FUKUSHIMA – Horsemen in medieval samurai armor raced through tracks and paraded in front of cheering crowds as the annual Soma Nomaoi festival reached its climax recently in Minamisoma, Fukushima Prefecture.
Some 43,000 people came to see Sunday’s festival, which aims to re-create battle scenes from the violent Sengoku Period (1477-1573). One of the highlights is a horse race called Kacchu Keiba, in which horsemen clad in elaborate armor and clutching their katana swords race through a 1,000-meter track. The other highlight is Shinki Sodatsusen, in which a skyrocket sends two flags aloft that descend into the hands of waiting horsemen fighting to catch them.
The city of Minamisoma has been hit hard by the triple core meltdown at the Fukushima No. 1 power plant triggered by the March 2011 quake and tsunami, and many residents remain refugees.
But this year, a part of the ritual in which the horsemen after the flag war are welcomed by a bonfire was revived for the first time since the nuclear crisis struck. The ritual took place in the Odaka district, where evacuation orders were lifted on July 12.
“I’d thought the festival was affected by the Great East Japan Earthquake and the nuclear disaster, but I was surprised by the big spectator turnout,” said Noriko Kowata, 36, who came from Sendai to see the event. “I’d like to come back next year.”