Where’s the Beef? At Maru’s in Ishigaki


If you’ve ever had true Japanese beef, just watching – or even listening to a few seconds of the video above will make your mouth water! Like Pavlov’s dogs, it simply can’t be helped. The beef is every bit that good. Sure Kobe beef is a household name known around the world, but what is it about Japanese beef that makes it so expensive…and so damn tasty?

Club Med Ishigaki 2015, Maru Anniversary Dinner, tabletop feast WM

We recently had the pleasure of stuffing ourselves silly with Ishigaki beef for our 4th wedding anniversary, celebrated during a stay at Club Med on that Ryukyuan island. Taking a long and expensive taxi ride into town to a restaurant we ate at during a previous visit in 2014, Maru is a place that you can smell long before you see. Walking through the front door, we were greeted loudly by an obnoxious “mooooooooooooooooo,” broadcast in concert to the closing of the door. Checking in for our reservation, we proceeded to order a full sampling of the moo-cow’s finer cuts, with vegetables, rice and a large salad to serve as sides.

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Wagyu, as Japanese beef cattle are called, is a compound word made up of wa (“Japan”) and gyu (“cow”). Although most Americans know Kobe in terms of beef, what you may not realize is that Kobe is only one type of wagyu found throughout Japan. And most of the others are every bit as tasty, some much less expensive.

But what makes Japanese beef so dang delicious? It’s due in large part to the white marbled fat in the meat known as sashi in Japanese, the beef’s most prized aspect. In fact, cattle farmers spare no expense to help create intense patterns of fat that make the meat literally melt in your mouth. In Japan, wagyu beef is graded based almost entirely on the dispersion and amount of sashi present.

maru steak

As a point of comparison, what sets Japanese beef apart from that found in American is the amount of fat found in the meat. For example, prime beef in the United States only needs 6-8% fat to qualify for the highest USDA grade possible. In Japan, however, in order to be graded the highest quality ranking for wagyu (which is “A5”), the meat must have at least 25% marbled fat! And guess what? The sashi found in Japanese beef is primarily the monounsaturated kind, a “good” kind of fat which can actually lower “bad” levels of cholesterol in human blood. So eating Japanese beef is not just delectable, it can actually be…healthy (wink). The marbled fat results in a tenderness that, when cooked, is much like butter, resulting in an amazing flavor and mouthfeel like no other form of beef. The fat literally melts in the heat of the mouth and doesn’t linger. And even though it’s the most tender form of beef on the planet, wagyu retains a rich, meaty mouth feel.

Club Med Ishigaki 2015, Maru Anniversary Dinner, happy couple WM

We got lucky this time at Maru, at least after politely rejecting our initial waiter who was rather curt and spoke little English. Fortunately, there was another man who both spoke good English and was entirely personable, two qualities needed for an enjoyable anniversary dinner. Although the restaurant was sold out of a number of cuts and menu items, on our waiter’s recommendation, the food and beer started flowing.

Club Med Ishigaki 2015, Maru Anniversary Dinner, signage WM

Japanese cattle farmers take great care of their animals. Their cows are fed only the highest quality grains, mixed and blended with additives that each farmer holds as a close trade secret. The animals usually only drink local mineral water, all to help ensure the best quality meat results. Farmers are known to feed their cattle beer and sometimes sake to help fatten them up, and also brush and rub sake on their cows by hand in order to better distribute marbling and keep lice and ticks away.

Mura, a corner restaurant hidden away in a residential neighborhood

Mura, a corner restaurant hidden away in a residential neighborhood

Kobe beef comes from cows raised, fed, and slaughtered in Japan’s Hyogo Prefecture, where Kobe City is located. In America we now have “Kobe-style” beef, meat which comes from wagyu cattle transplanted and raised in the US. While much more inexpensive than that found in Japan, it is much higher in quality than say, American Angus beef, but it doesn’t even begin to compare with the real Far East thang. Why? Shortcuts are taken in American to help contain cost. As you might imagine, the cattle feed in America is of much lower quality, and the personalized attention for individual cows just doesn’t happen under corporate farming in America.

But some of the Kobe beef actually comes from Okinawa Prefecture, at least indirectly. In the southern stretches of the Ryukyu Islands lies Ishigaki Island, where Ishigaki gyu (“beef”) originates. On the island at any one time are about 35,000 head of Japanese “Black Cattle.” Ishigaki, with a year-round warm climate, provides an expansive and always lush grassland perfect for breeding and raising wagyu. Calves born and raised there are often exported throughout Japan, where they mature and become each area’s prized beef, such as that found in Kobe. In fact, only a limited amount of calves (~20%) are kept on Ishigaki to be matured, making Ishigaki beef somewhat rare and high-priced.

