Tajima, bred, raised, and slaughtered in the Hyogo Prefecture. Historically and today, Tajima are highly regarded for Fullblood breeding in Japan and abroad.
Image of Hyogo Prefecture via Wikipedia
2. Shimane [Shi•mah•nee] also referred to as Fujiyoshi
Originating from the Shimane Prefecture of Japan, these cattle are known for large frames, medium growth, very strong maternal capabilities, and average meat quality. Their offspring tend to exhibit a large body size, however their marbling is generally less refined than Tajima.
Image of Shimane Prefecture via Wikipedia
3. Kedaka [Keh•dah•kah] also referred to as Tottori
The Kedaka line originates from the Tottori Prefecture of Japan and, similar to Shimane, are known for their larger frames but with a higher meat quality. They also tend to have a good growth rate and high levels of fertility.
Image of Tottori Prefecture via Wikipedia
These Japanese Black bloodlines can be crossbred to impart diversity into herds. For example, breeding Tajima (or high Tajima bulls) with Kedaka or Shimane cows, has the potential to produce offspring that have the dense, delicate marbling of a Tajima with the larger size, faster growth rates, and stronger maternal instincts of a Kedaka or Shimane. In fact, Kedaka are often considered to play a critical role in Japanese Fullblood Wagyu production.
Crossbreeding Tajima from the Hyogo Prefecture with other Japanese Black bloodlines is still avoided by some, however, if efforts to maintain the purity of bloodlines. An example of this is with Kobe beef, which must be pure Tajima.
Image of Japanese Brown Bull via Animal Genetics Resources Knowledge Bank in Tawain
Japanese Brown are the other main breed of Wagyu, and the only other besides Japanese Black that is found outside of Japan. The Japanese word, Akaushi, translatted as Red Cattle. In the United States this breed is more commonly referred to as Japanese Red. Japanese Brown are primarily raised in the Kumamoto and Kochi Prefectures of Japan.
While not as famed for their marbling genes as Japanese Blacks, this breed of Wagyu still produces a significantly higher marbling content than most conventional American cattle. Japanese Brown are raised here in the United States. Heartbrand Ranch, based in Texas, is the largest Akaushi ranch in the country with over 14,000 Japanese Brown cattle.
Image of Japanese Shorthorn via Wagyu International
This rare breed of Wagyu makes up less than 1% of all cattle in Japan and found only in Japan. They have a reddish brown coat and, per their name, small horns. Unlike Japanese Black, who are known for their rich marbling, Japanese Shorthorns have a high lean meat content with a savory flavor.
Similar to Japanese Shorthorn, Japanese Polled are found only in Japan and in small populations. There are estimated to be under 1,000 of this breed of Wagyu today. Like Shorthorns, they are characterized by a lean meat content that is quite flavorful.
Their Roles in The Story of Wagyu
Each of these strains brings a special element to the story of Wagyu. While Japanese Black is the most popular and representative of our Western perspective of Wagyu, each of these strains is steeped in the history of their predominant Prefectures and role in Japanese agriculture today.