Masabumi Hosono: The Man Condemned for Surviving The Titanic

The following is reprinted from Uncle John's Unsinkable Bathroom Reader

Sinking of the Titanic - LIFE Images We all know the story of the Titanic - but did you know that one man survived the disaster only to be condemned for not dying an honorable death? Here's the story of a lone Japanese onboard of the ill-fated ocean liner whose survival actually became a curse:

THE LONG TRIP HOME RMS Titanic - photo via abratis.de

In 1910 Japan's Transportation Ministry sent an official named Masabumi Hosono to Russia to study that country's railroad system. Hosono finished his assignment in early 1912 and, following a brief stop in London, began the next leg of his trip home by embarking across the Atlantic on the RMS Titanic. Needless to say, that leg of the trip didn't go quite as planned. On April 14, at 11:40 p.m., just four days into its maiden voyage, the Titanic struck an iceberg while traveling near top speed and began taking on water. (Photo: Cheddarbay.com)

RUDE AWAKENING

It's doubtful that anyone on the Titanic, which had been advertised by the White Star Liner as being "practically unsinkable," realized at first that the ship had suffered a mortal blow. There were plenty of people on board who didn't even know the ship had hit anything. Many of those who noticed felt only a slight shudder followed by the sound of the engines coming to a stop. Hosono apparently slept through the entire thing. The first he learned of it was shortly after midnight, 25 or 30 minutes after the collision, when he was awakened by a knock at the door of his second-class cabin and told to put on his life vest. Three times when he tried to make his way to the lifeboats, he was turned away by the ship's officers, who ordered him to return to the lower levels of the ship. They likely assumed that, as a Japanese person, he must have been traveling in third class, or "steerage." On his third attempt, Hosono managed to slip past a guard and make his way to the lifeboats.

IN THE DARK

Was the Titanic sinking, or was it just floating dead on the water, waiting to be assisted by the ocean liner Carpathia or one of the half a dozen other ships who'd received her distress calls and were already steaming to her aid? We know the answer today, of course, but on that fateful night only three men on the Titanic did - Edward J. Smith, the captain; Thomas Andrews, the chief designer; and J. Bruce Ismay, the president of the White Star Line. They knew not only that the Titanic would sink, but also that it would sink well before help arrived. And they kept the information to themselves, fearing a panic that would cause the passengers to stampede the lifeboats, which when filled to capacity could carry only 1,178 of the more than 2,200 people on board. Even the officers ordered to organize the loading of the lifeboats had no idea that the Titanic was going down.

THANKS ... BUT NO THANKS

Withholding this information did help to keep the loading of the lifeboats orderly, but probably at the cost of hundreds of needless deaths. Many passengers and even many crew members, not suspecting the gravity of the situation, preferred to remain on board rather than risk climbing into the lifeboats. If you had booked passengers on a ship that was said to be unsinkable, would you be willing to leave its warm, dry, and seemingly safe environs to climb into a tiny, swinging lifeboat in the middle of the night, and be lowered on pulleys 65 feet straight down into the freezing, iceberg-filled Atlantic? Even the captain's order to load women and children first must have cost some passengers their lives, because it meant that married women were being asked to separate from their husbands, which many refused to do. Besides, what was the rush? As far as the crew members loading the boats knew, the Titanic wasn't sinking. The lifeboats were simply going to ferry passengers to the rescue ships when they arrived, and that was still hours away. There would be plenty of time to load more people into the lifeboats later, if they didn't want to go now.

The crew members filled the boats with as many people as wanted to get in, and then lowered them into the water. In the end, only three of Titanic's 20 lifeboats were filled to capacity when they set down in the Atlantic. Hosono must have sensed what was happening earlier than many of the passengers did, because as he stood next to Lifeboat No. 10 as it was being loaded, he was already steeling himself for the end. "I tried to prepare myself for the last moment with no agitation, making up my mind not to leave anything disgraceful as a Japanese," he explained in a letter to his wife. "But still I found myself looking for and waiting for any possible chance to survive." That chance came moments later, when the officer loading No. 10 could not coax any more women or children into the boat. "Room for two more!" the officer called out. Hosono watched as another man jumped into the boat. "I myself was deep in desolate thought that I would no more be able to see my beloved wife and children, since there was no alternative for me than to share the same destiny as the Titanic," he wrote. "But the example of the first man making a jump led me to take this last chance." Hosono hopped in, and at 1:20 a.m. he and 34 other people were lowered to safety in a boat built to hold 65.

One of the lifeboats carrying Titanic survivors (Photo: The National Archives)

FINAL MOMENTS

The Titanic, by now sitting very low in the water, had just one hour left to live. Eight of the 20 lifeboats had already launched and only one of them - Hosono's No. 10 - was filled even halfway to capacity. (Lifeboat No. 1 launched with only 12 passengers out of a possible 40). Many of the passengers still aboard the Titanic were just beginning to realize that the "unsinkable" ship might really be sinking. When the Titanic finally slipped beneath the waves at 2:20 a.m., Hosono watched from Lifeboat No. 10. He described the experience in a letter to his wife, which he wrote on board the Carpathia as it brought the survivors to New York. "What had been a tangible, graceful sight was not reduced to a mere void. And how I thought about the inevitable vicissitudes of life!"

AFTERMATH

Of the more than 2,200 passengers and crew aboard the Titanic, just over 700 survived, including 316 of the 425 women and 56 of 109 children. Even if every woman and child had been accommodated in the lifeboats, there still would have been enough room for nearly 700 of the 1,690 men, yet only 338 men survived. Not everyone who perished did so because they declined an opportunity to climb into a lifeboat, not by a long shot. But this must surely have been the cause of many deaths.

In the shock and horror that followed one of the worst peace-time disasters in maritime history, many of these subtle details were lost on newspaper-reading public. As they counted up the 162 dead women and children, many readers wondered how 338 men had managed to find their way into the lifeboats, "displacing" those helpless victims. Hosono received some of the harshest criticism of all. Not from the American newspapers, who expected chivalrous self-sacrifice from well-bred gentlemen of the middle and upper classes, but were dismissive of foreigners and the rabble traveling in the steerage. Few American papers even took an interest in Hosono's story. One that did celebrated the good fortune of the "lucky Japanese boy."

SAVED ... AND CONDEMNED

No, the harshest attack against Hosono came from his own countrymen. For in surviving the Titanic disaster, he had broken two cultural taboos. Not only had Hosono chosen ignominious life over an honorable death, he had done so in public - on a European passenger liner with the eyes of the world upon him. Hosono was denounced as a coward by Japanese newspapers and fired from his job with the Transportation Ministry. The ministry hired him back a few weeks later, but his career never recovered. College professors denounced him as immoral, and he was written up in Japanese textbooks as a man who had disgraced his country. There were even public calls for him to commit hara-kiri - ritual suicide - as means of saving face.

Hosono never did kill himself, but there must have been times when he wished he'd died on the Titanic. He never spoke of the experience again, and forbade any mention of it in his home. After he died in 1939, a broken and forgotten man, his letter to his wife, written on what is believed to be the only surviving piece of Titanic stationery, sat in a drawer until 1997, when the blockbuster film Titanic staged its Tokyo premiere. Then the Japanese public's interest in the doomed liner's lone Japanese passenger was renewed again, this time with much more sympathy.

The article above is reprinted with permission from Uncle John's Unsinkable Bathroom Reader. The Bathroom Readers' Institute has sailed the seas of science, history, pop culture, humor, and more to bring you Uncle John's Unsinkable Bathroom Reader. Our all-new 21st edition is overflowing with over 500 pages of material that is sure to keep you fully absorbed. Since 1988, the Bathroom Reader Institute has published a series of popular books containing irresistible bits of trivia and obscure yet fascinating facts. Check out their website here: Bathroom Reader Institute.

Newest 5
Newest 5 Comments

i recently read a bio of admiral yamamoto,and when he left the london naval conference,he went to new york,took the train to the west coast,then to japan.

since hosono-san was in european russia,his route was probably normal for the time.

the japanese sailor taken prisoner at pearl harbor was shunned on repatriation,had a position in peru to avoid shame.
Abusive comment hidden. (Show it anyway.)
Commenting is closed.





Email This Post to a Friend
"Masabumi Hosono: The Man Condemned for Surviving The Titanic"

Separate multiple emails with a comma. Limit 5.

 

Success! Your email has been sent!

close window