S1E2 – Show Notes

Of the roughly 2224 individuals who boarded the Titanic in Europe, only around 710 reached New York alive. Of the 109 children on board,  56 of them survived. Of the 425 women, 316 survived. And of the 1690 men, 338 set foot in America. That’s 51% of the children, 74% of the women, and only 20% of the men.

Your odds of surviving the Titanic as a male passenger would not have been in your favor–not even by a long shot. In fact, you were more likely to survive as a third class woman than as a first class man. And of the men who managed to escape, nearly 60% were crewmembers, most of whom had been allowed off the ship because they were needed to steer the lifeboats and see to the safety of the surviving passengers. Only 18% of male passengers managed to make it to New York alive.

These numbers can largely be attributed to the orders of Captain Smith, who knew the ship contained only enough lifeboats to save less than half of the passengers on board. He had given the order to allow women and children access to the lifeboats before accepting any men. Some men, primarily in first class, were offered seats in lifeboats anyway, and many of them declined, stating they’d rather allow room for the women and children who had not yet been able to board.

So for the 168 male passengers who survived, there was some degree of judgment passed for allowing 163 women and children to go into the water that night. The numbers were just close enough to make their actions looks selfish and advantageous.

Male survivors of Titanic arrive ashore at Millbay Docks, Plymouth, England.

Male survivors from Titanic arrived in Millbay Docks, Plymouth, England in May of 1912. Photo via TitanicFacts.

Some of these men went on to live normal lives after the sinking, choosing to never mention their story again, for fear of the connotation that their survival seemed to so readily invoke.

One man, however, was never again afforded the opportunity to just blend in.

Titanic survivor, Masabumi Hosono.

Titanic survivor, Masabumi Hosono. Photo via Wikipedia.

Masabumi Hosono was the only Japanese passenger aboard the Titanic. Born on October 15, 1870, Hosono was an employee of the Japanese Ministry of Transportation. He’d been on assignment in Europe, traveling the continent by train to study the development of railway systems, and he was fianlly ready to return home. As no convenient train passage had yet been built across Asia, Hosono decided to travel home by way of boat, first stopping in America and traveling by train across the continent, and then taking another boat home to Japan across the Pacific. It would be a long journey, but he looked forward to returning home to his wife and children and the familiarity of his office.

Upon hearing of the inaugural trip of the Titanic, he decided to book second-class passage on the ship–luxury accommodations compared to the rail travel to which he’d recently grown accustomed.

He boarded the ship in Southampton on April 10, and settled into his cabin, enjoying a bunk bed and sofa, and even his own wash basin. He ate in the second-class dining hall, a large, elegant room with mahogany tables, crimson upholstery, and even a linoleum floor, the newest and most high-dollar trend in flooring. He sat alone and enjoyed the music from the dining hall’s piano as he ate meals of spring lamb and grilled ox kidney. He walked the second class boat deck and watched as the coast of Ireland fell below the horizon behind them.

And shortly after boarding, he wrote to his wife, on Titanic stationery, telling her of the grandeur of the ship and the opulence that he was experiencing on board.

He folded up the letter and stuck it into his new jacket, intending to finish it later in the trip, and he continued on his journey in solitude, finding it difficult to converse with other passengers in English.

To the rest of those aboard, he was simply an Asian man– whether Filipino, Chinese, or “Jap” they had no concern. For all they cared, he had somehow found himself in the presence of the many white faces who had earned their presence aboard the ship. So he kept to himself, enjoying his time aboard the Titanic to whatever degree he could.

On April 14th, he was asleep in his room. Shortly after the ship had struck the iceberg, he was awakened by a steward and instructed to put on his life jacket and make his way to the upper deck.

He took his familiar route to the second class deck and was stopped at the door. This Asian man, the crewmember asserted, was surely out of place. Asians traveled in third class, and as a result, they had no business occupying the deck with second class passengers.

Hosono pleaded with the man, insisting that he was in fact a second class passenger. His plea for escape fell on deaf ears, though. In spite of the fact that no one else was around–no one else in this area was even trying to get onto the deck–Hosono was denied escape a second time. Finally, fed up with being told he didn’t belong in an area he had rightfully paid to occupy, he slipped past the officer and found himself in the open air.

As he stood on the second class deck, he watched four lifeboats leave the ship with only women and children. The officers stood guard at the boats, aiming their pistols at any man who dared to come close, and the second class men slowly left as their families were lowered down the side of the ship, returning to their cabins, having accepted their fate, or looking for other boats that might be willing to take them to safety. But Hosono waited. And as the last lifeboat in Hosono’s immediate area was being loaded, after all the women and children on the deck had been taken to safety, he heard an officer shout “room for two more!” A man jumped into the boat, and realizing that this was his opportunity, so did Hosono.

He was one of the lucky 18%. He had made it off the ship alive. But his troubles were only just beginning to start.

He found himself waiting for rescue in the lifeboat all evening. When it was realized that he and another man, an Armenian immigrant, were on the boat, the pair were tasked with rowing–navigating the icy and open expanse of the North Atlantic in a 25 foot lifeboat, rowing aimlessly in the hopes that someone would come along soon to rescue them. In his own words: “After the ship sank there came back again frightful shrills and cries of those drowning in the water. Our lifeboat too was filled with sobbing, weeping children and women worried about the safety of their husbands and fathers. And I, too, was as much depressed and miserable as they were, not knowing what would become of myself in the long run.“

At about 8 o’clock the following morning, the occupants of his lifeboat were loaded onto the Carpathia. Aboard this new ship, he was instructed to sleep in the smoking room with the other male survivors and crew, but he found their company difficult and unwelcoming. They referred to him as the Japanese stowaway and did their best to make him feel that his survival was more of an injustice than a miracle. From his pocket, he retrieved the letter that he had begun writing to his wife aboard the ship, and he wrote a detailed account of what he had experienced that night.  

