Ultimate Guide to Japanese Steak (Kobe, Wagyu, and Beyond!)

By Elizabeth Martin | September 15, 2023 

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    Japanese steak is known around the world for its unparalleled, high-class look, texture, aroma, and flavor. From the widely-known Wagyu beef to Kobe, even newbies in the kitchen or in the foodie world will have heard something about it. Whether you’re ready to try a new thing or just ready to level up your food game, Japanese steak is one thing we absolutely recommend you check off your foodie bucket list.

    The only question is: where to start? In this ultimate guide, we want to take you through everything you need to know and maybe even a little bit of what you don’t (it’s all still interesting to know). From origins to different types, restaurants we recommend, or even a few cooking techniques, we hope to start you off on your adventure well. There’s lots to explore around matters of Japanese steak, so we hope you’ll enjoy reading about it (and later, we hope your taste buds enjoy it as well).

    This article is a part of our extensive series on Learning about Japan through Online Japanese Lessons at Japan Switch.


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    What is Japanese Steak?

    Japanese steak, sometimes referred to as Wagyu beef, comes exclusively from Japanese cows. It’s even in the name! “Wagyuu” actually literally means “Japanese cow”. So while it seems a bit obvious that Japanese steak comes from Japanese cows, the standards of cattle raising are what make all the difference. In this way, “Wagyu” doesn’t actually refer to a single type of beef, but is more of an overarching umbrella term, which is then broken down into different types of Japanese steak.

    Japanese steak is a premium cut of beef that comes from Japanese cows that have been raised according to traditional Japanese methods. Japanese farms go above and beyond standard work to ensure the comfort and safety of their cattle, to ensure the perfect Japanese steak. Because of this, Japanese steak is well-known for its marbling and exquisite flavor, which is unparalleled in the meat world.

    The origins of Japanese beef can be traced all the way back to the Edo period (1603-1868), where it was a delicacy reserved for royalty and the wealthy elite. While today it can still cost you a pretty buck (or, to change the phrase, a pretty amount of Japanese Yen), it’s nowhere near the cost of what it used to be when it was just developing. Now, there are so many more types of steak that can range in price on top of flavor and texturing.

    raw japanese steak set on two leaves over a plate

    Characteristics of Japanese beef: marbling, texture, and flavor

    Japanese beef is renowned for its unique characteristics, which make it one of the most sought-after types of beef in the world. One of the most well-known facts about Japanese steak is its marbling content. This comes from a combination of the genetics of the cow, as well as how it is raised. The marbling gives the Japanese steak a rich, buttery flavor and a melt-in-your-mouth texture that is unlike any other type of beef.

    In addition to marbling, Japanese beef is also known for its delicate texture and umami flavor. The umami flavor in Japanese beef is often described as savory and meaty. It is specifically a result of the beef's high concentration of glutamic acid, which is an amino acid that creates a rich, complex flavor profile.

    Further, Japanese steak is typically aged for several weeks before it is cooked, which further enhances its flavor and tenderness. During the aging process, the beef is kept in a temperature and humidity-controlled environment, which allows it to develop a deeper, more complex flavor. The aging process also helps to tenderize the meat, making it even more succulent and flavorful.

    Types of Japanese Steak

    "Wagyu": What does it really mean?

    “Wagyu” is pretty much a household name when it comes to Japanese steak. To the inexperienced meat-eater, the word “Wagyu” might give off the impression that there is, in fact, only one type of Japanese steak around. As “Wagyu” does, in fact, mean “Japanese cow”, it is for that very reason there is a variety of Wagyu steaks. Wagyu beef naturally comes from those Japanese cows. The cows are raised under strict standards with large pastures and a strict diet to uphold the very best health conditions of the cattle. To this measure, the beef itself becomes a very rich, buttery flavor with a rather tender texture that is often described as “melt-in-your-mouth” tender. The white marbling of the Japanese steak nearly imitates that of white veins running through the beef.

    There are specifically two types of Wagyu beef that have become sort of their own type of “brand”, if you will, and they are Kobe beef and Matsusaka beef. We will also include a lesser-known type of beef in Japan, Omi steak. These three types of beef are commonly used in famous restaurants, each for their own individual reasons, and so are worth knowing about for any curious meat-eater or die-hard Wagyu lover.

