Japan: Fukushima Prefecture (Minami-soma City, Soma-Nomaoi)

In late July, Soma City plays host to a festival which dates back to more than 1,000 years ago.  This four day festival is called Soma Nomaoi and it is jointly organized by three shrines: the Ota Shrine, the Odaka Shrine and the Nakamura Shrine. Soma Nomaoi’s origins go back to the early 10th century when samurai warriors of this land secretly embarked on military exercises.

During the first day of the festival, bonfires are lit and a ceremony to spur on the samurai before they depart for the battlefront is held. On the morning of the second day, mounted horsemen wearing armor and carrying ancestral flagstaffs showing the crest of each family, follow their commander-in-chief to the battleground driven by the sound of a conch shell and beating drums. The highlights of the third day include the Koshiki Kacchu Keiba (an equestrian race) where riders race over a distance of 3,000 feet, and the Shinki Sodatsusen, an event where several hundred horsemen compete for 40 shrine flags shot into the air by fireworks. On the final day of the festival, the Nomagake ritual takes place during which time men dressed in white capture horses barehanded and present them as offerings to the Odaka Shrine. The Soma Nomaoi has been designated an Important Intangible Folk Cultural Asset.

Following the devastating earthquake and tsumani of March 11, 2011, which damaged the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, an evacuation order was issued. As a result, the Soma Nomaoi was cancelled. But a year later, the festival was brought back in an effort to help lift spirits in the disaster stricken community and to inspire the younger generation. The festival was important in delivering the message that despite the damage, people were still holding on, living their lives and keeping the bushido spirit (fighting spirit).

Conch shell being sounded

Conch shell being sounded

Carrying the flags with family crests into the battlefield

Carrying the flags with family crests into the battlefield




Koshiki Kacchu Keiba (an equestrian race)

Koshiki Kacchu Keiba (an equestrian race)




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