Souma Nomaoi - Horse Festival of Soma
The Souma Nomaoi is held on the 23rd, 24th and 25th of July every year, in Minami Souma City of Fukushima prefecture, Japan. The festival started 1033 years ago, when the founder of Souma clan captured, trained and offered some wild horses to the three shrines of Souma (Odaka shrine, Oota shrine and Nakamura shrine). While the knights participated the event during the old days, their descendents (still referred to as knights during the festival) take care of the horses and take part in the festival at present. Women and children too have become knights since recently, making the festival more interesting.
On the first day, the knights (about 500 in number) gather at the three shrines, and start the ceremony with prayers and toast. The knights are clad in body armours that the clans have been using for generations. Only those worn by ladies and small children are new, and it is not uncommon to see a child wearing an oversized body armour, as the event is seen as an opportunity to wear it.
The first round of races held in the track in Minami Souma in the afternoon of the first day. Only about 120 of the knights take part in races. One or two women might be included there. Ten knights participate in each round, consisting of a single lap of 1000 meters.
At 9:30 a.m. of the second day, all the knights gather near Ogawa bridge in the north of Minami Souma city, and and head off on horseback towards the altar in front of the race track in Minami Souma to be received by a descendent of the Commander in chief of the clan. With 500 knights and many others, the procession is colorful and magnificient. The flags they carry are family symbols.
The knights are quite nice and patiently pose for photos, taken by both professionals and amateurs.
However, not all horses are friendly and calm all the time. To be honest, I was a bit overwhelmed having so many around me.
Another round of races takes place after the procession. The helmets are taken off during races since they are quite heavy and dangerous if dropped during the race.
After a small break at the end of the races, the knights gather on the green surrounded by the race track. Fireworks with flags called Goshinki are shot to the sky, 4 at a time. The kinghts start off in pursuit of the flags, kind of an unarmed fight.
The ones who manage to win possession of the flags gallop up the hill to the altar to receive awards.
On the third day, a number of horses are released in to an open area, and captured by groups of knights to be offered to the shrines. With no wild horses roaming around nowadays, I guess this is a good replacement that is enjoyed by a large number of spectators.
I managed to find out about the event and go there on the second day, thanks to my foster parents here. The details posted here are what I learnt from them and managed to read (I am still not that good in reading Japanese). The photos, of course, were taken by me. :-p
Minami Souma City Website has some more information about the festival, though only in Japanese. For English, check Japan Atlas and similar pages.
Some of the crowd who were there, despite heavy rain
As for other festivals I have already been to, I will try to post about them in advance so that it is useful for those of you who are already in Japan.
Summer vacation has come. If there is any nice festival going around Tokyo or Chiba, please drop a message as a comment. :o)