Japan's history of beef starts in the Jomon period

Domestication of livestock is held to have begun between Japan's Jomon period (10,000-300 BCE) and Yayoi period (300 BCE to 300 CE), with many cow bones having been excavated at archaeological digs. Yayoi period shell heaps have also contained various artifacts with which it is believed foods like wild boar, deer, and wild rabbit were prepared. It is estimated that around this time, Japanese people began consuming beef. The Nihon Shoki and Shoku Nihongi, the oldest chronicles of Japanese history, describe laws banning the consumption of meats like beef and horse. Based on the dates of these chronicles, it is believed that beef started to be consumed some time in the thousand year span between the Yayoi period and Nara period (710-794 CE).

Westernization lifts the ban on beef

When Buddhism took root in Japan, so, too, did its precepts forbidding the taking of life. Beef was not eaten (in public), and cattle were predominantly used as beasts of burden for tilling the fields and transport. In the Meiji period (1868-1912), the ban on proselytizing for Christianity was lifted, and foreigners entered the country, driving demand for beef in cities. There is a record of Emperor Meiji consuming beef in 1873. In 1900, the former Ministry of Agriculture and Commerce imported Ayrshire, Brown Swiss, Simmenthal, and other breeds of cattle and began breeding wagyu. Continuous improvements led to the certification of the Japanese Black breed in 1937. The Wagyu Registry Association has announced that 99.99% of current Japanese Black on record share a single common ancestor, Tajiri, a Tajima cattle steer bred in the Ojiri area of Kami-cho, Hyogo Prefecture.

Tajiri, a Tajima cattle to which 99.9% of Japanese Black throughout Japan trace their lineage as "grandchildren."