Would you like to get a feel for the Samurai era and witness one of the most revered and breathtaking horse racing festivals? Soma Nomaoi Matsuri is a 3-day event held annually in the month of July from the 23rd to 25th. It is a 1000-year-old festival which undoubtedly captures everyone’s eye. The festival is even considered as an important intangible cultural asset by the Japanese government.
The area of Soma in Fukushima prefecture of Tohoku region is famous for its horse-rearing. Soma Nomaoi is a military exercise started somewhere around 10th century AD by the founder of the Soma clan, Taira no Kojiro Masakado. Masakado used to release wild horses onto the plains of Koganehara and let his soldiers capture them. This practice has continued for around a thousand years until the Meiji Restoration. During the Soma Nomaoi Matsuri, one can witness a series of horse races with hundreds of people participating.
During the festival, participants dress up in armor and traditional clothes enacting the age-old military exercise. The festival starts with a departure ceremony at the Soma Nakamura Jinja Shrine, Ohta Shrine, and the Odaka Shrine. The commander releases a departure order and a conch shell is blown marking the departure. This ceremony is called ‘Shutsujin’. The supreme commander is welcomed with ancient customs and prayers by deputy commanders, chiefs, and samurais. Later, several horsemen adorned in field-attire with white headbands called ‘hachimaki’ storm the race court in the event named ‘Yoinori’ on Day 1.
On day 2, nearly 500 armored horsemen do a magnificent march called ‘Ogyouretsu’. The atmosphere during the procession looks majestic taking us into the glorious past. Following the procession, a mind blowing horse racing event called ‘Kacchu Keiba’ takes place. This event is the highlight of the festival with horsemen showing their riding skills bearing ancestral flags on their backs.
Day 3 marks the final segment of the festival called ‘Nomakake’. Here, the mounted horsemen steer the unsaddled horses into a corral inside the Odaka shrine. They finally select one horse and capture it with their bare hands.
Soma Nomaoi festival is also celebrated frequently by the Japanese communities living in the US (Hawaii & California), Russia, Brazil and the UK. This festival has also been featured in many movies and TV shows around the world. Therefore, do pay a visit to this awesome festival and catch a glimpse of the ancient charm of Japan.
Website (Japanese only)