Wagyu vs kokusangyu – The difference between the two types of Japanese beef

TOKYO —

Before you order that Japanese steak, make sure you know what you’re getting.

Along with sushi and ramen, Japanese beef is on the short list of foods gourmands look forward to eating on a trip to Japan. While it often carries a hefty premium over other kinds of meat, true believers insist that Japanese beef is well worth the extra cost due to how tender and flavorful it is.

But it turns out there’re two Japanese terms that can be translated as “Japanese beef,” but which actually have different meanings. So what’s the difference? Let’s take a look.

1. Wagyu / 和牛

The term that’s most likely to pop up in English discussions and menus is wagyu, with wa meaning “Japan” and gyu meaning “beef.” But being a cow in Japan doesn’t necessarily qualify the animal for wagyu status. To earn the label, the cow has to be one of four traditional Japanese breeds: Kuroge (“Black Hide”) Wagyu, Akage (“Red Hide”) Wagyu, Nihon Tankakushi (Japanese Shorthorn), or Mukakuwashu (Japanese Polled Cattle).

Japan’s most famous beef varieties, Kobe and Matsuzaka, are subsets of Tajima cattle, itself a strain of Kuroge Wagyu, and so can be called wagyu.

However, it’s possible for meat sourced from outside Japan to also be called wagyu, so long as the cows are one of the four types mentioned. While such situations are rare, there are wagyu ranches in both Australia and the U.S.

2. Kokusangyu / 国産牛

But if wagyu can be called “Japanese beef,” so too can kokusangyu, literally “beef produced in the country (i.e. Japan).” Kokusangyu refers to any domestically raised cow, regardless of whether or not it falls into one of the four wagyu breeds. Holsteins raised in Japan, for example, are kokusangyu, but not wagyu.

Technically, this means that any Japan-raised wagyu is also kokusangyu. There’s a small loophole though, in that cows born in another country which are then relocated and spend the majority of their lives in Japan can also be called kokusangyu.

So, in summary, wagyu gives you a clue to the breed, and kokusangyu indicates where the animal was raised. Since wagyu is widely held to be high-quality meat, and Japan always has a preference for domestically produced foodstuffs, both wagyu and kokusangyu carry plenty of cachet. Generally, though, wagyu gets more mouths watering and wallets opening, since imported wagyu is almost never seen in Japan.

With this in mind, if you’re after the most prestigious beef Japan has to offer, you might want to take the boasting of restaurants trumpeting their kokusangyu with a grain of salt, as the type of beef itself might be the same as what you can get in your own country. So before you get drawn into a restaurant by the tempting promise of “Japanese beef,” you might want to check just what kind of Japanese beef it is.

Sources: Consumer Affairs Agency, Tanaka Seinikuten, Mojisho

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  • 2

    Reckless

    and i am sure all labeling is 100% completely honest when the yens are at stake...

  • -2

    Triring

    Nope Wagyu in Japan must be short horn black AND certified above A3 to be branded as Wagyu. To my knowledge no American or Australian Wagyu is imported and even if they were they will not be able to be sold as Wagyu in Japan.

  • 0

    beams

    To my knowledge no American or Australian Wagyu is imported and even if they were they will not be able to be sold as Wagyu in Japan.

    There is plenty of wagyu from Australia exported to Japan, of which the majority is marble score 7 and up. Despite there being a concern about the labeling of crossbreeds as wagyu, that which is defined as wagyu from Australia is labeled as such in Japan. Australia has properties (not ranches as stated in the article) which do breed 100% wagyu, and this too is exported to Japan.

  • 0

    sfjp330

    How can you tell the difference? Legitimate Kobe beef is priced around $200 per portion for a steak. If you see something on a menu referred to as Kobe priced less than that, it is most likely domestic or imported Wagyu.

  • 1

    Triring

    beams

    Sorry but they are sold as Australian beef since in Japan origin of product is required to be stated to all raw meat. Wagyu in Japan also requires to be bred in Japan and requires to go through Japanese marbling certification.

    It really doesn't matter if they are "Branded" as Wagyu in Australia here in Japan they are all Australian beef, end of story

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