The Wagyu breed (和牛) is a breed of beef cattle from Japan. Wagyu were raised in Japan as beasts of burden for more than 2,000 years before they were consumed for meat in Japan starting around 1867 at the beginning of the Meiji Restoration, when a long-standing ban on eating meat in Japan was lifted.
Somehow the selection of animals for work animal purposes over a 2,000+ year period resulted in the unintended consequence of the Wagyu breed evolving into a breed that had outstanding meat quality.
This—combined with a highly regulated government-led breed improvement program starting in the 19th century—led to the breed now known around the world for the ultimate beef culinary experience.
Only a small number of Wagyu have been exported from Japan and all future exports of Wagyu have been banned by the Japanese government.
While producers outside of Japan have been working to grow the breed, Wagyu make up a very small portion of the total beef cattle herd both in the U.S. and worldwide.
Beef from Wagyu cattle is arguably the best quality beef in the world—a beef product that is tender, highly marbled and more healthful than beef from other breeds.