National | IN PICTURES

43,000 flock to Minamisoma for festival's horseback samurai climax

Kyodo

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.

Spectators photograph samurai horseman in the Kacchu Keiba race during the Soma Nomaoi festival in Minamisoma, Fukushima Prefecture, on Sunday.
Spectators photograph samurai horseman in the Kacchu Keiba race during the Soma Nomaoi festival in Minamisoma, Fukushima Prefecture, on Sunday. | SHIHO FUKADA / BLOOMBERG

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.

Masayuki Isami dons a samurai helmet known as jingasa at home in preparation for the Soma Nomaoi festival in Minamisoma, Fukushima Prefecture, on Sunday.
Masayuki Isami dons a samurai helmet known as jingasa at home in preparation for the Soma Nomaoi festival in Minamisoma, Fukushima Prefecture, on Sunday. | SHIHO FUKADA / BLOOMBERG

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.

A samurai horseman competes in the Kacchu Keiba race during the Soma Nomaoi festival at Hibarigahara field in Minamisoma, Fukushima Prefecture, on Sunday.
A samurai horseman competes in the Kacchu Keiba race during the Soma Nomaoi festival at Hibarigahara field in Minamisoma, Fukushima Prefecture. | SHIHO FUKADA / BLOOMBERG

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.

Elders watch a procession during the Soma Nomaoi festival at Hibarigahara Field in Minamisoma, Fukushima Prefecture.
Elders watch a procession during the Soma Nomaoi festival at Hibarigahara Field in Minamisoma, Fukushima Prefecture. | SHIHO FUKADA / BLOOMBERG

“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.”

And they
And they’re off! Riders compete in Yoinori Keiba race of the Soma Nomaoi festival in Minamisoma, Fukushima Prefecture. | SHIHO FUKADA / BLOOMBERG
Mud flies during the Yoinori Keiba race, one of the events of the Soma Nomaoi festival recently held in Minamisoma, Fukushima Prefecture.
Mud flies during the Yoinori Keiba race, one of the events of the Soma Nomaoi festival recently held in Minamisoma, Fukushima Prefecture. | SHIHO FUKADA / BLOOMBERG
Horsemen battle for a sacred flag during the Shinki-soudatsusen competition.
Horsemen battle for a sacred flag during the Shinki-soudatsusen competition. | SHIHO FUKADA / BLOOMBERG
Competition is fierce during the Soma Nomaoi festival
Competition is fierce during the Soma Nomaoi festival’s Kachu Keiba race. | SHIHO FUKADA / BLOOMBERG
A rider takes a tumble off during the festival
A rider takes a tumble off during the festival’s Yoinori Keiba race. | SHIHO FUKADA / BLOOMBERG

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