Heard on the Hill

Take Five: Sen. Mazie Hirono

The Hawaii Democrat Talks About her Buddhist Faith, 'Seinfeld' and Favorite Foods

Hirono speaks with Roll Call in her Capitol Hill office on March 11. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

It’s time again for Take Five, when HOH talks with a member of Congress about topics relatively unrelated to legislative work.  

This week, Sen. Mazie K. Hirono, D-Hawaii, talks about President Barack Ohana, "Seinfeld" and Hawaiian food. Q : You are the first Buddhist in the Senate. What is your favorite Buddhist holiday?  

A : It’s Obon, which is an autumn season and in the Buddhist tradition, it’s honoring the people who have passed on, especially in that year. But in Hawaii, it’s become a festival where people from all different backgrounds and cultures come and there’s dancing and you can just join in. I’ve met people from all over the country who have come to Obon, which are done usually in the Buddhist temples.  

Q : Let’s talk Hawaii. What is one think about home that you wish D.C. had more of?  

A : We hear a lot about the dysfunction around here, so I often talk with my colleagues about the idea of Ohana, which is a way of thinking about how we express our concern not just for members of our own family but extended outward. So, for example, interns who have been here—we’ve had dozens and dozens of interns—once they’ve been in my office, they are part of the Ohana of my office. It is really, not just an idea but we act on it where we care about people outside of our own immediate family. Heidi Heitkamp [D-N.D.] is part of my Ohana—when she sees people from Hawaii she says to them, "I’m part of Mazie’s Ohana." Women of the Senate get together for dinners on a regular basis and the second to the last one was hosted by Heidi and it was a bowling event. She made us all bowling shirts with names and mine was "My Ohana." I thought it was really nice.  

Hirono shows off a photograph of the women Senators in her Capitol Hill office on Friday, March 11, 2016. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Hirono shows off a photograph of the women Senators in her Capitol Hill office. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Q : Let’s talk about your love of art. What do you make?  

A : It’s part of what keeps me on an even keel. I have a really good friend who lives in California and she (does ceramics). She built a 1,000 square-foot studio where she lives and I go and visit her about once a year. I spend maybe five days and we do art things. The [ceramic ] piece you see up there is one that I made with her.  

Q : What is your favorite show on television right now?  

A : Every morning, I watch MSNBC’s "Morning Joe." I do that. I have been known to binge watch "NCIS" on Netflix. Also, I do watch the new "Hawaii Five-O." One of my favorite actors on that show is Daniel Dae Kim. He’s really a nice guy on top of that.  

A lot of times, I don’t know when these programs actually come on, but I watch the previous episodes. And "Seinfeld." My love of "Seinfeld" is something I share with my husband and there are almost daily "Seinfeld" moments that he and I talk and laugh about. "Soup Nazi" —he was just telling me he found a soup Nazi in Hawaii yesterday.  

Q : You emigrated from Japan as a young girl. What is your favorite Japanese food that you don’t see in the U.S.?  

A : When I go home, I pack a small suitcase into my big suitcase because I bring back a lot of local foods. And it’s not just Japanese food. It’s Hawaiian food. It’s a mix. I’ve begun to do more cooking here. My husband is half Korean. I love kimchi (fermented, pickled vegetables). When I’m at home, I eat kimchi every single day. I’m probably going to make another batch this weekend of radish kimchi. That is the great thing about Hawaii. We’re so culturally diverse and we inner-marry and appreciate each other’s cultures. We’re exposed to a lot of different foods and that’s something I really miss while I’m here.  

One of my favorite Japanese foods is called nattō. It’s fermented soybeans. I grew up in Japan eating nattō. It’s definitely an acquired taste. It’s basically smelly. I love it over hot rice, and I found out recently that the ambassador from Japan also eats nattō in the morning.

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Topics: hoh senate Hirono ABRT