    Grading Standards of Japanese Steak

    Grades are managed by the Japanese Meat Grading Association (JMGA) to ensure proper standardization and procedures of Japanese steak. The steaks are given grades based on quality and yield grade, with the quality grade given as a number, and the yield grade given as a letter. High-quality restaurants and chefs will often advertise A5 grade beef, and this is because this is the highest grade possible for Japanese steak. The quality grade is quite self-explanatory, as the quality of the beef. The yield grade is based on the cutability of the beef, where how much steak is able to be yielded from the beef cut, or how many pieces you might be able to cut from a single steak.

    The simplest way of considering the grading system is that A is the highest possibility for yield grade, and the higher the number the better the quality. In short, A5 is the best quality, C1 is the worst quality.

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    Kobe beef

    Kobe beef is a type of Wagyu beef raised from what are called the Tajima strain of Japanese cows. Many assume that Kobe beef could come from any type of Japanese cow that is raised in the Hyogo region, but this is inaccurate. The beef must come from a Tajima cow, which has been carefully raised and vetted in a strict process. Sometimes Tajima steak is also sold, but while this will also be Japanese steak from a Tajima cow, the vetting process deemed it of a lower quality and therefore does not qualify as Kobe beef. Kobe beef comes from cattle raised on a strict diet and the cattle are even massaged to keep their muscles relaxed, which contribute to the tender texture and rich flavoring of the steak. This is one Japanese steak that will take a bit of a dent out of your wallet, as it is sold at a premium price even in Japan–but it is still very, very worth it.

    Matsusaka Beef

    Matsusaka beef is another type of Japanese steak that comes from the Matsusaka region of Japan. Like other types of Japanese steak, Matsusaka beef is also known for its high marbling content. However, Matsusaka beef is also known for its especially high fat content, which gives it its own unique taste and texture. Matsusaka beef is considered one of the most luxurious and expensive types of beef in the world, and it is highly sought after by food enthusiasts and connoisseurs. Like cattle prepared for Kobe beef, the cows that produce Matsusaka beef are also massaged, but Matsusaka cows are even fed beer to maintain a well-balanced diet of the cattle! This adds an additional element of care for these cattle, which comes out uniquely in the taste of Matsusaka beef.

    Omi Beef

    Omi beef is a type of Wagyu beef that comes from the Shiga prefecture of Japan. Omi beef is known for its delicate, melt-in-your-mouth texture and rich, beefy flavor. The meat from Omi beef cattle is highly marbled, which gives it a unique taste and texture. Omi beef has a long history in Japan, and it was once considered a delicacy reserved only for royalty and the wealthy elite. Today, it is more widely available, and actually generally much cheaper than other types of beef. Although it is less well-known, because it stands slightly cheaper (but no less delicious) than Kobe or Matsusaka beef, it’s not unusual for it to be used by famous restaurants and chefs. Restaurants that advertise wagyu but don’t go into detail about Kobe or Matsusaka or other strains are highly likely to be using Omi beef.

    cooked wagyu topped with relish

    Top Japanese Steak Restaurants in Japan

    If you're planning a trip to Japan and are looking for the best Japanese steak restaurants to try, we have a few suggestions. And if you need any help ordering in Japanese, check out our Ultimate Guide to Ordering Food in Japanese, or our Ultimate Guide to Reading Hiragana and Katakana, for some basics on menu-reading. If you feel you're ready, we also have an Ultimate Guide to Japanese Kanji.

    When choosing a restaurant to try Japanese steak at, two factors are especially important. While any restaurant-goer might be worried about the atmosphere of the place or the sincerity of the waiting staff, there are two other things of note for both first-time Wagyu tasters and certified connoisseurs alike. The first is where the Japanese steak is sourced from, and the second is how the meat is cooked. For an authentic taste of Japanese steak, look for places that are rated positively for their quality meat and use traditional Japanese techniques, such as teppanyaki or shabu-shabu. Both of these factors change the flavor of the meat and therefore the overall dining experience.

    Kobe Beef Kaiseki 511 (Kobe)

    Omi beef is a type of Wagyu beef that comes from the Shiga prefecture of Japan. Omi beef is known for its delicate, melt-in-your-mouth texture and rich, beefy flavor. The meat from Omi beef cattle is highly marbled, which gives it a unique taste and texture. Omi beef has a long history in Japan, and it was once considered a delicacy reserved only for royalty and the wealthy elite. Today, it is more widely available, but it is still highly prized for its exquisite flavor and texture.

    Aragawa (Tokyo)

    Aragawa is a high-end restaurant located in Tokyo that serves some of the best Japanese steak in the world. The restaurant has a relaxed, old-school atmosphere, and has a set course menu for the price of ¥55,000 per person.