For three days, he endured the snide comments and side-eyed glances from the survivors. “Anything I say falls on deaf ears,” he wrote. On the final day aboard Carpathia, having reached his breaking point, he “fought back with a bulldog tenacity” and gained what he called “a bit of respect.”

Finally, on the evening of April 18, the Carpathia reached New York, first bypassing the Cunard Line Pier and traveling up the Hudson to drop off Titanic’s lifeboats at Pier 59. Tens of thousands of people gathered around Pier 54 at 9:30 on a Thursday evening in the hopes of finding their family members or retrieving information about what might have happened to those who hadn’t yet been accounted for. Newspaper reporters gleaned any stories they could from survivors, and the flashbulbs of hundreds of cameras lit the night. These people who had left Europe in an air of pomp and circumstance had arrived in New York as the objects of morbid curiosity.

Titanic survivors arriving in New York on Carpathia.

Titanic survivors arriving in New York on Carpathia. Photo via John.Vanderree.

But no one paid any mind to Masabumi Hosono. No one waited anxiously for him to exit the ship. His name was recorded as a survivor and he was left to himself once more.

The following morning, he made his way to the Mitsui offices in New York, where he found help in returning home. He boarded a train for San Francisco, and from there, he found a ship to Tokyo.

His arrival in his home country was initially warmer than his experience in America. He was welcomed home by his family, curious for details about his time abroad. His travels in Europe, all the work he had done to expand the railroads in Japan, were overshadowed by the harrowing ordeal he had experienced. His wife read the words he had penned aboard the ship, and his children regarded their father as a hero–a survivor–who had come back to care for them again after all those months abroad.

He was interviewed by newspapers and magazines, and pictures of his family were spread to the thousands who read the publications. The sole Japanese passenger aboard the ship had managed to survive. This was big news.

Little did Hosono know, however, that his survival was still the focus of comments back in America.

Colonel Archibald Gracie, Titanic survivor

Colonel Archibald Gracie, Titanic survivor. Photo via Wikipedia.

Colonel Archibald Gracie, who had heroically survived the sinking by climbing aboard an overturned lifeboat, began giving statements about the disaster as soon as he had reached New York. His word on the matter was regarded as authority by the many families who sought answers to what had occurred on that fateful night, and his propensity for eloquence proved useful in providing a detailed analysis of what had happened. His words provided comfort to the wives who hoped that their husbands had died as gentlemen, and he spoke highly of the victims, citing the relative order with which the lifeboats had been loaded, remarking on the chivalry of the men who could have survived but chose to stay behind so that women and children could board in their place.

Their deaths, he argued, were a testament to the civility of the white race. In his own words, “The coolness, courage, and sense of duty that I here witnessed made me thankful to God and proud of my Anglo-Saxon race that gave this perfect and superb exhibition of self-control at this hour of severest trial.” His words demonized the survivors of other races, and he placed blame for any disorder solely upon them. This included Masabumi Hosono, who Gracie referred to as a stowaway.

Another man, crewmember Edward Buley, testified before the United States Senate that the two male passengers aboard lifeboat 10 must have disguised themselves as women in order to sneak on board. Despite being completely untrue, this was reported to the American public, who took it as evidence of cowardice.

These accusations, however inappropriate or unfounded, made Hosono a target for hostility in the American discourse, and in short time, that anger made its way to Japan. The media, which had just days before regarded Hosono with a sense of curiosity, quickly turned to condemnation. Japan’s only son aboard the ship, they said, had acted cowardly when faced with his own death. On a night when the passengers of so many other nations had opted to go down with the ship, he had boarded the lifeboat by choice, had taken the place that could have been reserved for another. His actions were dishonorable, they argued, and in the years following his ordeal, his name was used in Japanese textbooks as an example of immorality. He had “betrayed the Samurai spirit of self-sacrifice” and he and his family were ostracized as a result. He lost his job at the Ministry of Transportation, but was reinstated when it was realized that, in spite of his supposed cowardice, his work for the ministry was too valuable to just throw away. His actions were viewed as an embarrassment to Japan, a country that was trying its best to conform to the Anglo-Saxon ideals that would ensure its wealth in this newly-connected world.

His family paid the price for his survival for decades. The Hosono name was regarded with dishonor, and it wasn’t until the 1990s that Masabumi Hosono was looked upon with pity, when his ancestors finally published his letter, when the race-relations between Asia and America had finally reached a point that some might call respect, and when the disaster was far-enough removed from current events that people no longer emotionally-identified with the survivors.

Letter written by Titanic survivor, Masabumi Hosono

Letter written by Titanic survivor, Masabumi Hosono to his wife, immediately after the sinking of Titanic.

He never lived to see this, though. He died on March 14, 1939 at the age of 68, 27 years after the loss of Titanic–not nearly enough time to change the public discourse. It’s difficult to imagine how he must have felt in his remaining years–whether he thought that his family might have been luckier if he had decided to not board the lifeboat that night. He never really said much about the sinking after he arrived home. If his silence is any indication of things, it would seem that he felt he could only further damage his family’s reputation by continuing to defend his actions, by further opening old wounds. Some words are best left unspoken.

About Omitted:

Omitted is a history podcast, focusing its first season on the Titanic. The podcast is written, produced, and edited by Corey Constable.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *