The Japanese passenger who survived the Titanic but faced unbearable shaming at home

The sinking of the Titanic on April 15, 1912, was one of the deadliest maritime disasters in history. Of the 2,240 passengers and crew aboard, only 706 survived. One survivor was Masabumi Hosono. He was the only Japanese person to have survived the disaster and the only survivor to experience public shaming.

When the Titanic struck an iceberg and began taking on water, Hosono found himself trapped below decks, blocked from reaching the lifeboats by a crewmember who assumed he was a third-class passenger and therefore not worthy of saving. Finally making his way topside, Hosono witnessed the panic and chaos as flares lit up the night sky and passengers scrambled for the few remaining lifeboats.

Resigned to his fate, Hosono prepared himself for death, writing later of the "hideous blue flashes and noises" and "frightful shrills and cries of those drowning." Remarkably, he secured a place on one of the last lifeboats, surviving the freezing North Atlantic until being rescued by the RMS Carpathia.

You'd think Hosono's dramatic survival story would make him a celebrated figure back home in Japan. Instead, he faced public condemnation and ostracism from press, government, and society for perceived cowardice and dishonor. Inaccurate reports claimed he had disguised himself as a woman or stowed away illicitly on the lifeboat.

Stripped of his government job, Hosono's supposed failure to uphold samurai ideals of self-sacrifice made him an object of scorn. His very name became shorthand for dishonorable behavior in Japan.

As reported in Wikipedia:

Western academics who read the 1997 article put forth various explanations why Hosono encountered such a hostile reaction. It has been said that he was seen to have "betray[ed] the Samurai spirit of self-sacrifice." 

Another suggestion, from Jon P. Alston and Isao Takei, is that he was seen as having failed to show the expected conformity and was believed to have selfishly pushed aside other passengers to board the lifeboat. As a result, he was subjected to mura hachibu or ostracism. 

Margaret D. Mehl attributes his ostracism to the perception that he had embarrassed Japan; the "women and children first" protocol was not part of the Samurai code, but had instead come to Japan via the 1859 book Self Help by Samuel Smiles, which was a huge success in translation and proved enormously influential in introducing Western values to Japan.

Mehl comments: "Hosono's failure to act as the Anglo-Saxon nations evidently expected their men to act caused embarrassment in Japan, but more because of the Japanese's acceptance of Western values than because of their own traditions."

Hosono died in his sleep in 1939 at age 68, but his Titanic story remained a source of shame for his descendants. In the late 1990s, buoyed by renewed interest from the Titanic film, Hosono's family released his written account to the public, prompting his grandson Haruomi Hosono to declare "Honor has been restored to the Hosonos" at last.

Fun fact: Hosono's survival that day brought into the world his grandson, Haruomi Hosono, who would go on to co-found the pioneering electronic band Yellow Magic Orchestra!

Previously: More harrowing tales from Oceangate`s rinky dink Titanic tourist sub