Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Titanic Decision

Mr Masabumi Hosono paid £13 (13 British Pound Sterlings, worth about 20 American dollars today) for ticket No. 237798 to cross the Atlantic on the Titanic in 1912, and we all know how that worked out.

But Mr Hosono, 42, the only Japanese passenger aboard, survived the shipwreck, only to be broken for it.  Here's what happened:

He was writing a letter to his wife while sailing for New York.  He began the letter using English, but finished it later in Japanese, aboard the Carpathia, the ship that rescued the Titanic passengers who made it into lifeboats.  When the Titanic hit the iceberg and began taking on water, someone knocked on the door of his second class cabin. He ran to the lifeboat area, but as a foreigner, he was ordered to go below the main decks.

(Every once in a while you come across a passage like that in history, and you wonder what people were thinking 103 years ago. And why.)

In the letter he later finished, Hosono wrote to his wife, "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."

He went on to describe how he climbed back up to the upper deck. "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."

He came upon a lifeboat filling up with people.  An officer hollered "Room for two more!"   He paused and considered this his final chance to live and see his wife and children again, and jumped into the boat, lifeboat #10.

(Remember, many people chose to stay aboard, having bought into the myth that the ship was unsinkable.  These are the antecedents of people today who stay in large office buildings as the fire alarm rings, refusing to evacuate because "it can't happen here.")

Mr Hosono
And from that lifeboat, Hosono was rescued, and he returned to Japan to be attacked in his own country for saving himself when so many others died.  The government agency he worked for fired him (although he was rehired eventually), newspapers called him a coward, and a professor of ethics called him immoral.  He may have even become a textbook case; legend has it that a schoolbook was published that called him a "model of shameful behavior."

It would appear that Mr Hosono took the chance to save himself when it was presented to him. In his country, this was seen as a betrayal of the Samurai spirit of self-sacrifice," or that he failed to show the expected conformity.  As a result he was subjected to mura hachibu or ostracism.

He was said to be a broken man when he died in 1939 at age 69. Today, we wonder, who among us would not want to live, when given the chance?  Even if we knew it would cost so much...

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