The Eagle with Brains Hides its Claws


Interviewer: “Do you have any advice or something that your parents told you that you still remember?”

I.N.: “Well… kinda… your mom’s Bachan was so mean to me. I would call my mother crying… crying. She would say to me ‘the eagle with brains, hides it claws.’  I think she meant that no matter how mean someone is to you, don’t let them provoke you, you know. So I was always held my tongue when she was around!”

*the informant is elderly and does not speak Japanese as fluently as she once did. Although the original proverb was in Japanese, she could not recall how to speak the proverb in Japanese*


Informant I.N. is an elderly Japanese woman. She was born in a Japanese Internment camp and grew up with second generation Japanese American parents who spoke primarily Japanese. She was raised in south Los Angeles in an area that was mostly filled with Japanese American Immigrant workers. She came from a middle class family. Her mother ran a boarding house and her father was a gardener. She moved to northern California in her twenties and raised her family there. She still resides in Northern California today and spend much of her time volunteering at the San Jose Japanese Town Yu-Ai Kai Senior Center and Buddhist Church.


Informant I.N. and I were sitting at a restaurant for lunch and I thought I would ask a few questions for my folklore project. She recalled a time from her past when she was struggling with maintaining civility but ultimately was able to overcome hardship by following the advice of her mother.


I.N. interpreted this piece of advice to mean that despite the anger she felt towards her mother in-law, it was better to hide her passionate emotions and be kind because it would lead to a more pleasing relationship. She learned this folklore proverb from her mother and it stuck with her because she found it to be a relevant and intelligent piece of advice. I think this reflects on the Japanese cultural trend of not wanting to be overzealous or create tension. Generally, Japanese people are known for their polite nature and this proverb that tells its listener to hide their feelings essentially is a great example of that.