From Ibaraki with love: The secret behind Japan’s top-prized wagyu beef

June 24th, 2019

Nearly 2,490,000 heads of cattle are raised for beef in Japan, making the competition to produce the best homegrown wagyu beef very intense. “Wagyu” literally means “Japanese cattle.” It is also the name of the expensive meat renowned the world over for its juicy flavor, tender texture and marble-like appearance. Ibaraki’s own brand of Hitachi wagyu beef is considered top grade. It is also something of a rare delicacy, making up just 2 percent of all wagyu production in Japan, according to the Ibaraki Prefecture Hitachi Beef Association. Nagashima feeds the steers living in his barn his own blend of Ibaraki barley and kelp seaweed and makes seasonal changes to the feed. He knows each animal by heart and adjusts their daily portion according to their own needs. “I don’t think you can raise the best cattle unless your feelings become one with them. You have to clean around them and keep their place clean. If they are cold, you have to feel the cold with them. You have to observe every little thing, one by one. I think that’s what it takes,” Nagashima said. Every day, Nagashima brushes and massages his cattle with a special brush made of wild boar hair. All 35 steers in Nagashima’s barn appear in a state of relaxation and unafraid of human touch. Nagashima believes this is the only approach: “To make money, people want to raise their cattle to be big, and done so quickly. And so cows are raised to be big because it is cost-efficient and more profitable. But that is the root of failure and I myself might have been a bit too greedy in the past.” Nagashima, is one of the 161 Hitachi beef “finishers” whose job is to fatten the calves for beef production. When animals reach 30 months, cattle are entered into championships where their meat is eventually sold the to the highest bidder. On March 6, 2019, Nagashima took home the “Outstanding Performance Award” at the Hitachi Wagyu Beef Carcass Championships held in Tokyo. And this is not the first time Nagashima’s cattle have won awards. Cattle farmers around the country labor for years to win the All Japan Wagyu Beef Carcass Championships held every October in Tokyo, and no one except Nagashima has ever won the gold medal twice in these so-called “Wagyu Olympics.” Japan’s aim is to develop quality over quantity when it comes to beef. One big difference between Japanese and Western beef consumption is that, unlike in foreign countries where meat is consumed as the main dish, Japan often treats it as a side dish. #Japan #Hitachigyu #Wagyu #Beef #Ibaraki #Koga #常陸牛 #茨城県 #和牛