Wagyu literally translates as "Japanese beef," but that translation doesn't quite do it justice. It's a word that calls to mind images of rural Japanese cows being fed beer and massaged daily, and richly marbled ruby-red steaks, shot through with fine ribbons of glistening white fat.

Wagyu is an obsession and a craft — and it doesn't come cheap. A serving at one of Tokyo's top steakhouses, such as Dons de la Nature in Ginza, will set you back upward of ¥30,000. Brands such as Kobe and Matsuzaka are discussed in reverent tones, and the best places to eat it in Tokyo are hotly debated on Internet discussion boards, with meals documented in excessive, salivating detail.

However, exactly how wagyu gets from the fattening farm to the table is more of a mystery.