Wagyu are different than the other 800 or so breeds of cattle in the world. They were isolated in Japan for a thousand years and did not interbreed as much as other breeds. They are smaller, take longer to mature, and, because they were originally used as draft animals, have large shoulders and smaller hindquarters. They are also docile, sweet, and playful in disposition. Their genetic protein coding causes them to produce a marbling that is closer to salmon in terms of nutrition and is beyond compare of any other breed.
During the 1970’s the trade relationship between the United States and Japan started to thaw. U.S. management guru’s, including William Edwards Deming, helped Japanese industry enter the modern world in areas of auto manufacturing and electronics. As the friendship between our two countries grew, a shipment of four Wagyu was sent to America in 1976. Two of the four bulls were Akaushi or Kumomoto Reds named Rueshaw and Judo, a Japanese National Akaushi Champion. The other two bulls were Mazda, a Tottori, and Mt. Fuzi, a Tajima breed. The greatly respected Japanese Wagyu master Shogo Takeda made two final shipments of Wagyu to the U.S. in 1996 and 1997. Ted Naruke tells the story:
“We chartered the 747 and took the animals to Iowa.… We held them in a quarantined facility for thirty days before they shipped out. The first shipment went smoothly. The Japanese Kobe registry complained to the government when we shipped the second time in 1997. Kobe is considered a national treasure. They didn’t want that much material leaving the country.”
After that, Japan ceased all exports of Kobe. The American Fullblood Wagyu population is 100% Japanese heritage, but every animal is a descendent of the three original shipments of animals from Japan to the U.S. Today, the American Wagyu Association estimates there are approximately 12,000 Fullblood Wagyu in America. Compare this to the approximately 30 million beef cattle in the U.S., and it’s easy to see what makes Wagyu so rare.