Last Updated: December 1, 2023

Japan’s Finest & Most Expensive Beef – $500 Steaks Anyone?

Most people know the best beef comes from Japan And today, Kobe beef has become a household name.

Whether you decide to import some from Japan or throw some in your carry on backpack during a visit, it is a delicacy that is worth having. But what makes Japanese beef so good and how much does it cost?


Wagyu is the name of Japanese beef cattle – wa means Japan and gyu means cow. While Kobe beef is the most well-known type of wagyu outside of Japan, there are many different kinds of Japanese beef and some of them are giving Kobe a run for its money.

Why is Japanese beef so good?

wagu beef

photo of japanese wagyu beef

Marbled fat content determines grade.

The most important characteristic of Japanese beef is the white parts of fat in the meat, known as sashi in Japanese. The sashi is interspersed between layers of red meat and gives the beef a marbled pattern. This marbling is the most prized aspect of Japanese beef and cattle farmers go to great lengths to create intense patterns that melt the meat in your mouth.

The beef grading systems in most countries are directly related to how much-marbled fat is present.

In the US, prime beef must have 6-8% of marbled fat to qualify for the highest USDA grade. To achieve the highest quality grade for wagyu (A5), meat must be at least 25% marbled fat. While it may make the meat more tender and flavorful, high-fat content is bad for you, right? Wrong.

Fat in Japanese beef is primarily monounsaturated, which is known to lower ‘bad’ cholesterol! Monounsaturated fats also have a very low melting point, making the beef melt in your mouth. A steak of top quality A5 grade wagyu can cost $500 or more in Tokyo’s fine dining scene.

Great care is taken to produce marbling; apart from being killed and eaten, cows in Japan live a king’s (or emperor’s) life. They are fed high-quality grains and each farmer has their blends and secret ingredients, such as soybeans and okara (a byproduct of making tofu). Water is also essential to the cattle’s diet, and local mineral water is often used to ensure the best-quality product.

To keep their appetite going during the hot summer months, cows are fed beer or sake to give them the munchies, which makes you wonder how good the beef would taste if they started mixing pot leaves in the feed. The cows are raised in stalls to help create fatty marbling, so they are taken outside for leisurely walks in the afternoon to get some sun and fresh air.

Farmers will also spit sake on their cows and rub it in with a straw hand brush, which they say helps balance the distribution of marble content and keeps the lice and ticks away. To ensure their cows stay as relaxed as possible, some breeders are rumored to play soothing music. Beer, massages, afternoon strolls, mineral water, classical music…what a life!

Matsuzaka Beef

matsuzaka gyu beef photo

matsuzaka gyu beef photo

Many people consider Matsuzaka beef to be the best in Japan.

Matsuzaka beef has some of the most expensive cuts and is considered by many enthusiasts to be the best beef in Japan. Female cows raised in the quiet and serene area around Matsuzaka in Mie Prefecture are slaughtered before being bred, and this virgin meat is said to be the tenderest in the world.

Known for its high-fat content and characteristic marbling patterns that border on fine art, Matsuzaka beef has a rich, meaty flavor and begins to melt as soon as it enters your mouth.

This beef can be hard to find outside big cities as only a limited number of cows are slaughtered yearly. Check for it in department stores and expect to pay around $50 for 100 grams ($500 per kilo; $225 per pound) for sirloin cuts. If you live in Japan and want to order Matsuzaka beef, this Japanese website sells various grades for up to 10,000 yen for 150 grams of A5.

That’s a lot of money for a little bit of beef. How much does the whole cow cost? A standard Matsuzaka will go for around $10,000, while the most expensive one was sold for $392,000 in 1989…holy cow!

Kobe Beef

Japanese Kobe beef, photo

Japanese Kobe beef, photo

Kobe beef is known for its intense marbling and rich flavor.

Kobe beef is what put Wagyu on the map and, for many people worldwide, is synonymous with Japanese beef. Kobe beef comes from cows raised, fed, and slaughtered in Hyogo Prefecture, where Kobe City is located.

These cows require a marbling ratio of at least level 6, a Meat Quality Score of A or B, and a weight of under 470 kilograms. To be called Kobe beef, the meat must also come from Bullock or Virgin cows, ostensibly to keep the beef pure.

If you live in Japan and want to get some Kobe beef, the Mitsukoshi department store sells 870 grams for 31,500 yen ($170 a pound). Or, you can order top-quality A5 Kobe beef from this website (Japanese only).

Kobe Style Beef

When demand for Kobe beef shot through the roof, American ranchers began using the term ‘Kobe-style’ beef to refer to wagyu cattle raised in the US. While the price is much more affordable at $20 per pound for the cheapest Kobe-style beef and the quality is better than American Angus beef, it just doesn’t compare with the real thing.

In general, the cattle feed in the US is of lower quality than what is used in Japan and the individual care for cows is in the two countries varies significantly. Cattle farmers in Japan are known to treat their cows as family members and lavish them with amenities they might not have themselves – some farmers don’t even know how good their beef is because the thought of eating one of their pets makes them sick to the stomach.

Fukutsuru 068

Fukutsuru, a wagyu bull sent to America from Japan in the early 90’s, deserves a special mention. Known for his genetic tendency to produce high levels of marble content in offspring, Fukutsuru is, in many ways the father of Kobe-style beef. He was bred countless times and his genes were considered so magical that before he died in 2005, over 100,000 sperm units were collected and put on ice for future generations.

Mishima Beef

Mishima beef is a very rare type of beef from the tiny island of Mishima Island of the tip of southern Honshu. Unlike Kobe beef, which came from crossing Japanese cows with European breeds, Mishima cattle are purebred from the original strain introduced to Japan via Korea over 2,000 years ago. Local farmers have been able to prevent interbreeding because of the island’s isolated location.

“Belly blocks” of Mishima beef go for a relatively reasonable 13,600 yen per kilo ($73 per pound), while 450 grams of sirloin steak will cost you 15,000 yen.

Omi Beef

Omi gyu beef, photo

Omi gyu beef, photo

According to local legend, the Shogun was given Omi beef for medicinal purposes.

Omi beef is a less well-known but equally scrumptious type of wagyu from Shiga Prefecture. Despite beef consumption being forbidden in Japan until 140 years ago, rumor has it that the Shogun and some feudal lords (daimyo) would eat beef Omi beef, ostensibly because of its “medicinal purposes”. The fact that it tastes great surely had nothing to do with it.

Expect to pay about 8,500 yen ($90) for 180 grams of Omi beef sirloin ($250 per pound) – if you can even find it in the store, that is. Alternately, you can order it online from this Japanese website

Ishigaki Beef

photo of Ishigaki gyu beef in Okinawa, Japan

photo of Ishigaki gyu beef in Okinawa, Japan

A relative newcomer to high-quality Japanese beef, Ishigaki beef comes from the southern island of Ishigaki in Okinawa Prefecture.

Ishigaki beef is sold all over Ishigaki Island and throughout Okinawa Prefecture. People in the mainland can order it online for about 15,000 yen per kilo here.

Image Attribution

Photo of Omi beef taken by skasuga under CC license.

Photo of Kobe beef taken by goldfile under CC license.

Ishigaki beef photo was taken by eightydaysjet under CC license.

About the Author Roger Timbrook

Roger is a little obsessed with travel. He has been to over 40 countries, broken 3 suitcases and owned over 10 backpacks in 12 months. What he doesn't know about travel, ain't worth knowing!

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