All About Japan

See Samurai Up Close—On Horseback!

| Festivals , Fukushima
See Samurai Up Close—On Horseback!

The samurai spirit is alive and well in Minamisoma City, Fukushima Prefecture, thanks to the samurai horse-riding festival known as Soma-Nomaoi. Although the city was one of the many affected by the 2011 Tohoku Earthquake, the festival was still held that year, and can trace its roots back to the beginning of the Kamakura Period (1185-1333).

Samurai Festival

Samurai Festival

A ceremonial parade, called o-gyoretsu, has the armor-clad samurai line up and parade through the town while on horseback. However, the samurai can't line up just willy-nilly. As this is also a Shinto ritual, there's a specific order that must be strictly followed.

If you look at the soldiers up close, you can feel the strength and power radiating from them—and they'd better have that aura, too! If a festival samurai doesn't display this sort of valor, he or she will be reprimanded later—just like samurai from centuries past!

To kick off the festivities, the samurai blow loudly into conch shells. This is one of the most important positions a participating warrior can have.

Instead of wearing their helmets during the horse races, the samurai tie on a white headband as they lead their horses into a gallop.

One of the more dangerous events is when riders compete to collect shrine flags shot in the air with fireworks.

Just looking at this cluster of bushido warriors certainly makes you feel as though you've slipped back in time to the Sengoku Period (1467–1603)!

While the festival starts on the last Saturday of July and ends on the following Monday, the biggest activities of the Soma-Nomaoi festival take place on the Sunday in Minamisoma City.