Masabumi Hosono was the only Japanese passenger on RMS Titanic, and boarded the ship on 10th April 1912 at Southampton, England, as a second class passenger. He was a civil servant working for the Japanese Ministry of Transport and was sent to Imperial Russia in 1910 to research the state’s railway system. His journey back to Japan resulted in him travelling to London, where he lived for a short time, and then he headed to Southampton to board RMS Titanic on her maiden voyage.
At 11.40pm on 14th April 1912, RMS Titanic tragically collided with an iceberg 400 nautical miles south of Newfoundland, Canada. The ship sunk in a matter of hours. Hosono did not wake during the crash, and only woke when a steward entered his cabin and instructed him to put on a lifejacket.
Masabumi attempted to head up the ship’s boat deck, but was blocked by a crewmen, who most likely assumed he was a third class passenger as he was Japanese. However, after three attempts, Hosono slipped past the obstruction and headed to the boat deck, where he noticed that emergency flares were being fired, he later stated: “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”.
Hosono’s chance for survival appeared when officer shouted there was “room for two more” on Lifeboat 10. He watched as one man jumped aboard the lifeboat, and so followed suit. Masabumi later said, “the example of the first man making a jump led me to take this last chance. Fortunately the men in charge were taken up with something else and did not pay much attention. Besides, it was dark, and so they would not have seen who was a man and who a woman”.
The boat departed RMS Titanic safely, and Hosono, and the rest of the passengers in the lifeboat, watched as the ship, which was just 200 feet away, as passengers and crew scrambled aboard the vessel to save their own lives.
At approximately 8am on 15th April, RMS Carpathia arrived on the scene and rescued the 705 survivors. Hosono slept in the smoking room aboard the ship, but soon became the target of jokes by the seamen, who he branded as “a good-for-nothing band of seaman” for whom “anything I say falls on deaf ears”.
Hosono received very little attention from the world’s press following the sinking of the shop. In order to return safely home to Japan, he asked his friends for help, and so he travelled to San Francisco and returned to Japan on another ship.
The Japanese press heard of Hosono’s story and dubbed him as the “lucky Japanese boy”. He was also interviewed by a number of magazine and newspapers, and photographs of him and his family also featured in the publications. However, the fame soon led to condemnation in the United States, with Archibald Gracie branding him a “stowaway” in his best-selling account of the event. Edward Buley, an Able Seaman aboard RMS Titanic, also told the US Senate Inquiry that Hosono and the other man who entered Lifeboat 10 must have disguised themselves as women to enter the boat; however, this false report did not feature in Japanese newspapers or magazines.
Consequently, Hosono lost his job, with the Japanese press condemning him as a coward. He was also denounced as immoral by a professor of ethics. However, he was later re-employed by the ministry, who believed his skills were too valuable to lose, and so he worked for the company until 1939.
It was reported that Hosono received a hostile reaction from the Japanese public, who believed he “betrayed the Samurai spirit of self-sacrifice” and was seen as an embarrassment to Japan.
Masabumi Hosono died on 14th March 1939 at 68 years old.