    Ginza Ukai-tei (Tokyo)

    Ginza Ukai-tei is a stylish teppanyaki restaurant in Tokyo. It serves some of the best Japanese steak in the city, offering a range of cuts, including Kobe beef and Matsusaka beef. Prices start at ¥22,000 per person for the Grand course, but their Lunch courses are offered for as cheap as ¥13,200!

    Nikuryori Yama (Kyoto)

    Simultaneously extremely traditional in style and at times less Japanese-style traditional in cooking techniques, this is one restaurant you don’t want to miss out on. The location is quite hidden inside a small house with no signs (this means that both Japanese and English speakers alike may get confused), this restaurant will set you on a taste-bud adventure. Prices start at around ¥29,000.


    Check out our Ultimate Guide to Odaiba Restaurants for more in Tokyo.

    How to Cook Japanese Steak at Home

    Cooking Japanese steak at home might seem intimidating, but with the right techniques and tools, you can enjoy the delicious flavors of Japanese steak in the comfort of your own home. Follow these steps to start you on your journey of creating a delicious Japanese steak. And if you need some visual help, this video might help you out.

    Step 1: Choose the right cut of meat

    Look for high-quality Japanese beef, such as Wagyu, Kobe, Matsusaka, or Omi beef. Make sure the beef has a high marbling content for the best flavor and texture - you’ll be able to tell by comparing the looks of individual cuts, so you can aim for one with the most marbling. For some extra guidance on shopping, check out our Ultimate Guide to Shopping in a Japanese Supermarket.

    Step 2: Season the meat

    Season the meat lightly with salt and pepper, or your favorite steak seasoning. Generally, Japanese steak is not heavily seasoned to highlight the natural flavor of the beef, and we recommend doing this especially the first time, to test out how you’d like to flavor it in the future.

    Step 3: Preheat your pan

    Heat a cast-iron skillet or grill pan over high heat until it's very hot (searing hot!)

    Step 4: Sear the steak

    Place the steak in the pan and let it sear for 2-3 minutes on each side. Don't move the steak around too much, as you want to get a good crust on the meat.

    Step 5: Cook to your desired temperature

    Use a meat thermometer (this is important!) to check the internal temperature of the steak. For medium-rare, cook the steak until it reaches 57-60°C. For well-done, between 71-74°C is good.

    Step 6: Rest the meat

    Let the steak rest for a few minutes before slicing to allow the juices to redistribute. (You can plate the rest of your meal during resting time, if you like.)

    Step 7: Enjoy!

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    Where to purchase Japanese beef:

    For those who are interested in purchasing Japanese beef online, it is important to find a reputable and trustworthy retailer. For English shopping and ethical sourcing, consider Horizon Farms.


    Horizon Farms

    This online shop offers a wide variety of Wagyu beef from Japan, and the site is available in both English and Japanese. They are committed to sustainability, quality, and ethical farming. All their meat comes with a multitude of details on where it was sourced, where and how it was processed, and how it will be shipped. For ease of finding specifically Wagyu beef, we recommend searching “wagyu” in the search bar.


    A Quick Note on Cost

    A high-quality cut of Wagyu beef can cost around 10,000 Yen per 100 grams, while a lower-quality cut may cost around 2,000 Yen per 100 grams. Kobe beef can be even more expensive and can cost upwards of 20,000 Yen per 100 grams.

    wagyu grilling with onions

    Tips & Tricks for cooking great Japanese steak


    • Purchase from a reputable source: When purchasing Japanese beef, make sure to buy from a reputable source (check reviews, blogs, etc.) to ensure the highest quality as well as authenticity. Do your research before heading to the market.
    • Choose the right cut of meat: When it comes to Japanese steak, the most popular cuts are ribeye, sirloin, and filet; they will be properly labeled for your perusal. As stated before, it’s important to choose a cut that is well-marbled for the best flavor and texture.
    • Season properly: Make sure to season generously before cooking, but with simple seasonings like salt and pepper.
    • Sear the steak: To achieve a crispy, caramelized crust on the steak, make sure to sear it on high heat in a cast iron skillet or grill pan. Let the pan get to searing-temperature before you place the steak on.
    • Rest the steak: After cooking, let the steak rest for a few minutes to allow the juices to redistribute and ensure a juicy, tender steak.
    • Serve with simple sides: Just a side of rice and some vegetables will do, no need to take away from the main dish.


    Check out 15 Staples of Japanese Cooking and see what kinds of delicious meals you could be making at home.

    Pairing Japanese Steak with Sides and Drinks

    Japanese steak is a versatile dish that can be paired with a variety of sides and drinks. Here are some traditional Japanese sides and recommended beverages that complement the flavors of Japanese steak. Still, we recommend keeping the sides simple.

