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.

https://samuraidave.wordpress.com/2007/07/24/a-day-at-the-races-samurai-style/

 

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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

SOMA NOMAOI – SAMURAI RACING
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

Bunka-no-Hi: Japanese Culture Day

Japan’s Culture Day Keeps Traditions Alive


Martial arts demonstrators sparring in sight of the Shinjuku Building on Culture Day.

In this fast-paced modern world of whizzing beeping flashing technology where people rush hurriedly about to keep up with these fast-changing times, it’s all too easy to forget the traditions and customs of earlier slower times. Japan’s efforts to keep a tenuous cultural link to its past is the national holiday known simply as Culture Day (Bunka-no-hi).

Culture Day (Nov. 3) was originally a holiday to celebrate the birth date of Emperor Meiji (1852-1912). After his death, his birthday was designated as Culture Day, a day in which cultural arts are honored.


A mother and 3-year old daughter dressed in Kimono visit Meiji Shrine

Honoring Imperial birthdays is a relatively new tradition. For long centuries, the Emperor was a shadowy figure controlled by the military dictators known as Shogun and before them the regents and ministers of the Imperial court.

Emperor Meiji was the first emperor in a long, long time to emerge from the shadows to reclaim the power and dignity of the Imperial family. The Shogun government was abolished in 1868, and Japan began its advancement into the modern world.


Yabusame archer prepares himself for the next target

Culture Day also marks the day when the post-war constitution was officially announced — Nov. 3, 1946.


Kendo competition

Every year the Emperor awards individuals for their endeavors and accomplishments in the cultural arts or academic pursuits. The Order of Culture is one of the highest honors to be given from the Emperor. These awards are not limited to Japanese citizens, however. The American astronauts who first landed on the moon in 1969 received the Order of Culture.


Old and new come together

All over Japan many cities and villages put together various art and cultural presentations such as historical re-enactments, parades, festivals, martial arts demonstration, etc. Quite a number of adults and children will wear kimonos and visit shrines and temples. Traditional Japanese weddings are popularly held on this day too.


A female Yabusame archer

Meiji Shrine which enshrines the spirit of Emperor Meiji, holds a number of events on Culture Day. Various martial arts are demonstrated using wooden and steel weapons. The mounted archery ritual known as Yabusame is performed as well. Yabusame involves an archer riding a fast horse along a narrow track while shooting arrows at two or three targets. In the past Yabusame was only performed by Samurai, but now women participate in the ritual as well. This shows that Culture Day is not some inflexible stuffy holiday designed to resist change but rather that it is adaptable to the changing times.


Youth practicing their skills and disclipline

On the grounds where the old Shogun Castle once stood, a kendo competition was held this Culture Day at the Budokan Hall. This is where the Beatles played when they toured Japan back in their heyday. Kendo is a traditional martial arts based on the samurai fencing schools of the past in which the participants garbed in armor from head to waist fight with swords of bamboo.


It’s a nice day for a white wedding at Meiji Shrine.

Whatever its origins, a Culture Day holiday is a wonderful idea. The modern world needs such days to reflect on the cultures of the past by both learning from the mistakes of the past so as not to repeat them and keeping traditional arts alive to be passed down to future generations.

Kendo
“The Way of the Sword”

Kendo is one of the oldest traditional martial arts still practiced by many in Japan. It derives from the old schools of sword fencing that samurai attended to improve themselves both physically, mentally, and spiritually.

Today many top Kendoka (practitioners of Kendo) are police officers. It’s a rather expensive pastime to get into, as the equipment all told can run upwards in the thousands of dollars.

Kendoka use split bamboo swords and wear armor that covers most of their body. The most recognizable feature of their armor is the cage-like face mask. In competition earning points is quite difficult, as a Kendoka must demonstrate a perfect attack with sword, body, and spirit.

November 18, 2006 Posted by | Archery, Blogroll, culture day, festival, horses, japan, karate, Kendo, life, martial arts, matsuri, Meiji, samurai, Sport, tokyo, travel, Yabusame | 12 Comments

YABUSAME: Japanese horseback archery

BEFORE THE SWORD CAME THE BOW

Early samurai history, when a bow and arrow was a weapon of honor, discipline


A yabusame archer wearing formal hunting clothes from the 13th century

It has often been said: The sword is the soul of the samurai. Much has been written in Japan and around the world about the Japanese samurai sword and its nigh-mystical aspects.

The sword was an indispensable weapon of the samurai warrior, even when guns began to steadily come into use during the 16th century. A sword was a mark of samurais status and honor. They were heirlooms to be passed down generation after generation. Swords of exceptional make were often given as gifts of great honor.


Yabusame depicted on a folding screen

And yet in the early history of the samurai, it was the bow, not the sword, that was praised. Early samurai warriors referred to their profession as the Way of the Horse and Bow.

Stories about a heros prowess with the bow abound in the folklore and military legends of this time period. Enemies both mortal and monstrous were often dispatched with a well-aimed bow rather than with a sword.

History of the Bow and Mounted Archery

Japanese bows date back to prehistoric times. The long, unique asymmetrical bow style with the grip below the center emerged under the Yayoi culture (300 B.C. – 300 AD) Bows became the symbol of authority and power. The legendary first emperor of Japan, Jimmu, is always depicted carrying a bow.

