On 5 November while on a state visit to Japan, US President Donald Trump was treated to a full-course teppanyaki dinner at the Ginza branch of Ukai-tei, a three-star Michelin establishment where, as a saying attributed to another wealthy American, J.P. Morgan, goes, “If you have to ask how much it costs, you can’t afford it”.
The next day, a Monday, wire services reported the shares of the restaurant’s parent company, Ukai Co. Ltd., had risen 7.3%.
The house speciality at Ukai-tei is steaks from pampered wagyu steers. The streaks of marbled fat in the beef—which imparts an extra-tender consistency to the meat—are referred to in Japanese as shimofuri (fallen frost).
While Japanese understandably take pride in the quality of their meat, when the daily Asahi Shimbun (24 February) posed the question of beef preference to 1,626 people in its weekly “be between” survey, the results were precisely 50–50, with lean cuts of beef just as popular as the marbled variety, although for different reasons. Shimofuri was favoured for its tenderness and melt-in-the-mouth consistency (541 and 536 respondents, respectively, followed by its sense of balance between soft and firm 449). Leaner beef cuts are more appreciated for their good flavour (421 responses); straightforward simplicity (398); and being better for health (376).
Among both groups, the four most popular styles of beef dishes named were sukiyaki, steak, shabu-shabu and Korean-style barbecue.
In terms of dining frequency, 25% of shimofuri consumers said they indulged “several times a month”, whereas among those favouring the lean cuts, over twice that percentage, 51%, said they consumed them several times a month.
Individual preferences, of course, change with the times. Speaking as a recent convert, a 75-year-old man from Shizuoka Prefecture admitted he thought shimofuri beef tastier, yet added, “but to reduce my fat intake, I recently switched to leaner cuts”. Overall, older respondents tend to associate beef with their first encounters, beginning in the 1950s, with high-quality meat. They still regard beef as a special treat to be consumed on celebratory occasions such as at New Year.