Club Med Ishigaki 2015, Maru Anniversary Dinner, contemporary interior WM

Maru is, from just about what everyone says, one of the best places to find Ishigaki gyu. The popular and locally famous eatery serves up delectable beef that you cook at your table yakiniku (“grilled meat”) style, with a little help from their friendly staff. Using a mini gas-fired barbeque grill in the center of the table, fresh cuts of meat and crispy vegetables are all cooked exactly to order, by you! One problem with East meets West at Maru is that the menu is not available in English, and very few of the waiters speak English.

Today's Specials!

Today’s Specials!

The prime cuts of Ishigaki beef take center stage at Maru, but there many other choices available. Since the servings are generally small, multiple items can be ordered and shared tapas style. Fillets, rib and sirloin cuts of meat top the menu in price, but diners can also sample beef tongue, beef shoulder, offal, beef sashimi, and yukke – raw beef topped with egg yolk. Maru also has a popular nabe (Japanese hotpot), a soup-like mixture of vegetables, tofu, beef broth and some meat.

Club Med Ishigaki 2015, Maru Anniversary Dinner, peaceful couple WM

Maru’s interior is eclectic, to say the least. Brightly colored art, featuring deep reds and dark blacks adorns the walls, giving the place a very contemporary feel. One of the best parts of any visit is the “Mooooooooo” cow call which greets each diner as they open the front door! Located only about a five-minute walk from downtown makes it a popular place for a meal, even if it can be hard to find. Maru is so fashionable, though, that any taxi driver will know its location.

Capture

Maru is ever bit worth a visit. Hard on your wallet but easy on your taste buds, Japanese beef must be sampled to be truly appreciated. A map to the restaurant can come in handy, and their website is available, if only in Japanese. Likewise, they have an active presence on Facebook, in Japanese as well. Find them at 26-4 Tonoshiro, Ishigaki 907-0004, Okinawa Prefecture, and ring them at +81 980-82-0030.

Maru Map

Okinawa: A Year in Review


  “Write it on your heart that every day is the best day in the year.” ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

1stanniversary

Well, when I wrote this we had just celebrated our one-year anniversary of relocating our domicile to Okinawa, and although it’s now over two months past due, I still thought it would be a good idea to do a “year in review” blog. So, here’s an eclectic summary of the King’s Flirtations with the Far East to date (as of this past August), along with a personally favorite blog selected for each month.

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July 2013.  Preparations for our overseas move.

See Sayonara Amerika to read and see our Asian-inspired going-away blowout

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August 2013.  Moved!  Rented our Florida home and moved overseas with our cat!

See Jody Drives Naked about used-car shopping in Okinawa.

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September 2013.  Divine winds!  Experienced something like 8 typhoons in two months.

See Surf Nazis Must Die to read about a scuba diver’s angst with the powers that be on Okinawa.

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October 2013.  Scuba Diving!  Kevin becomes a PADI scuba-diving instructor!

See Are You Breaking Up with Me on Mount Fuji for perhaps my favorite breakup story of all time!

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November 2013.  Jody’s birthday!  Celebrated by exploring the northern reaches of Okinawa.

See Shipwrecked on the Island of Misfit Toys about my first foray to Okinawa in 1999.

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December 2013.  Household goods!  Our forgotten “stuff” finally arrives on-island.

See Oh Christmas-Half-a-Tree to read about Christmas in Okinawa.

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January 2014.  Kevin’s birthday!  Celebrated by our first off-island trip to Kyoto, Japan.

See Okinawa Kijimuna for Okinawa’s version of “Red Power!”

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February 2014.  Contracted!  Dive the Blues Scuba gets well underway.

See Surprising Swastikas about an unlikely and unfortunate connection between East and West.

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March 2014.  Earthquake!  Friends breaking bad on Okinawa.

See Cat Cafes in Japan to read about the special bond between the Japanese and their feline friends.

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April 2014.  White Day and Zip-Lining on Okinawa.

See Timeless Townhouse for our rustically historical stay in Kyoto, Japan.

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May 2014.  Iriomote!  Off-island weekend getaway to this remote nature preserve.

See Tainted by Tats to read about the stigma of body art in this corner of the Far East.

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June 2014.  My daughter gets married!  A whirlwind trip home to the states and detour because of an unexpected hospital stay.

See Placenta: Prescription or Placebo to read about some strange herbal remedies popular in Japan.