The use of the bow had been on foot until around the 4th century when elite soldiers took to fighting on horseback with bows and swords. In the 10th century, samurai would have archery duels on horseback. They would ride at each other and try to fire at least three arrows. These duels did not necessarily have to end in death, as long as honor was satisfied.


Procession carrying yabusame targets

One of the most famous and celebrated incidents of Japanese mounted archery occurred during the Gempei War (1180-1185), an epic struggle for power between the Heike and Genji clans that was to have a major impact on Japanese culture, society, and politics.

At the Battle of Yashima, the Heike, having been defeated in battle, fled to Yashima and took to their boats. They were fiercely pursued by the Genji on horseback, but the Genji were halted by the sea.


An archer readies his arrow as he speeds by the target.

As the Heike waited for the winds to be right, they presented a fan hung from a mast as a target for any Genji archer to shoot at in a gesture of chivalrous rivarly between enemies.

One of the Genji samurai, Nasu Yoichi, accepted the challenge. He rode his horse into the sea and shot the fan cleanly through. Nasu won much fame and his feat is still celebrated to this day.

During the Kamakura Period (1192-1334), mounted archery was used as a military training exercise to keep samurai prepared for war. Those archers who did poorly might find themselves commanded to commit seppuku, or ritualistic suicide.

One cruel style of mounted archery was inuoumono shooting at dogs. Buddhists priests were able to prevail upon the samurai to have the arrows padded so that the dogs were only annoyed and bruised rather than killed. This sport is no longer practiced, to the relief of dog-lovers and dogs everywhere, no doubt.

Yabusame Ritual Mounted Archery

As part of a Shinto rite, Japans indigenous spiritual belief, mounted archers wearing traditional hunting clothing of the Kamakura Period charge down a single narrow track to shoot at three wooden targets arranged at certain intervals. This rite is called yabusame. It is believed that the sound of an arrow striking the wooden target transfers the courage of the archer to the audience.


A perfect hit!

Yabusame was designed as a way to please and entertain the myriad of gods that watch over Japan, thus encouraging their blessings for the prosperity of the land, the people, and the harvest.

A yabusame archer gallops down a 208-meter-long track at high speed. The archer mainly controls his horse with his knees, as he needs both hands to draw and shoot his bow.

As he approaches a target, he brings his bow up and draws the arrow past his ear before letting the arrow fly with a deep shout. The arrow is blunt and round-shaped in order to make a louder sound when it strikes the board.


An archer speeds past after a successful hit.

Experienced archers are allowed to used arrows with a V-shaped prong. If the board is struck, it will splinter with a confetti-like material and fall to the ground. To hit all three targets is considered an admirable accomplishment.

Yabusame is characterized as a ritual rather than a sport because of its solemn style and religious aspects, and is often performed for special ceremonies or official events, such as entertaining foreign dignitaries and heads of state. Yabusame demonstrations have been given for the formal visits of US Presidents Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush. A yabusame demonstration was given in the United Kingdom for Prince Charles, who reportedly was fascinated and pleased with the performance.

To be selected as a yabusame archer is a great honor. In the past, they were chosen from only the best warriors. The archer who performs the best is awarded a white cloth, signifying divine favor.

Famous Schools of Archery and the Impact of Zen

There are two famous schools of mounted archery that perform yabusame. One is the Ogasawara school. The founder, Ogasawara Nagakiyo, was instructed by the shogun Minamoto Yoritomo (1147-1199) to start a school for archery. Yoritomo wanted his warriors to be highly skilled and disciplined. Archery was seen as a good way for instilling the necessary principles for a samurai warrior.

Zen became a major element in both foot and mounted archery as it also became popular among the samurai in every aspect of their life during the Kamakura Period.

Yabusame as a martial art helped a samurai learn concentration, discipline, and refinement. Zen taught breathing techniques to stabilize the mind and body, giving clarity and focus. To be able to calmly draw ones bow, aim, and fire in the heat of battle, and then repeat, was the mark of a true samurai who had mastered his training and his fear.

The other archery school was begun earlier by Minamoto Yoshiari in the 9th century at the command of Emperor Uda. This school became known as the Takeda school of archery. The Takeda style has been featured in classic samurai films such as Akira Kurosawas Seven Samurai (1954) and Kagemusha (1980). The famed actor of many samurai films, Toshiro Mifune, was a noted student of the Takeda school.

The Decline and Revival of the Bow

With the arrival of the Portuguese and their guns in the mid-16th century, the bow began to lose its importance on the battlefield. At the Battle of Nagashino in 1575 well-placed groups of musket-men firing in volleys practically annihilated the cavalry charges of the Takeda clan.


An archer is awarded a white banner signifying divine favor of his skills.

Mounted archery was revived in the Edo Period (1600-1867) by Ogasawara Heibei Tsuneharu (1666-1747) under the command of the shogun Tokugawa Yoshimune (1684-1751). Given that the nation was at peace, archery as well as other military martial arts became more of a method of personal development rather than military training.

Today, Yabusame is held at various times of the year generally near shrines. It never ceases to amaze and thrill spectators. The excitement builds as a horse and an archer bear down the track toward a target. When a successful hit is made, the resulting sound is echoed by the cheers of the exuberant crowd.

A Second before Impact

August 7, 2006 Posted by | Archery, horses, japan, samurai, Shinto, Sport, Uncategorized, Yabusame | 19 Comments