Get our free newsletter
A little over a month ago, Emi Kashiwara, 29, and her pink-mohawked fiancé MP, 38, were living in a hundred-year-old house in Tochigi, a mountainous prefecture about an hour north of Tokyo. Life was good: Their band, The Nobis, was playing at raves and clubs every weekend in Tokyo and elsewhere; they had a sponsorship from the hemp clothing brand Phatee Wear; they had plenty of time to devote to their music, a gleeful, hyper-chromatic take on electro-pop with English lyrics and song titles like “Catz & Boys,” “Just Be,” and “U mAke mY dAY.” Because they prefer meals that are seasonal and macrobiotic, they planned to grow their own food.
They moved in at the beginning of March. Then, on March 11, the earthquake hit off the coast of northeastern Japan, followed by the tsunami that took more than 13,000 lives. Then came the problems at the nuclear plants.
They could feel radiation in the rain, they say, and on their skin. “We were really conscious about the water,” says Kashiwara. “The water tasted really bad just after the earthquake. It tasted like medicine. I couldn’t get rid of it. I didn’t want to stay there.”
On top of their fear of radiation, The Nobis’ Tokyo gigs were canceled, but they found out they were booked for a stateside show. They traveled to New York and then D.C., where several degrees of hemp connections put them in touch with Ben Droz, 24, a wiry nightlife photographer who by day lobbies for an industrial hemp advocacy group. The Nobis decided to stay, and Droz introduced them to his friends at Moishe House. The Adams Morgan group house for Jewish young adults had an open room.
And that’s how on this day, Kashiwara came to be in Moishe House’s shared kitchen, standing at a small stove. She’s reheating some udon she and MP made the night before as part of a workshop for some 25 guests. She and MP are also preparing some radish sushi, and a stew with mushrooms, kombu (a seaweed-like sea vegetable), and dried bonito. They bought the ingredients at Hana Japanese Market on 17th Street NW, a grocery store-cum-travel agency that has a sign advertising space travel.
The Nobis are planning to relaunch their career in D.C., but they’ve also been doing a lot of cooking. Says Eli Wald, 26, a Moishe House resident who works for a Jewish advocacy organization: “We hadn’t had shrimp in the house before.”
It’s not just food they’re sharing. The Nobis and their hosts have also been looking at the godlier things they have in common.
“We’ve been talking about Hebrew. How it’s related to Japan. Every time we go to temples we find lots of Hebrew stuff,” says Kashiwara, adding that she and MP “believe in bits of this and that”—including some Shintoism, a touch of Judaism, and “the Christian God, too.”
“I’ve always thought there were inherent similarities between Judaism and Japanese culture,” says Droz. “They both go back longer than anything else that I know about. I’m sure there’s books on the overlap. It’s amazing that we both could inherently feel it and that they somehow ended up here. There’s a cosmic bond.”
“We feel really safe,” says Kashiwara, bringing to the table a pot of tea, bowls of soup, and trays of sushi and rolls made with walnuts and raisins, sprinkled with hemp seeds. “Itadakimas,” she says, sitting. In front of her is a tea mug with a dreidel on it. “When you eat or drink you say ‘Itadakimas.’ It means I am grateful for the food I am gonna be eating.”
“In Hebrew you say ‘B’tayavon,’” Wald says.
“It sounds French,” Kashiwara says.
Kashiwara says that she and MP might visit a friend in Virginia who has a winery, so that they can be closer to nature. Wald suggests they go live on a kibbutz. He mentions that the house is thinking of holding a Japanese-style Shabbat dinner soon, perhaps in the first week of May—though he isn’t quite sure what that means. (Moishe House is an international organization, and residents of its houses hold regular events.)
“The first week of May is also Hemp History Month,” Droz says. “Maybe we should make it a hempy Shabbat. We could talk about how in Japanese culture, hemp has a very long history. Hemp was used in the shrines. It was also used in ceremonial garb. And in Hebrew, the holy anointing oil has something that many people say is clearly cannabis oil.”
“Many people don’t. We’re going to have a Torah-off,” says Wald, who goes upstairs to retrieve his bible.
Kashiwara explains that she and MP—who plays guitar, synth, percussion, and a Kaoss Pad—have been collaborating for six years. Kashiwara sings and plays keyboard, synth, and percussion. In fact, she is contractually obligated to keep doing so—when she joined the band, MP had her sign a contract stating that in order for her to leave the group, she’d have to find a replacement. Kashiwara plans to keep singing, and she and MP hope to get married sometime this year.
Wald, returned from upstairs, says that his father also makes contracts—Jewish wedding contracts called ketubahs. He opens his bible to the story of Genesis, explaining it to Kashiwara and MP. Then comes the story of Noah and the ark, which has surely taken on new resonance after the tsunami. While explaining the story of Moses and his years in exile—again, it seems almost too on the nose—he finds Exodus 30:23, the passage with the supposed reference to cannabis being an ingredient in an anointment mixture.
“It says it’s cassia,” Wald says.
“I don’t even know what cassia is,” Droz says, looking at Wikipedia on his iPhone.
“It says cinnamon. Pure myrrh. Cassia. And a hint of olive oil,” says Wald.
Droz says, “It’s still up for debate.”
“Not by serious linguists,” Wald says.
“I want to make a song called ‘Moishe House,’” MP says, looking at the two of them. “A whole album.”
MP says he misses the food, the water, and the culture of Japan, but that he and Kashiwara are planning to stay in the United States. They say they won’t go back to Japan until they’re sure any babies they have will be safe. But since Kashiwara and MP don’t trust government reports about nuclear safety, that could be never.
What The Nobis want for now is to make music, perform music, and be musicians in D.C., or anywhere else they can get gigs. They played a show at the Lamont Bishop Gallery, and have a handful of other gigs lined up—a fundraiser for Japan at Moishe House on April 16, a “420 show” at the Montserrat House on April 20, and a show on April 29 at the bar Toyland—and have been networking with people like Thievery Corporation, whom they were introduced to by Adam Eidinger, the owner of Capitol Hemp (who calls Kashimara and MP “genuine Japanese hempsters” and says he considers them to be nuclear refugees).
“God comes into her body when she performs,” MP says of Kashiwara. He calls their music “paper pop”—it’s light and a bit blissed out, being mostly concerned with love and happiness. The band name—The Nobis—even comes from a Latin word meaning “there’ll be no one as happy as us,” or “the world belongs to us,” Kashiwara explains.
But MP and Kashiwara are also having to rethink their music a little bit. They are, after all, an electronic band that was driven from its home country by fear of an electricity source. They’d like to buy a van and cover it in solar panels, and travel around the country performing, also using the solar panels to power their instruments.
“The problem is that solar panels are really expensive,” MP says.
Kashiwara, the optimist, is still new to town, and hasn’t quite taken measure of Washington, D.C., circa 2011. “I’m sure the government has enough money to place solar panels for everybody,” she says.
Photo by Darrow Montgomery