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July 2014.  Ishigaki!  Off-island weekend getaway to dive with manta rays.

See The Cat-Dogs of Okinawa to read about the special guardians of the Ryukyu Islands.

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August 2014.  Okinawan World and Hospital Caves.

See Okinawan Hillsides & Hornets to read about my past explorations in the Okinawan jungles searching for traces of WWII.

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Beauty & Honor Entombed: Ishigaki’s Toujin Grave Site


“At the bottom of the heart of every human being, from earliest infancy until the tomb, there is something that goes on indomitably expecting, in the teeth of all experience of crimes committed, suffered, and witnessed, that good and not evil will be done.”  ~ Simone Weil

Remembering and Honoring on Ishigaki

Remembering and Honoring on Ishigaki

Stunningly beautiful.  Emotionally moving.  Serenely set.  Imagine, at great expense and personal effort, accepting the wrongs of those far-removed and in the past so that future generations can realize a nobler future through such splendor.  On Ishigaki Island, this happened not just once, but twice, with amazing effect.

Shisa Lion Dog at Toujin Tomb

In 1852 the American-flagged ship Robert Bowne was carrying Chinese laborers – “Coolies” as they were known at the time, a derogatory slang term for unskilled Asian workers, usually of Chinese or Indian descent – from mainland China to California.  The 410 Chinese indentured servants, realizing during the voyage that they were essentially slaves, successfully mutinied and made a break for the Southern Ryukyu Islands, landing on the beaches of Miyako Island.

Chinese Indentured Servants built most of America's Railroad

Chinese Indentured Servants built most of America’s Railroad

After most of the Coolies had found refuge ashore, some of the remaining members of the crew took back the ship and set sail without haste, abandoning those left behind, including some of the ship’s crew.  The Ryûkyû Kingdom, seated at Shuri Castle on Okinawa Island, long had a proud tradition of aiding castaways, and ultimately welcomed the Coolies, even at great risk of further Western involvement in their island archipelago.

Ishigaki Vacation 2014, Toujin Grave, stunningly beautiful Chinesel tomb WM

Initially, the people of Miyako cared for these hundreds of castaways at great burden for such a small and lightly populated island.  Weeks later, the warships USS Saratoga, HMS Riley, and HMS Contest appeared on the horizon, bent on retribution.  After making port, American and British troops seized as many of the Coolies as they could find, though some escaped and fled elsewhere.  Being hunted as mutineers, 128 of the accidental Chinese immigrants were shot dead or committed suicide over capture and slavery.  When the three warships departed the Ryûkyûs, it was with only 70 captives of the original ~380 who escaped.

Chinese Coolies

Chinese Coolies

While the survivors eventually received protection from the royal Shuri government, many quickly caught the plague, for which they had no exposure or immunity, and died one after another, suffering and afraid far from their native homeland.

Ishigaki Vacation 2014, Toujin Grave, beautiful Chinese dragon's head WM

Ishigaki Vacation 2014, Toujin Grave, beautiful Chinese dragon and characters 2 WMThe local Yaeyamians, being an open, friendly, peaceful and very superstitious people, erected the Toujin Tomb (or Toujinbaka in Japanese) in 1971 in memory of and to help console any restless and cheated spirits of those Chinese who so distraughtly agonized and perished.    Toujin is an archaic Chinese term for continental Asian peoples; the tomb can also be referred to as the Tang People’s Memorial, echoing the southern Han ethnic makeup of the Chinese entombed there.

Ishigaki Vacation 2014, Toujin Grave, visitors to the beautiful tomb WM

Ishigaki Vacation 2014, Toujin Grave, Jody poses in front of the most beautiful monumentIt, by FAR, is the most beautiful burial place that I have ever visited.  The mausoleum, conceived with unmistakable Chinese influence, is intricately decorated with brightly-color and heavily-lacquered tiles depicting dragons, horse riders, and other Chinese appeals, amidst well-maintained gardens along with a few other gravestones and monuments.  The structure is amazingly well-maintained, and in the right light of day (we visited about 5 pm in July), it has the appearance of being brand-new.  The vault is immediately emotionally moving, even though there is no English provided to enhance a Westerner’s understanding.

Ishigaki Vacation 2014, Toujin Grave, Chinese wise men adorn the tomb WM

But that is only half the story of the Toujin Tomb site.  Although the kindness shown to the fleeing Chinese slaves is a testament to the benevolence of the Yaeyama people, the same can’t be said concerning three Americans who crash-landed just off the coast of Ishigaki in the spring of 1945, less than four months before hostilities ended with Japan.

