The Question of National Values: The story of Japanese Masabumi Hosono and the Sinking of the Titanic
Most people have attributed several immoral conducts of our people to poverty and inequality. I for one think this is too simplistic because of the fact that in our recent history, we have read stories of extremely poor people refusing to pocket missing wads of money but instead choosing to return the money to the owners while a rich minister spent millions of stolen dollars on pieces of jewelry.
Now, back to the issue of national values. The Japanese have a national value of duty, honour, and shame. It is not too uncommon to see Japanese committing hara kiri (honour suicide) for failing to honour a pledge. Their technologies reflect their values – their finishing impeccable. Pay an artisan among my people an exorbitant sum of money for a job and see the idiot escape with your hard-earned money without completing the task. The prick would also be one of those condemning the “invisible” leaders for the ills of the country.
There is a story of the lone Japanese on the Titanic (the RMS Titanic Ship). The man arranged to escape the sunken ship by surreptitiously boarding a lifeboat meant for children and women. His name – Masabumi Hosono, he was an employee of the Japanese Transportation Ministry.
He managed to survive the tragedy and he became an instant hero. But, as soon as details of what transpired came to public attention. He was villified by his people.
He was sacked by the Ministry of Transportation.
Japanese Textbooks were produced that referenced his conduct – though survivalist- an example of disgraceful behaviours. He died a disgraced man in 1939.
The effect of his conduct was so strong that in 1998 when the movie Titanic came out, Masabumi family made a paid advert in the newspaper apologising to the public for the shameful behaviour of one of their own.
Where I come from, the interpretation would be different. Criminals get celebrated.
I must remark however that we weren’t always like this as a people. The concept of “Iku ya ju esin” could somehow be attributed to a variant of this Japanese culture in our tradition. The adage “Kaka ki n’jale ma kuku d’eru – I rather became a slave than be a thief” aptly captures this moral culture.
The simple misfortune of having a criminal in a family is enough to cause ostracism of its entire members by the larger clan. No parents would give out the hands of their daughter in marriage to a man of questionable means.
I am almost tempted to attribute our decline in morality to the incursion of the alien religions of Christianity and Islam. Why bother about some archaic traditional values when you can openly commit abomination and simply do ablution prayers of penitence or go for confession?
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