Soma Nomaoi 2018: Festival Guide

What began over 1,000 years ago as a military training exercise started by the founder of Fukushima Prefecture’s Soma Clan has transformed over the centuries into a fantastic annual festival, where men and women clad in traditional samurai armor compete in various races in order to receive blessings at local shrines.

Not only is the Soma Nomaoi Festival an amazing place to experience samurai culture in Japan, but it also gives local families a chance to celebrate the history of their hometowns and the samurai roots of their families.

Soma nomaoi horse race fukushima (1)

Here is a guide to making the most of this incredible, unique and traditional 3-day festival.

Read about my experience of going to see this festival for the first time last summer here.

Guide to the Weekend of Events

Day 1: Official Ceremonies

Saturday-schedule

8:30-12:40 Departure Ceremonies

Local festival participants depart from 3 shrines across the area (Soma Nakamura Shrine, Soma Odaka Shrine and Soma Ota Shrine). These 3 shrines are thought to enshrine the guardian Buddhist deity of the Soma Clan (Yes, the line between Shintoism and Buddhism can become very blurry in Japan). Local people pray and give offerings at the shrine.

 

12:40-14:00 Reception of the Supreme Commander

In Kashima area, the Supreme Commander is given a reception, attended by the descendants of samurai chiefs, deputy strategists, cavalry chiefs and other high-ranking samurai. After the Supreme Commander gives the order, all the festival participants – complete in samurai gear – make their way to the Hibarigahara Field to see the first horse race of the festival.

 

Day 2: Processions, Sacred Flags & Samurai Races

sunday-schedule

 

 

9:30-12:00 Samurai Procession

At 9:30, festival participants gather from across Minamisoma and Soma to begin the 3km procession from Ogawa Town to Hibarigahara Field. All races – as well as the Sacred Flag Competition – are held at the Hibarigahara Field.

This procession is a great opportunity to take photos of the amazing samurai armor (known as kacchu) worn by local participants, many of whom are clad in armor passed down through the generations.

 

 

 

12:00-13:00 Armed Horse Race:

 

 

At midday, participants make their way to the starting line of the 1000m race course. Over the course of one hour, 10 races are held; each race attended by 10 riders.  During the race, the riders proudly display their ancestral banners and brave the race course without their heavy samurai helmets!

 

13:00-14:00 Sacred Flag Competition

Sacred flags are shot high into the air using cannons. The winner of the competition is the first rider to catch the flags as they races down to the ground. It’s amazing to watch the riders dashing across Hibarigahara Field and maneuvering their horses to try and catch the flags. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – this is basically like Quidditch on horseback.

 

 

Day 3: A Wild Horse Chase

monday-schedule

9:00-11:30 Nomakake

 

 

During the Monday morning of the festival weekend, the event known as ‘Nomakake’ is held.

Nomakake is the only ritual that has survived in its original form from over 1,000 years ago.

During this ritual, 10 men on horseback guide unsaddled ‘wild’ horses into the shrine compound. Once inside, these horses are chased and cornered by men on foot. Once under control, the horses are guided with rope to the main part of the shrine and are presented to the gods, receiving a blessing in return. Thus ends this amazing 3 day festival!

 

You can download a full-size schedule which includes the maps above from this link, or by clicking the image below.

Soma-Nomaoi-2018-gGuide

Soma Nomaoi & Soma Recovery Tour

This year there’s a chance to see some highlights of this year’s festival as part of  a 1-day guided group tour of Fukushima’s coast (to be held on Sunday July 29 2018).

After meeting at Fukushima Station, you’ll take a bus to Minamisoma, head to Hibarigahara Field to see the Armed Samurai Horse Race and Sacred Flag Competition before continuing your journey up the coast to see areas affected by the 2011 tsunami.

It’s a fantastic opportunity to learn about reconstruction in the Soma region of Fukushima Prefecture, as well as getting to experience this 1000 year old festival with an English-speaking guide! See details of the tour here.

The tour costs 8,500 yen and the deadline application is July 17 2018, so please apply quickly! You can apply online for this tour: [Link to Application Form]

If you have any questions about this tour, you can email fukushima.guide@f-kankou.jp – emails in English are also OK!

 

soma-nomaoi-festival-fukushima

Getting to Minamisoma City

By Public Transport:

Take the Joban Line train from Sendai Station to Haranomachi Station.

  • If there is no direct train to Haranomachi for a while, take the JR Tohoku Line heading for Fukushima Station and change onto the Joban Line at Iwanuma Station. (You can reach Sendai from Tokyo via the Tohoku Shinkansen).
  • Hibarigahara Field is a 25 minute walk from Haranomachi Station (2.4 km). Please make sure to keep hydrated if you plan to walk from the station, as Fukushima is pretty hot during July.

By Car:

  • From Sendai: Take the Joban Expressway and get off at the Minami Soma IC. (1 hour 15 min drive)
  • From Koriyama: 2 hour drive via Route 459.

More Information Here:

 

I hope you get to visit the Soma Nomaoi Festival this year! I really recommend this opportunity, as it was an amazing day out last year.

 

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5 thoughts on “Soma Nomaoi 2018: Festival Guide

  1. How far in advanced can we order reserved seats and how do you order them?

    Is there a link to the bus/shuttle schedule?

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    1. Hi Steven!

      If you’re referring to coming to see the festival without being part of the tour that I wrote about above, here’s some info:
      This year, tickets for the seated area where you can see the highlights of this festival went on sale for June 1. You can buy these tickets at convenience stores (if you live in Japan), or online (But the website is all in Japanese): http://t.pia.jp/pia/ticketInformation.do?eventCd=1819241&rlsCd=001&lotRlsCd= 

      You can also buy tickets on the day (Sunday 29 July) at any of the 4 gate entrances to the Hibarigahara Field. (This is probably the easiest way to do it)

      About buses: There are 4 shuttle buses routes that run between 4 different areas & Hibarigara Field. 1 of these routes has a bus stop outside Haranomachi Station. These shuttle buses are free & run between 9:00~15:00.

      As I wrote in my blog, you can take the train to Haranomachi Station. There are also buses from Sendai Station and from Fukushima City.

      If you are looking to attend the tour mentioned in my article, you might still be able to get a place if you contact the people running it via their website: https://fukushima-guide.jp/experience/soma-nomaoi-festival/

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  2. Thanks for the info, I am planning for a trip next year but wanted to get an idea of the bus schedule to and from Fukushima as I was hoping to stay in Iizakaonsen. Also thanks for the info on where to look for the tickets online. I will be looking to order them when they go on sale next year as if I am traveling this far I want to make sure I get a good seat to be able to see everything and take some great photos as well.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Steven,

      Thank you for your email. I’m sorry that my reply is a little late.
      There are regular buses between Fukushima Station West Exit and Haranomachi Station every day (run by Touhoku Access bus company). (92 mins, 1100 yen)
      There are regular buses between Fukushima Station East Exit and Haranomachi Station every day (run by Fukushima Kotsu bus company). (112 mins, 1100 yen)
      The Fukushima Kotsu bus service is often made more frequent during festival time (and they often publish a ‘Festival Time Bus Schedule’ online, but they didn’t post this for 2018). (all in Japanese of course) 
      I’m pretty sure you can’t book any of these buses in advance.

      I would recommend contacting Soma City Tourism Association (相馬市観光協会)a couple of months before the festival by email, asking them for information on the buses. They have English-speaking staff, and would be able to give you up-to-date info about whether there are any extra buses being run by Fukushima Kotsu that year. http://www.nihon-kankou.or.jp/detail/07209aa1042079995 <--their email is listed here

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