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Soma Nomaoi Samurai Festival

Photographer: Everett Kennedy Brown


The traditional samurai horse festival, called 'Soma-Nomaoi,' which means 'Soma wild horse chase,' is located just 40 kilometers from the destroyed Fukushima nuclear power plants.


Of the 450 participants riding on horseback and dressed in antique 10th century period costumes, many lived near the nuclear power plants and had to flee their homes after the 11 March 2011 earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster. A large number are still unable to return to their homes due to radiation levels.


The summer festival, now held on the last weekend of each July, has been held annually for more than a millennium and has its origins when a samurai lord started using local wild horses for war games. During the three-day event, designated as a significant intangible folk cultural asset of Japan, tens of thousands of people attend the ceremonies, cavalry displays, races, and competitions.


Following the nuclear accident, the festival has been gaining new momentum year by year. "Despite the radiation and loss of homes and jobs, it is our duty to continue the 1,100 year tradition of our local culture and pass it on to our children," says Michitane Soma, 34th generation lord of the Soma domain. "During our long history, our people have suffered worse tragedies than the nuclear accident. We have overcome wars and famine, and through our samurai spirit we will overcome this hardship as well, though it may take hundreds of years."