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Saturday, May 28, 2016

Hosono Masabumi: A Japanese Coward?

If you have ever watched a kid’s cartoon or comedy skit involving some sort of a ship on the verge of sinking, one will invariably see some male creature dressing himself up as a woman in an effort to contravene the standard ‘women and children first’ rule, that I can only assume was created before women started demanding and for a partial part, receiving equal rights.

Would a man ever dress up as a woman in order to sneak aboard a lifeboat to save his own skin?

Japan seemed to believe that even without the dress, Hosono Masabumi (surname first, 細野 正文) was just such a man… a coward… a person who deserved to suffer mura hachibu (ostracism).

But did he deserve it?

Born October 15, 1870 and dying March 14, 1939, Hosono was a Japanese civil servant with the Ministry of Transport, who is known to be the only Japanese passenger and survivor of the RMS Titanic, which sank on its maiden voyage on April 15, 1912.
Hosono Masabumi (surname first) RMS Titanic survivor from Japan.
Despite being a survivor, Hosono was afforded survivor’s guilt, that is to say as a Japanese person who survived when others did not, he must be a coward for not dying alongside the other passengers.

In Russia in 1910 to research their railway system, Hosono then traveled to London, stayed a bit then went to Southampton and boarded the RMS Titanic on April 10, 1912—his ticked listed him as a second-class passenger—this is an important point. The ticket at the very top is an a real second-class Titanic ticket, but as far as I know, it did not belong to Hosono. 

During the night of April 14/15, the Titanic had struck an iceberg and was sinking somewhere off the coast of Newfoundland (now a part of Canada).

Hosonso was roused from his sleep by a steward, but as he tried to go up to the deck where lifeboats were being launched Hosono was stopped by a Titanic crewman who assumed the Japanese fellow must be a third-class passenger.

Hey… when one’s ship is sinking, who thinks they should go and find their ticket?

Eventually getting onto the boat deck (that’s what they called the area where the lifeboats were being dispatched), Hosono saw the panic going on: "All the while flares signalling emergency were being shot into the air ceaselessly, and hideous blue flashes and noises were simply terrifying. Somehow I could in no way dispel the feeling of utter dread and desolation."

Seeing that four lifeboats had been launched, Hosono figured he was going to die, that he would never see his wife or kids again.

"I tried to prepare myself for the last moment with no agitation, making up my mind not to leave anything disgraceful as a Japanese. But still I found myself looking for and waiting for any possible chance for survival."

Seeing Lifeboat 10 loaded, an officer heard an officer yell: "Room for two more”.

Seeing one man jump on, Hosono figured this was his chance for rescue, and got aboard.

Hosono himself seems to think that his presence (as well as of that other man) was something he should not have done.
RMS Titanic's Lifeboat No. 14 with a collapsible in tow, April 15, 1912.
He said: "Fortunately the men in charge were taken up with something else and did not pay much attention. Besides, it was dark, and so they would not have seen who was a man and who a woman."

Hmmm… so Hosono DID realize that the lifeboats were for women and children FIRST… but it seems that at no point were there any more women and children NEAR Lifeboat 10 - or else they would have gained access.

I should say there were probably no women or children of First or Second Class around…

So… coward or smart?

Finally rescued and aboard the RMS Carpathia, Hosono used some Titanic stationary he had in his coat pocket (with the Titanic letterhead) a letter that he had begun to write to his wife in English.
Such as it is, here's a close-up of all the English Hosono had begun to write to his wife on April 10, 1912. Considering thetragedy occurred on the night of April 14/15, it doesn't seem like Hosonso was ever going to finish that letter to his wife in English. Yes, that's what I took out of it.... It's a valid point...

He continued to write (now in Japanese) on the stationary his version of what had happened and what was going on the aboard the Carpathia's voyage to New York.

It is the only such document known to exist on Titanic stationery.

Hosonso Titanic diary/letter Pages 1 and 2 in Japanese.

Hosonso Titanic diary/letter Pages 3 and 4 in Japanese.
Rescued, Hosono eventually made his way to New York, to see if some friends there could help him get back to Japan.

Interesting... did White Star Line - owners of the RMS Titanic - not provide assistance to surviving passengers? I understand it was a bust time... but come on...

