There was a time in the 10th century when Samurai warriors secretly commenced military exercises which involved the general releasing wild horses onto a plain where they were then pursued and captured by his cavalry. In the end, the captured horses were given as offerings to the Shinto deity. This traditional festival is still being practiced in Fukushima Prefecture today and has been regarded as an ‘important intangible folk cultural asset’ of Japan.
Soma Nomaoi is a three-day festival (July 22-25) organized by three shrines: Ota Shrine, Odaka Shrine, and Nakamura Shrine. A lot of preparations are made leading up to the event, where its main purpose is to give people an opportunity to witness the ancient battle of the samurais.
There are primarily two main attractions: the Koshiki Kacchu Keiba and the Shinki Sodatsusen. Koshiki Kacchu Keiba is when 12 samurais clad up in their armor and race over a distance of 1,000 meters. On the other hand, Shinki Sodatsusen is where several hundred samurais on horses compete for the 40 shrine flags that are shot into the air with fireworks – this is considered as the battle itself.
The night before the wild horse’ chase, bonfires are lit and a ceremony is held for the departure. The following day, a prayer is said by the head of the Soma family for continued success in battle. Then after that, drums will beat to signal his setting out into the battleground where he is then followed by other samurais. This gives spectators the feeling of being transported into the Warring States Period, an era in ancient Chinese history. The equestrian race is on the 24th and the Nomagake ritual is on the 25th, where you will see young people in white clothing capturing the horses barehanded.
Soma Nomaoi is the perfect festival to experience the battle of the samurais first hand, as well as provide an opportunity to pray for the Shinto deities. It will also provide insight into the enthusiasm and the emotions felt by each samurai as they try their best in paying homage to their culture and ancient history.
Annual event on July 22-25