When the Titanic hit an iceberg in the North Atlantic in 1912, it took 1,517 women, men and children to a watery grave. Masabumi Hosono was not one of them.
Masabumi was the only Japanese person to survive the Titanic’s sinking. He was one of the lucky few who escaped on a lifeboat. He did not feel so lucky when he returned to Japan. He was called a dishonorable coward for not falling on his own sword.
Masabumi boarded the largest man-made moving object on Earth with 2,208 other passengers. In the early hours of April 15 he woke up on a doomed ship.
Masabumi fought his way to the deck. He said, “All the hideous blue flashes from the flares and the noises were simply terrifying. There was a feeling of utter dread and desolation.”
Masabumi resigned himself to the inevitable. He believed he had no choice but to share the Titanic’s destiny.
Saying goodbye in his mind to his beloved wife and children back in Japan, he watched women and children climbing aboard lifeboat 10. An officer cried, “Room for two more.” Masabumi noticed a man jump aboard. Without thinking he followed suit.
On the boat, Masabumi heard the cries of the drowning, the children sobbing for their fathers and the women crying for their husbands. He fell into a bottomless despair.
After returning home to Japan, he was publicly shamed as a coward and fired from his job. Some said it was because he “betrayed the Samurai spirit of self-sacrifice.” Western academic Margaret D. Mehl believes Masabumi was condemned because he embarrassed Japan in the eyes of the world.
While some say that Masabumi’s shaming was a uniquely Japanese reaction, others point to a similar reaction in Britain. English businessman Joseph Ismay was the managing director of the company who owned the Titanic. He also survived its sinking. Like Masabumi, he was fiercely criticized for escaping the ship when women and children were still onboard.
No one knows how they would react in the face of death. While choosing life is a natural response, not everyone did so. Titanic passenger Benjamin Guggenheim chose self-sacrifice. Instead of saving himself, he placed his mistress in a lifeboat. After helping more children onto lifeboats, he returned to his room to change into evening wear with a rose through his buttonhole. He said, “We’ve dressed up in our best and are prepared to go down like gentlemen.” Guggenheim and his valet were last seen sitting on deck chairs smoking cigars and sipping brandy.