Since the Meiji-period Emperor’s 1873 repealing of the Buddhist prohibition against the killing of creatures, the Japanese have been scoffing bovines and fowl with distinctly non-Buddhist zeal. This nation built on Buddhist and Shinto precepts certainly has a fondness for meat, and beef is high on its list of preferred foods. Some blame the post-WW2 American occupation. That might not be wholly fair.
Logic asserts that if the priests of the Nara period under Emperor Shomu felt the need to forbid the practice, 8th century Japanese must have already shown a propensity for meat. We know that by the Heian period, beef was being eaten by Koreans and Chinese living in Kansai, and there’s a good chance neighboring Japanese communities were tempted by the smell of the odd grilled steak.
The Wagyu Japanese beef of choice has long been produced in Kansai region of West Japan. Kobe-gyu, famously massaged with sake and beer-fed (now mostly reared in the Tajima region of northern Hyogo) has attained global fame. Matsuzaka-gyu, is the slightly less well-known, but equally expensive Mie Prefecture counterpart. Omi-gyu is Shiga’s beef claim to fame. Tajima is famed for its own Tajima-gyu.
A slice of top-class Japanese gyuniku has a marbled, delta-like network of fine, white strands known as shimofuri, set against a luscious deep red flesh. It must be said that it doesn’t appeal to all tastes. Some steak lovers flying into Japan from overseas sometimes feel disappointed by its delicacy, and a tendency towards fattiness. All you can do is give it a try.
Wagyu steaks, Kobe beef and the like are generally served at specialists, generally at the upper end of the price range. Humble dishes in the local shokudo canteen include gyudon beef on rice, niku jaga (in Western Japan) and gyu korokke croquettes.