    Traditional sides to pair with Japanese steak

    Miso soup

    This traditional Japanese soup is made from fermented soybean paste and has a savory, umami flavor that pairs well with the rich flavors of Japanese steak. It’s also well-stored and could be made the day before to be reheated for your sit-down meal.


    These boiled and lightly salted soybeans are a popular appetizer worldwide and make for a great pairing with any kind of Japanese steak.

    Pickled vegetables

    Japanese pickles, or tsukemono, are often served as a side dish in Japan. They come in a variety of flavors and can add a refreshing and tangy element to your meal.

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    Recommended wine and sake pairings for Japanese steak


    Red wine

    A full-bodied red wine, such as a Cabernet Sauvignon or a Syrah, can complement the rich, meaty flavors of Japanese steak.


    Sake is a traditional Japanese rice wine. It pairs well with rich meats, so it makes for a great complement to Japanese steak.


    If you prefer beer, you can’t go wrong with pairing it with your steak. Japanese lagers like Sapporo or Asahi will complement the richness of the beef.


    Non-alcoholic beverage recommendations

    Green tea

    Japanese green tea is a popular non-alcoholic beverage that can help balance out the rich flavors of Japanese steak. Its earthy, vegetal flavors can complement the savory flavors of the beef. We have an Ultimate Guide to Japanese Tea for some other tea recommendations, as well.

    Sparkling water

    Sparkling water is a refreshing and palate-cleansing beverage that can help cut through the rich, fatty flavors of Japanese steak.

    Benefits of Japanese Steak

    Beyond flavor, there are actually some health benefits to Japanese steak as well. While consuming large amounts of red meat has been linked to an increased risk of heart disease and other health problems, consuming moderate amounts of Japanese beef may have some potential health benefits. High in vitamins and healthy fats, it’s by far one of the better cuts of red meat to be consuming.

    Nutritional Value of Japanese Beef


    Japanese beef is high in protein, iron, zinc, and vitamin B12. These are all vitamins that are especially beneficial to those suffering from anemia. Japanese beef also has a high fat content, which might be obvious from the marbling. It is particularly high in monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, which can have positive effects on heart health. The fat in Japanese steak is also rich in conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), a type of fatty acid that has been linked to reduced inflammation, improved insulin sensitivity, and lower body fat levels in some preliminary studies. Overall, while Japanese beef should be consumed in moderation as part of a balanced diet, it can provide a number of potential health benefits due to its high nutritional value and unique fatty acid profile.

    Sustainability and Ethical Considerations

    Impact on the Environment

    Japanese beef production, like many other meat industries, has a significant impact on the environment. Although the cattle are given large swaths of land to range in, the amount of this land has led to an increase in deforestation. The demand for Japanese steak has led to a rise in greenhouse gas emissions from the large-scale production and transportation of feed and cattle. Additionally, the intensive farming practices used in Japanese beef production require vast amounts of water, feed, and energy, contributing to further environmental damage.

    Ethical Concerns

    On the other hand, generally Japanese cows are treated much better than cattle in other parts of the world. Many beef production facilities pack their cattle in small facilities without land to roam, but Japanese cows are treated quite the opposite. They are given large swatches of land to roam, fed very good diets, and, in the case of some cattle, given regular massages. In terms of how the animal is treated, Japanese cows are treated quite like kings and are not inhumanely handled.

    Alternatives to traditional Japanese beef production

    As a response to greenhouse gas and land concerns, there has been an increase in alternative and more sustainable methods of producing Japanese beef. Some farmers are experimenting with more natural feeding practices, such as allowing cows to graze on grass and forage, resulting in healthier cows and more sustainable production methods.

    Concerned buyers are therefore encouraged to make informed choices to support more sustainable and ethical practices. The online shop that we suggested in this article, Horizon Farms, is currently practicing sustainable agriculture.

    close-up shot of medium rare cooked japanese steak

    Final Thoughts

    Japanese steak is a true delicacy that has captivated the hearts and taste buds of people all around the world. Its unique marbling, delicate texture, and rich umami flavor make it a cut above the rest when it comes to beef.

    From the top Japanese steak restaurants in Japan to online shops that specialize in Japanese beef, there’s so many options for taste-testing Japanese steak. The main suggestion we have is to just go out and try it! Whether you prefer to dine out at a top-rated Japanese steakhouse or try your hand at cooking Japanese steak at home, the experience is sure to be unforgettable.

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