Samurai Dave: The Roving Ronin Report

Rambling Narrative of Travels, Thoughts, and Embellishments

Samurai Festival – Soma Nomaoi 2008 Vlog Account

Soma Nomaoi is a samurai festival in the northern Japan area of Fukushima. It’s a 3-day festival with parades, horse races, mock battles, and wild horse catching.

This is a vlog account of the festival. I plan to get around and making a more indepth one sometime in the future.

The cicadaes are freaking loud in the background so they might drown me out at times.


August 13, 2008 Posted by | Blogroll, culture, entertainment, event, festival, fukushima, horse racing, horses, japan, japanese culture, japanese history, life, samurai, soma nomaoi, tohoku, travel, video, vlog, youtube | Leave a comment

Video Clips of Soma Nomaoi Festival

Here is a collection of old video clips from my digital photo camera of Soma Nomaoi 2005. Soma Nomaoi takes in late July in Fukushima.

Soma Nomaoi

The festival’s main day is the 24th where they put on a parade with people in full samurai armor on horseback. Then they do horseraces with the riders in armor sans helmet. The last event is a mock battle where riders compete to catch banners floating down from the sky.

The vids are low res but it gives you an idea of what to expect on the second day of the festival.

Here’s the morning parade:

A Fan Dance before the races

An official singing before the races

Riders warming up

It’s Kurosawa meets the Kentucky Derby

A brief look at the mock battle

July 16, 2008 Posted by | culture, entertainment, festival, fukushima, horse racing, horses, japan, japanese culture, life, soma nomaoi, tohoku, travel, video, youtube | , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Day at the Races – Samurai Style

The Soma Nomaoi festival of northern Japan features three days of parades, horses and heroics

Samurai and horses in traditional attire parade through the town

Pint-sized Pikemen

In the northeast region of Japan, in the prefecture of Fukushima, the Soma Nomaoi, an age-old tradition handed down from samurai times, is celebrated to this day with a fanfare of medieval parades, horse racing, and horse chasing.

Nomaoi means “wild horse chasing” and dates back over a thousand years. Warriors in full battle dress would chase wild horses in the areas of Shinto shrines dedicating the best horse to the gods.

The Soma Nomaoi was started by the Soma clan, a small but valiant clan surrounded by powerful enemies. They used the Nomaoi festival as a military exercise in order to keep their fighting skills sharp.

Perhaps another reason they survived the Sengoku (Warring States) Period was their horses. Soma had a reputation for excellent horses in the Tohoku area (northern Japan). Good horses were always in demand by warring clans and it would not have been wise to wipe out the best horse trainers in the area. In 1622, when the country was at peace, Soma’s wild horses began to be painted onto teacups and pottery.

A Female Samurai

The Soma Nomaoi festivals spans three days: July 23-25. The first two days are held in the small town of Haramachi, two hours by train from Fukushima City. The first day is more like a preview of the second with a short parade and a few horse races.

A Rider Blowing upon a Seashell Horn

Day two is the main day of the festival. It begins at 9 a.m. with a long parade of riders in full samurai armor and carrying colorful pennants on their backs. Even the horses are dressed up in traditional harnesses. The participants of the parade are so numerous that a parade can last almost two hours.

A wee samurai

From time to time the riders stop and boast of the feats they will strive to accomplish that day. Periodically, riders with large trumpet sea shells blow on the horns in unison, playing a tune that samurai of bygone days no doubt once heard as they marched into battle.

Traditional Fan Dance held before the races

Following the parade, a series of horse races take place. The race is like a Kurosawa movie meets the Kentucky Derby. Half a dozen riders wearing armored suits sans helmets with large pennants on their backs race around a track field. Not all the riders make it around as spirited horses sometimes throw their heavy riders. I watched a few riderless horses continue racing until they had to be stopped. These horses’ dedication to their duty was admired by the judges and the crowd alike. Of course some cynics would say the damn things were just too stupid to know when to quit but the line between dedication and stupidity can be at times a blurry one.

Soma Nomaoi riders race to the finish line

After the races, the riders gather together sporting a colorful array of armor and pennants on the field to await the next event. Trumpet shells are blown, then fireworks explode overhead.

With each firework explosion two banners come down. A mock battle then ensues as armored riders vie with each other for the honor of capturing one. Forty banner winners in all ride up a spiral slope to offer up their banner as an offering to a local shrine.

Riders struggle to capture a falling blue banner

Entry to the races and the mock battle costs visitors 1,000 yen.

The third day of the festival is held in Odaka-machi, south of Haramachi. On the grounds of Odaka Shrine, 22 men in white clothing catch wild horses using only their hands.

The Soma Nomaoi festival is an interesting festival for both horse racing fans and enthusiasts of Japanese history and culture. It is held every year on the weekend nearest to July 23-25, with the main events occurring on the second day. Haramachi can be reached by train and bus from Fukushima City and Sendai.

Riders capture Glory

July 24, 2007 Posted by | Blogroll, festival, fukushima, horse racing, horses, japan, life, matsuri, samurai, soma nomaoi, tohoku, tradition, travel | 8 Comments