Samurai battlefield spectacle -tradition over 1000 years -

Traditional horse festival in Soma city, Fukushima pref.

Soma-nomaoi (literally means wild horse chase in Soma) is a traditional Shinto ritual and local festival in Soma City, held every July for three days, its history over 1000 years

Originally developed as a military training and now it's widely known as the biggest samurai on horse festival in Japan. It's also designated as the national intangible cultural asset and always a hand made festival by the local people. Every year, people across Japan, even from all over the world, visit this small town to see this once-in-a-year spectacle.

The highlight of the event are the horse racing and sacred banner catch on the second day of three-day festival.

Samurai jockeys who are dressed in samurai armor race the field....wild and strong.
Followed by the race is the sacred banner catch by samurais on horses.
Green grass field is filled with colorful flags and horses...and the crowd of horses moves left and right, as the banner swims in the air... blown by the wind. It looks like a real samurai battle as you see on TV!!
Then the winner (who catches the banner) gallop up the hill and report his victory to the shrine deity then receive the prize and honor.


Ritual part on the first and third day.

The festival continues for three days and held at three shrines in different districts.(Nakamura shrine, Ota shrine and Odaka shrine)

Each group at the shrine holds a kick-off ceremony there and heads off to Hibarigahara field where the highlight of the festival is held. Conch shell horn sound bundles all the samurais' spirit and is also the signal to start marching.

Portable shrines and samurais on the horses and warriors on foot, parade around the town and finally reach the field. This is held on the first and the second day. Along the way we can see over four hundred horses

Here is the agenda for each day:

Day1 : kick-off ceremony at three shrines then march to Hibarigahara field.
(less popular, so less people, easier to watch the marching)

Day2 : parade through the town to the field again.
Followed by samurai armor horse race and sacred banner catch.
horse race is 1000m long, by 10 horses x 10 times.
sacred banner catch : two at a time, x 20 times launch.

Day3 : wild horse chase and devotion to Odaka shrine.
(this is actually the main part of this festival)

They come to Tokyo every year !!

I've always wanted to see it and finally made up my mind to go see it this year.
There I was fortunate to have met a local journalist who showed me all the festival places. He told me the history of this event and shared with me the great east Japan earthquake aftermath in Fukushima. Some places in the town had heart-breaking scenery, no one was walking outside in the middle of the day, fallen bricks were left undone, abandoned totally and transformed into a ghost town. Some people even lost their horses due to the nuclear plant breakdown aftermath.....although the radiation level there is already low enough for us to visit or the people to live but people are still scared to do so. And already become extremely difficult to keep living there from the economical point of view....lots of business are gone out of the town already.
Under that difficult circumstances, the local people didn't cancel this event even in the earthquake year 2011.....in order to cheer themselves up and to move on.

Haranomachi is the nearest train station to the festival venue but it's not back in operation yet and the scheduled bus is less than one per hour. So it's not easy to access there only by public transportation.
Since it's a small town, there are only few hotels. That makes it very difficult to see the festival over a couple of days. This was also one of the reason why I couldn't go see it sooner.

But here's a good news.....they come to Tokyo every year!!

Every autumn, Tokyo City Keiba (TCK) in Shinagawa hosts Soma samurai horse racing, inviting horses and jockeys from Soma city. So you don't have to struggle going to Soma or to find a hotel there.
This year, 2015, it'll be held on November 23rd.
Mark your calendar now and don't miss it!

For more information please visit TCK website;

Zara image



Zara's other advice

1920's Japanese life style house images

1920's Japanese life style house

I visited a museum near where I live....retaining the old lifestyle from 1920s. http://www.showanokurashi.com/Even for me who was born and grew up in Japan, it was quite interesting....when I…

Maid Cafe experience images

Maid Cafe experience

Take a sneak peek at Maid Cafe --- yes, I've been curious but not motivated enough much so far.But as a professional Tokyo tour guide, I needed to have the experience before I take guests there. …

Three things to complete your Kawagoe day trip images

Three things to complete your Kawagoe day trip

Visiting the religious place is sometimes hard.... especially that religion is not of yours and not easy to understand. And also for children.I visited too many temples and shrines in my life. So …

The world famous tuna auction that they're talking about images

The world famous tuna auction that they're talking about

Every morning (except for Sundays/Holidays and some Wednesdays) the tuna auction is held throughout the year at Tsukiji, the largest fish market in the world. Tuna is a big red meat fish, the bigg…

Deep crawl at night in Shinjuku - Golden Gai(District) images

Deep crawl at night in Shinjuku - Golden Gai(District)

Which is the best place to visit in Tokyo at night?To experience the local and enjoy the talk with the locals?Well, one has his/her own interest so does other. And Tokyo has so many options …

Tallest Budha in Japan, horses, beer and more images

Tallest Budha in Japan, horses, beer and more

Did you know that Budha statue in Kamakura or Nara can't compete with the one in Ushiku for its height?Not famous at all or even no chance of world heritage because of its young history compared to…

You might also like

Geisha Makeover in Asakusa, Tokyo images

Geisha Makeover in Asakusa, Tokyo

You might know about Geisha, who is a female entertainer, trained in the traditional arts, singing and dancing, and serves as a party companion and hostess. Maiko is an apprentice of Geisha. In Asak…

skymaho image


Best Tourist Souvenir-- Samurai Umbrella! images

Best Tourist Souvenir-- Samurai Umbrella!

Purchasing a real samurai sword in Japan is very difficult, especially after they enforced the laws against the possession of knives a couple years ago. I also assume that taking a samurai sword out …

GenS image


Hand-made Camping Knife and where to buy and sharpen knives. images

Hand-made Camping Knife and where to buy and sharpen knives.

Snow Peak is a famous camping equipment manufacturer from the Tsubame Sanjo area of Niigata Prefecture. It was started by the father of the current president as a manufacturer of carpentry and work …

mikekato image


My seven-tiered Hina doll set images

My seven-tiered Hina doll set

The photo shows my seven-tiered Hina doll set. My grandpa bought the set for me when I was a baby. Platforms covered with a red carpet are used to display a set of ornamental dolls (雛人形 hina-ningy…

EmiOnishi image


How to Celebrate Japanese New Year with Sake and Great Japanese Food images

How to Celebrate Japanese New Year with Sake and Great Japanese Food

You might not know how much pomp and circumstance takes place in a Japanese home on New Year’s morning. Mom is bustling around the kitchen putting final touches to her O-sechi Ryori or special (v…


Dances with Demons images

Dances with Demons

One doesn't have to look far to see how pervasive dance is in Japan. Nearly every pop group has an intricate dance routine to accompany their performances. There are studios which teach everything fr…

GoodPeople image