Kobe Beef and foreigners
Hunger for beef of the crew of foreign battleships
There are cattle but there is no beef!
For the Japanese, cattle were considered as working animal helping people’s daily activities for a long time. They were like partners taking care of hard work such as hauling or farming instead of human. In such life, people never had an idea of “eating them”. However, people’s mind toward food was beginning to change around 1865.
The opening of Kobe Port in 1867 triggered it. It was only about 150 years ago. Foreign ships made a port call one after another once the port opened, and foreign settlement (specifically set area where foreigners could reside and trade) started to form around the port. Since meat-consuming custom had already taken root in the Western culture, it was natural for the crew of foreign battleships to eat meat. Beef from Tajima had been brought in the area by traders of Yokohama foreign settlement even before the port opened in Hyogo and it was already acclaimed then. It was therefore natural for the foreigners living there to call for it. However, there was no systematic beef production and supply since there was no custom to eat it in Japan at that time. They were under the continuous situation that they wanted to eat beef but could not do so.
The person who caused a stir was Edward Charles Kirby, who was a British businessman. He rent a slaughterhouse on the east side of former Ikuta River and started to sell beef for foreigners.
Meat consumption expanded along with civilization and enlightenment
The first butcher was a British!
With this as a turning point, the custom of eating meat was gradually spreading among the Japanese living around Kobe Port. When foreign culture rapidly prevailed along with civilization and enlightenment in the Meiji Era, it became like a vogue to eat beef for the Japanese. Sukiyaki restaurants using beef opened here and there. The beef market was originally founded by foreigners, but Japanese butchers or beef restaurants run by the Japanese opened one after another. The first slaughterhouse run by the Japanese named “Choujyu Urikomi Shosha (a company of chicken-and-beef trade and sales promotion)” was founded in 1871. The custom of eating meat kept spreading after that, and the industry of beef production, process and sales was mostly occupied by the Japanese after 1875.