14th of April 1912, hour 23:40 – Atlantic Ocean: the transatlantic RMS Titanic sails at full speed in the chill of a starry night of Spring.
The ship seemed to barely brush against the massive iceberg that arose in front of them, but the underneath side of the block, like a sharp blade of a knife, tore the steel of the gunnel of the starboard side.
Picture of the collision – James Henry Potts, 1914
The general stampede and panic are immediate: the first class passengers felt a feeble clink of the chandeliers and some objects falling from the side tables, the ones from second class perceived a “muffled weird brief sound” whilst the third class ones described a thud.
Only the stokers, the workers fuelling the furnace heard a terrible metallic noise just one moment before the water flooded the transatlantic, the unsinkable ship which instead disappeared within the ocean in a frame of 2 hours.
The passengers of the Titanic woke up in a never wanted nightmare. Everyone tried to reach the boat deck so the panic began. The third class passengers struggled heavaily to find their way to salvation (one third of them died in the shipwreck), the ones from the second class had a better chance while the first class travellers were the most facilitated ones. Either way, the commander’s order was “women and children first”.
Masabumi Hosono, 1912
Amongst the second class passengers there was Masabuni Hosono, the only Japanese on board. The man, important official of the Japanese Ministry of Transport, was coming back home from a business trip to Russia, where he went to study the Russian state railway system. It is not sure why he chose such a longer journey, Russia to Great Britain to Japan. However, no matter what the reason could have been, the trip does not end well even if Mr Hohsono managed to survive.
Survival: that the only thing that matters for Masabusi as well as for all the other passengers, heroes excluded. In that cursed night, Hosono was woken up by a steward so he quickly went to the boat deck. Before he could get there a member of the crew stopped him believing he was someone from the third class. Since the lifeboats were not enough, those people were not allowed in them.
In that frantic confusion he reached the deck, but even up there this was still not guaranteeing his survival.
The air was loaded up by the clamour of the emergency rockets; blue lightnings ran across the sky and the noise of the fear was terrifying
Hosono “..could in no way dispel the feeling of utter dread and desolation”. He saw four lifeboats lowered and started realising the very likely possibility of an imminent death, “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”. Since the number of boats were quickly about to run out, “I tried to prepare myself for the last moment with no agitation, making up my mind not to leave anything disgraceful as a Japanese subject. But still I found myself looking for and waiting for any possible chance for survival”.
On the sea there was the lifeboat number 10 on which there were boarding, as per protocol, “women and children”. Hosono heard someone shouting “Room for two more”, and a man jumped on it. The Japanese man noticed that and as he put it
“the example of the first man making a jump led me to take this last chance.”
It was dark and from the lifeboats, everyone was focused on the Titanic, distant only about 61 meters (200 ft) from the sinking ship. He heard the cries of those still on board and the “extraordinary sounds” resembling the ones of four distinct explosions, when the ship broke up. Then once again the “..frightful shrills and cries of those drowning in the water”.
The shipwreck – Willy Stöwer
At 8 AM of the 15th of April the RMS Carpathia arrived, rescuing the castaways who then were taken to New York. In the following three days of travelling, he found in his coat pockets a sheaf of stationery with Titanic’s letterhead: he started writing, in English, a letter to his wife. During Carpathia’s voyage to New York, he used the paper to write an account in Japanese of his experiences. It is the only document of its kind known to exist on Titanic stationery.
The letter of Hosono to his wife
The American journals published the tales of the survivors and renamed Hosono as “Lucky Japanese Boy”. When the man came back to Japan, thanks to the help of some countrymen who paid for the trip, his life started getting complicated.
Both the American and Japanese press started attacking the man, guilty of not having followed the rule “women and children first”
Other survivors defined him as a “sneak”, whilst the sailor of the lifeboat 10 declared he must had dressed up as a woman, that was the only way he could have gone on board of the boat.
The accusations were unfounded yet Hosono underwent the “Hachibu mura”, ostracism which made him lose his job too for a certain period. He was called coward, guilty of having “..betrayed the Samurai spirit of self-sacrifice”, caused embarrassment to the whole Japanese country and even in an ethics book he was criticised for not having followed the protocol. The “women and children first” protocol though, did not exist in the Land of the Rising Sun, but still, they would have preferred for him a “honourable death” than a dishonoured existence.
Hosono did not react, did not make any public statement and some years afterwards they re-accepted him at work. Time goes by, Hosono died in 1939 but the family still suffered because of the bad reputation linked to their name. Only after the film in 1997, the colossal “Titanic”, his story started to be compared with the ones of many other Western men survived. Masabumi Hosono did not do anything shameful, attached to his will to life and to come back to his beloved ones. Is this a reason to be lifelong condemned?