Hosono was able to get money enough to go to San Francisco and then to book passage back on a ship going to Japan.

In San Francisco, a local newspaper heard of Hosonso's near-death experience on the Titanic, and called him the "Lucky Japanese Boy".

Back in Japan (Tokyo), Hosono was a celebrity, getting his 15-minutes of fame as he was interviewed by many magazines and newspapers, including the daily Yomiuri Shimbun, which ran a photograph of him with his family.

All seems pretty normal, right?

But... it as back in the U.S.,  when Titanic survivor Archibald Gracie IV wrote a best-selling book—The Truth about the Titanic—detailing the disaster.

Now... while Gracie was a first-class passenger and could have got aboard one of the lifeboats sooner, he and friend Clinch Smith (died and body never found) helped Second Officer Charles Lightoller fill the remaining lifeboats with women and children. 

Once the last regular lifeboat had been launched at 1:55AM on April 15, Gracie and Smith helped Lightoller and others get the four Engelhardt collapsible boats that were stored atop the crew quarters and attached to the roof by heavy cords and canvas lashings.

Gracie had to lend Lightoller his penknife so the boats could be freed, launching Collapsible "C" and Collapsible "D", and only managing to free Collapsible "A" from its lashings—and while attempting to free Collapsible "B", the bridge was awash with cold, Atlantic Ocean water.

Anyhow... look him up or read his book, if you want to know more...

To be fair, Gracie appears to have been an elitist, as well as a racist... or perhaps he was just as most people of that era were.

Apparently, in his book (actually published after Gracie had died), he called every stowaway or man who jumped or sneaked aboard a lifeboat an "Italian", "Japanese", or "Latin", and only gave the names of the men who put their wives aboard lifeboats and remained on the ship if they had been in first class. At least he didn't say "wop', "chink" or "spic".

To be fair to Gracie... did he really write the story that way, or did the editors do so with their own agenda?

The book, however, calls Hosono a "stowaway".

Titanic Able Seaman Edward Buley told a U.S. Senate inquiry that Hosono and the other man must have disguised themselves as women in order to sneak aboard.

There's no proof of that, and appears to be was Buley's attempt to explain how he let two men aboard a lifeboat.

But, when that news made its way to Japan—probably dressing up as a woman to save his own hide at the expense of women and children—well, Hosonso was called out as a coward in the Japanese press, with him even losing his job.

The thing is, Hosono was really, really good at his job, so Japan's Ministry of Transport soon hired him back, working for them until his death by natural causes. 

For Hosono, it wasn't the fact that he survived the sinking of the Titanic, it was Japan's belief that he had only done so through subterfuge.

People would have you believe that Japan branded Hosono a coward because he was willing to sacrifice women and children... something that goes against the samurai code of Bushido or against some ingrain Japanese morality.

The truth is, regardless of where a person is from, if ANYONE had dressed themselves up as a woman or child to try and sneak aboard a lifeboat, if found out they would have been vilified.

It's actually quite ignorant to assume there's some great Japanese morality play in affect here.

It's a human morality play, and at no time is there any evidence that Hosono dressed up as a woman.

Did he think his getting aboard the lifeboat was morally wrong? Yes... he thought so himself, even at that time, which was why he tried to keep a low profile while on the lifeboat.

Does it really matter that someone aboard the lifeboat said there was room for two more people?

No... it was probably understood that there was room for two more women or children. Hosono did understand that, but he chose to go anyway.

Now... were there any women and children remaining on that deck? Did any woman or child perish because Hosono and the other man took a spot in the lifeboat?

No one living can honestly give an answer now.

Being able to answer that question is the only way to assuage guilt or innocence for Hosono in his surviving the sinking of the RMS Titanic.

Seriously... if there's no one else around, and there's a spot open, why shouldn't a man take it? If that's what Hosono did, cool.

But, if it was first come, first served, and Hosono jumped into the boat before a woman or child - then shame on him.

Hosonso had survivor's guilt, but he never said he sacrificed others to save his own skin.

Then again... who would?

Andrew Joseph


  1. Hosono did right thing. In those days, most of westeners were racist. Hosono is also a human like everyone else. Proud to say Japanese who survived titanic shipwreck.

    1. I don't have a problem with what Hosono did. There was a spot open, and he took it. Thanks for writing in.