If you love watching Japanese samurai films, you would probably like to see the ancient battle scenes of the samurai warriors including a heroic horse race and more during the Soma-Nomaoi festival, held in Minasoma city, Fukushima prefecture, in the Tohoku region.

This is one of the famous traditional festivals in Japan that dates back in the Sengoku Period with a history of more than 1000 years. The tradition of the festival had begun as a part of military exercise conducted by the founder of Soma Clan, Taira no Kojiro Masakado. It is said that in place of enemies he used to release wild horses on a plain and then made his cavalry pursue and capture them.

Kacchu Keiba, the race has begun – Soma-Nomaoi Festival in Fukushima. Photo Credit: Hajime NAKANO at Flickr.

After the exercise, the captured horses were dedicated as offerings to the Shinto god known as Myoken Bodhisattva. Every year, the festival is held for three days at the end of July. During the festival, it features various interesting events but among them Kacchu Keiba, and Shinki Sodatsusen are said to be the best highlights.

Thousands of visitors and approximately 500 samurai warriors on horseback with long katana swords and ancestral flags streaming from their backs gather in the city and fill the air with excitement. Please note, the festival has been designated an Important Intangible Folk Cultural Property of Japan.

Insight into Soma-Nomaoi Festival

Tohoku is home to many exciting summer festivals. According to many, this is one of the finest summer events in Northern Japan where people can experience an ancient ritual of a thousand year. Indeed this three day festival has so much to offer you. The festival is held across all the former Soma Domain territories which include 2 cities, 4 towns, and a village. Now take a look at the schedule of the festival given below:

1) The First Day – July 27th

Shutsujin (Soma city/Minamisoma city)
Soutaishou-omukae (Kashima-ku, Minamisoma city)
Yoinori (Haramachi-ku, Minamisoma city)

Conch shell blowers. Photo Credit: Hajime NAKANO at Flickr.

On the first day, the festival begins with the departure ceremony called Shutsujin that takes place at three important shrines: Ohta Jinja Shrine, Nakamura Jinja Shrine, and Odaka Jinja Shrine.

Prior to the departure ceremony there are some preparations to be made such as a toast and prayer are offered at each of the three shrines. After that, the Supreme Commander issues a departure order as a result a shell horn is blown and the command flag is waved to signal the departure.

Yoinori! Photo Credit: Hajime NAKANO at Flickr.

Reception of the Supreme Commander is called Soutaishou-omukae. This incident takes place at Kitago Headquarters where deputy supreme commander, high-ranking samurais, cavalry chiefs, samurai chiefs, conch-shell blowers, and other honorable persons wait for the Supreme Commander to arrive.

After the end of the reception ritual the supreme commander gives an order to all the samurai warriors to embark on a journey to Hibarigahara Field for the next event of the day.

Yoinori (pre-event horse race) is nothing but an important event before the main horse race (Kacchu-keiba – is scheduled to be held on the next day) happens. You can witness total 12 horse races that are worth seeing!

2) The Second Day – July 28th

Ogyouretsu (Haramachi-ku, Minamisoma city)
Kacchu-keiba (Haramachi-ku, Minamisoma city)
Shinki-soudatsusen (Haramachi-ku, Minamisoma city)

Ogyouretsu – the armed samurai procession. Photo Credit: Hajime NAKANO at Flickr.

The second day of the festival is said to be the main highlight of the entire festival. So don’t miss a moment! In the morning at 9:30AM, the day begins with the ceremony called Ogyouretsu.

It is the armed samurai procession in which all the samurai horsemen who have gathered from different regions with portable shrines march to Hibarigahara Field. The parade is absolutely an eye-catching event where spectators are supposed to witness valuable cultural assets.

Kacchu Keiba! Photo Credit: Hajime NAKANO at Flickr.

The greatest horse race, Kacchu Keiba is held at noon, in which typically ten horse races are held. Each of the races competed by 10 horsemen on a 1000-meter loop track. Before the race, the horsemen clad in samurai armor, they take off their helmets; tighten their headbands with ancestral flagstaffs streaming behind them. This unique horse race tradition cannot be found elsewhere in the world but only in Minamisoma city. Have fun viewing the valiant horse races!

After the end of Kacchu Keiba race event, Shinki-soudatsusen is held in the same place. This is a battle, in which hundreds of mounted samurais compete for two sacred flags that are shot into the air with canons. Their ultimate glory is to fight against each other to catch the flags and winning the battle at once!

3) The Third Day – July 29th

Nomakake (Odaka-ku, Minamisoma city)

Shinki-soudatsusen. Photo Credit: Hajime NAKANO at Flickr.

Only one event is scheduled for the third day of the festival. Nomakade is the event of capturing the horses barehanded. In this event, several tens of mounted horsemen pursue unsaddled horses into a corral made of bamboo. Then the young men wearing white clothing with white headbands capture the horses barehanded and present them as offerings to Odaka Shrine.

Important things to know

A samurai warrior during the festival! Photo Credit: Hajime NAKANO at Flickr.

Place: Minamisoma city, Fukushima Prefecture, Tohoku region, Japan
Festival date: 27 July – 29 July, 2019 (Last Saturday, Sunday, and Monday of July)
Admission fee: 1,000 Japanese Yen
Tel: 0244-22-3064, 0244-24-5263
Fax: 0244-22-3100
Access: 15 minutes shuttle bus ride from Haranomachi Station.
Official website: http://soma-nomaoi.jp/

Experiencing a festival like this helps you learning the history of the Soma clan and their old tradition and customs. Except participating in the festival, you should pay a visit to Minamisoma City Museum. Something surprising is awaiting for you there. Summer is a really good time to visit Japan; in fact, this hilarious festival probes it for why. Anyone looking for something very special this summer may consider exploring this fascinating matsuri!