NOMAOI-1000 Year Traditon in Danger

April 8, 2011 Juju Kurihara 0 Comments

Nomaoi (野馬追) is a tradition which has been carried on for 1000 years in Souma city, Fukushima. This is a huge and impressive festival, participate 500 armored samurai on the horses from five different regions in Fukushima and is always held in July every year. This event is a boast of the people in Fukushima for 1,000 years that even the two World Wars couldn't impede them to celebrate. 

haragama areaminami souma








However, it seems like this traditional festival can't win this time. Part of Souma city and Minami-Souma city have been affected by tsunami and still many people are missing.

Moreover, with the accident of Fukushima Daiichi, most of the residents in Minami-Souma have evacuated or been advised to stay inside the house. Since about 50,000 residents out of 70,000 have left the city, it doesn't seem to be happening. And what's more, the paddock for the hourse race is situated inside the zone where people have to stay indoor. 


onwardlakeMany horses are left behind. Mr. Kato has been participating in Nomaoi for 40 years.

Tsunami came so close to his house but his house and his horse Onwardlake luckly escaped from the damage.

They don't know if 700 members are alive or safe, they even don't have the way to find out as the communication network hasn't recovered completely yet in Touhoku region. For the first time in history, Nomaoi seems to be cancelled. Yet people who involved in the event have a hope, thinking of gathering whoever can come on the day, maybe not with horses but at least put jin-baori.


So what is Nomaoi? I've only seen on TV news. It looks like an ancient samurai battle scene just like TV drama on NHK that my grandpa used to watch on Sunday nights.

This is a video clip of the festival. It's very serious.


Nomaoi is formed in three parts, each day different ceremony is taken place.



The first day "Yoi Matsuri" (宵祭) is a preparation of the event. Each troop gathers with the Shogun at their shrine and drink to the departure to the front (shutsujin/ 出陣)





The message of the great Shogun that he's visiting each camp is delivered by a messenger. As the messenger rides on the fast horse, they are called Hayauma (早馬), and each troop gets ready to receive the great Shogun.







After the visit of the great Shogun, all the troops go to the place where the festival is held.

There, all the horses are purified by the chief priest "Guuji" (宮司) of the Souma Oota shrine, then people in samurai costume start a traditional horse race.






The second day is the main festival "Hon Matsuri" (本祭り). Hon Matsuri starts with a huge parade, "Ogyouretsu" (お行列) of 500 fully dressed samurai and horses. From their camp to the festival area, they march about 3km with the sound of fireworks, drums and the pipe made of triton.

The kabuto helmets, yoroi armors and flags are all heritage for centuries and seeing them all in those transmits you the tension before the battle. This is quite a spectacle.




kattyu race




After arriving at the festival paddock, samurais take off Kabuto (兜) and tie white headband (hachimaki), then mount on the horses to start the race (Kacchuu keiba/ 甲冑競馬).






shinki soudatsu

The event continues. This is "Shinki Soudatsu Sen" (神旗争奪戦), people scramble for shinki; holy flag which is the blue material shown in the photo. With the sound of the fireworks, only two holy flags are shot up in the sky, and imagine 500 samurai on the horses rush to get a flag. It's just like a battle in the era of wars in 1,000 years ago.





The third day is the more sacred event related to the shrine.

odakaNomakake (野馬懸) is an event that choosing a sacred horses for the shrine and dedicate them to the god.

By the way, this event is recognized as  intangible cultural property.


The horses are brought to the ground of the shrine by samurai.






In the shrine, there are 10 men called Goshounin (御小人) purified and dressed in white waiting for the horses.

These men jumped in the middle of the horses and taken them with bare hands.

The first horse taken by Goshounin is dedicated to the shrine as a holy horse then this huge festival, Nomaoi ends.



Nomaoi has never been suspended even during a mighty famine in Edo period or during the Pacific War. They still have time until July, even not a completed form, they want to carry on their tradition for their pride and for the recovery of Touhoku.


More festivals

Seijin no Hi



Momono Sekku


3rd of February


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