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;