Tuggle, Tego and Loyd in Better Times

Tuggle, Tego and Loyd in Better Times

15 April 1945 0730H:  On this day, USS Makassar Strait, a US Navy aircraft carrier, launched ten strike mission against Ishigaki airfields using bombs, napalm, and high-explosive rockets.  Heavy anti-aircraft ground fire resulting in the shoot-down of Avenger #31 (Bureau No. 68767).  The crew consisted of pilot Lieutenant Tebo, and his two enlisted crewmembers:  Loyd and Tuggle.

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All three suffered horrendously.  Two were quickly beheaded after being tortured, but for Radioman Loyd, his terrifying ordeal had only begun.  Flaunted through the city center of Ishigaki and castigated by an angry mob eager to place blame for the death and destruction raining down from above, in Loyd was taken out personal and dreadful vengeance.  He was publicly executed by multiple stabbings from the bayonets of numerous Japanese soldiers and sailors, many of whom would go on to face war crimes charges.

A VC-97 TBM Avenger

A VC-97 TBM Avenger

The summary execution of these American Prisoners of War (POW) led to the conviction of 41 Japanese soldiers and sailors on war crimes charges, seven of whom were eventually put to death.  It may strike some as an injustice and undue escalation of violence, but like General LeMay is often quoted, if the United States had lost the war, then most of the American military and civilian leadership would have been likewise tried as war criminals [quote paraphrased].  To the victor go the spoils, but in this case, it seems that everyone involved eventually suffered.

Memorial to the Aviators Lost in WWII

Memorial to the Aviators Lost in WWII

Decades after this dark affair, a local professor, Takeo Shinohara, recognized the collective need of the Ishigaki people to remember this black chapter in their history and attempt to make amends, much as was the case of the Coolies in the Toujin monument.  Thanks to these active pacifists, the fate of these three Americans is now openly acknowledged in an attempt to console the wounds of both East and West.  A fitting memorial honoring the memory of the Americans who were killed was christened in 2001 on the very same grounds as the Toujin TombTwo engraved plaques, in English and Japanese, describe the events that befell Ishigaki in the spring of 1945.  The English text reads:

On the morning of April 15, 1945, in the closing days of World War II, a Grumman TBF Avenger, assigned to the carrier USS Makassar Strait, was shot down off the costs of Ishigaki Island by the Imperial Japanese Navy.  The three aviators parachuted in to the water near Ohama and swam to a coral reef where they were captured by Japanese sailors.  After being interrogated and tortured they were executed during the night at the foot of Mount Banna, at the Imperial Navy Headquarters.  The torture of prisoners of war was a violation of the Geneva Convention, the rules of war signed by the international community in 1929.  Vernon L.Tebo and Robert Tuggle Jr. were beheaded.  Warren H.Loyd was beaten and stabbed with bayonets by numerous numbers of sailors and soldiers.  This incident was a tragedy which took place during war.

LT Vernon L.Tebo, 28, a Navy pilot of Illinois

Aviation Radioman 1st Class Warren H. Loyd, 24, of Kansas

Aviation Ordnance 1st Class Robert Tuggle. Jr., 20, of Texas

To console the spirits of the three fallen American service members and to honor their deaths, we jointly dedicate this monument in the hope that this memorial stone will contribute to the everlasting peace and friendship between Japan and the United States, and that this monument will serve as a cornerstone to convey to future generations our keen desire for eternal peace in the world and our determination to renounce war.

August 15 2001

The Joint Committee of Japanese and American Citizens to Honor the Three Fallen Servicemembers During World War II.

If more peoples of the world would similarly concede, perhaps not their direct culpability in the past, but in their collective inheritance of wounds good and bad, we all could, perchance, realize better futures.  I remain overwhelmingly affected by both these monuments, and have gained a new-found respect for those Japanese, Okinawans, and Yaeyama who truly wish to positively transform the world.  One monument at a time.

Loyd, Tebo & Tuggle

Loyd, Tebo & Tuggle

Address: Toujin Grave/Kannondo Temple 1627, Arakawa, Ishigaki City (Ishigaki-shi), Okinawa Prefecture 907-0024, Japan, Tel: 0980-82-1535.  The site is positioned right across the road from the Kannonzaki viewpoint (with its disappointingly small and closed-off lighthouse), and Fusaki beach lies just a kilometer further up the road.

For more information, see:

http://wiki.samurai-archives.com/index.php?title=Robert_Browne_Incident

http://www.shipleybay.com/archives/Memorials/Ishigaki/Stars_and_Stripes_2001-06-24.pdf