Kobe beef (神戸ビーフ) is one of the many things that foreigners coming to Okinawa have on their “things to try” list. The chance to eat meat from a cow that has received a lifetime of massages , classical music and being fed beer is the very definition of luxury. Knowing this foreigners enthusiastically pull out their wallets and pay healthy sums of money for the “Kobe beef” on steakhouse menus around the island. However, most would be surprised to find out that the beef they can’t wait to tell their friends about is not Kobe beef at all.
The first and most important thing to understand is what exactly it means for a slab of meat to be called Kobe beef. As disappointing as this is going to be for those who take great pleasure in how weird and whacky Japan is massages, beer and classical music have nothing to do with Kobe beef. Although cows will undoubtably be rubbed down occasionally the notion that some day spa in the fields of unknown Japan exists is a myth created by someone who was clearly overzealous and probably a little drunk. In reality being Kobe beef means that the meat has come from a purebred Tajima steer that was born, raised and butchered in Hyogo Prefecture. The beef must also meet certain guidelines having a meat quality of 4 to 5 and beef marbling standard (BMS) of 6 to 12.
Seeing as how Kobe beef is such a high quality, and very scarce, product there is strict control over it’s distribution. Each and every carcass that meets the grade for both meat quality and beef marbling standard is given a ten-digit identification number (個体識別番号) which can be checked online confirming that you are getting the quality you are paying for. Retailers and restaurants serving actual Kobe beef are also certified and should be willing to provide you with the identification number of the beef that you are being served. If they are not willing to provide you with a ten-digit identification number there’s a good chance it’s not Kobe beef.
In fact if you’re in Okinawa and are looking for actual Kobe beef you’re out of luck. The reason is because according to the Kobe Beef Marketing & Distribution Promotion Association’s list of certified sellers none of the retailers or restaurants in Okinawa Prefecture are certified. In other, more straight forward, words no it’s not Kobe beef that you enjoy at that teppenyaki place down the road.
The question now is what are steakhouses in Okinawa serving if not actual Kobe beef. Are they even serving high quality beef from Tajima steer at all? More importantly are you overpaying because of false advertising?