Every July, Noma Somaoi Festival (“Soma’s Wild Horse Chase”) is held in Minami Soma.
Participants enter horse races and other events on horseback event, fully-dressed in samurai-style armour and gripping weapons.
What makes this historical re-enactment festival even more exceptional is that there are thousands of participants and attendees, and the tradition has been carried out by many families of attendees for up to a thousand years. Usually the armor used during Soma Nomaoi has been passed down from generation to generation.
The highlights of the festival are the Koshiki Kacchu Keiba (“Armed Horse Race”), a 1km race between twelve horsemen, and the Shinki Soudatsusen (“Sacred Flag Competition”), where hundreds of riders compete to catch forty shrine flags which are shot into the air. Think Quidditch, on horseback. With armor.
The festival’s history dates back to the 10th century, when this tradition was begun in order to allow samurai cavalry members to conspicuously complete military training.
When the tradition was begun, the military exercises involved releasing wild horses on a plain for the cavalry to try and capture. I’m not sure the horses captured in 900AC had such a happy ending…
I was given lots of information about the event and the local area at Minami-Soma Tourism Association, and was even able to dress up in kacchu (甲冑) armour!
My favourite part of the outfit were these very fashionable two-toe cotton socks/shoes. These are designed purposely so that your toes hang over the wicker outer layer. Why would you want your toes hanging out, you ask? It’s so that when you run (!) you can dig your toes into the ground for a speed boost.
Not only must Japanese men hundreds of years ago have been extremely fit, but their toes must have been extremely flexible if they were used to propel themselves across the ground!
The armour was heavy. I didn’t notice it until the final top layer of armor was on and the helmet was placed over my head. This armour is samurai-style and therefore was expected to be used in battle.
I can’t imagine moving quick enough in a kacchu to participate in a horse race!
I enjoyed this dress-up experience. After changing out of the kacchu, I chatted to the ladies who dressed me chatted to me. They told me about their favourite local food (red bean paste) and even went to buy me a ice cream before sending me on my way.
If being scared of horses wasn’t enough, the weight of the armor convinced me that I’m not cut out to participate in samurai-era reenactment festivals… but I would like to attend next summer and admire it from a distance!
Soma-Nomaoi takes place on the last Saturday, Sunday and Monday of July, in Soma City and Minami-Soma City. Please read more information about the festival here.