Visiting Soma by the Sea

This blog post is about everything Soma! Soma City is an awesome, historical city on the coast of Fukushima Prefecture. It’s famous for its strawberries and its beautiful shrines, so please consider visiting next time you come to the Tohoku area of Japan!

So where should you go in Soma City?

Baryo Park & Nakamura Shrine

Soma is well-known across Japan for the annual Soma Nomaoi Festival held every July. Soma Nomaoi Festival, a celebration of the history of horse riding and samurai, has its origins as a military training exercise held in Soma and Minamisoma over 1000 years ago. The highlight of this 3-day festival is the Shinki Sodatsusen (‘Sacred Flag Race’) and the Samurai Armour Horse Race.

On the 1st day of the festival, local festival participants make their way to Minamisoma, departing from 3 shrines across Soma and Minamisoma Cities after paying their respects to the Shinto deities. The 1st opening ceremony is held at Nakamura Shrine. Read more about Soma Nomaoi Festival here.

Nakamura Shrine, like the Soma Nomaoi Festival, has a history stretching back over a millennium. 600 years after the Shrine was established, Nakamura Castle was built as the administrative centre of the Soma Clan. It was pulled down in 1871 after the Meiji Restoration but parts of the moat remain to this day close by to the Shrine.

Both Nakamura Shrine and the castle remains are located inside Baryo Park. This park is a popular spot to visit during cherry blossom and autumn leaves season. The park is home to 630 Someiyoshi cherry trees, which make for a spectacular view in spring when viewed from outside the main shrine gate.

Reaching Baryo Park:

  • 18 minute walk (1.5 km) from Soma Station (on the Joban Line) [MAP]

 

Hyakushaku Kannon

A kannon is a Buddhist Goddess of Mercy. Construction on this kannon started in 1931, when a local Busshi (a sculptor specializing in Buddhist images) decided to spend his life constructing a huge Goddess of Mercy sculpture in Soma City.

hyaku-shaku-kannon-3

After spending 30 years working on carving the rock face in his chosen spot, he passed away before seeing the completion of the Hyakushaku Kannon. However, the task of completing this sculpture was undertaken by his family and is carried out to this day. Currently, the fourth generation is working the kannon.

The word ‘shaku’ (尺) refers to a traditional way of measuring distance, and ‘hyaku’ (百)means 100. The Busshi who originally decided to build this figure intended for the sculpture to be approximately 100 shaku tall (the equivalent of 36 m) – hence its name. the structure is currently 27 metres tall, so there is still a way to go!

Visit the Hyakushaku Kannon to see a breathtaking work of art that spans generations in progress.

Reaching Hyakushaku Kannon:

10 min drive from Soma Station on the Joban Line [MAP]

 

Suzumigaoka Hachiman Shrine

What a mouthful! Suzumigaoka Hachiman Shrine was established around the year 1334 and the main Shinto shrine that stands to this day was built in 1695.

An amazing number of the structures within the shrine complex remain in great condition, which has led to the main shrine, Wakamiya Hachimanju auxiliary shrine, Zuijin Gate and many other structures being registered as Nationally Important Cultural Properties.

Reaching Suzumigaoka Hachiman Shrine:

15 min taxi from Soma Station (Joban Line) [MAP]

Strawberry Picking

If you plan to visit Soma between January and May, a visit to Wada Tourism Strawberry Association is a must! Soma area is famous for its delicious, ruby red strawberries. The strawberry association was established in 1988 by around 15 households of strawberry farmers and has become a popular place for strawberry picking.

Visitors can pick up to 6 different types of strawberries, and can eat as many as you’d like in half an hour. If you don’t fancy strawberry picking, you can purchase freshly-picked strawberries at the association too, or make the most of the facility and have a BBQ!

Wada Tourism Strawberry Association is very popular so please consider booking a slot in advance online (you can make reservations from early January).

“Isn’t strawberry-picking in winter weird?”

While strawberries are grown in summer in many countries, strawberries in Japan are generally grown in large greenhouses during the winter months!

Reaching Wada Tourism Strawberry Association:

10 min taxi from Soma Station (Joban Line) [MAP]

 

Trying on Samurai Armour

You can try on real samurai armor known as ‘kacchu’ at Minamisoma City Tourism Association , just a 30 minute drive from Soma City. This is the kind of armour that participants in the Soma Nomaoi wear during the various festival events! If you contact Soma City’s own tourism association in advance via the contact form on their website, it’s possibility that you might be able to try it out in Soma as well!

Where to Stay

How about spending the night in the seaside town of Matsugawaura? Visit Haragamaobama Beach Resort, enjoy the sunset on the coast, and relax in a open-air public bath at an onsen in Matsugawaura Town.

 

Where to Eat

Soma City Tourism Association has put together a list of recommended restaurants in Soma City on their website. The website is all in Japanese, but there’s a google map embedded at the bottom of the page, so make sure to check it out here.

When I looked up places to eat in Soma, another place caught eye. I haven’t actually been here yet, but Sweetrap looks like a cool place to enjoy a coffee, listen to some chill music and maybe do some window shopping too! Check out their Instagram here: @sweetrap

 

Where to Buy Omiyage (Souvenirs)

As is the case all throughout Japan, going to a roadside station (known as ‘Michinoeki’ in Japanese) is a safe bet for finding lots of yummy local food and traditional crafts. Michinoeki Soma is a 6 min taxi ride from Nittaki Station on the Joban Line [MAP]

michi-no-eki-soma

I hope you get a chance to visit Soma City soon! When you do, please let me know how your trip was in the comments section!

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