Two summers ago my son, then 26, shot a documentary about homeless people living on the banks of the Tama River. From hearing his stories and watching the finished product, I learned (or rather had confirmed) that local movie stereotypes of the homeless as lovable eccentrics or pathetic losers didn’t fit the complex reality.

His subjects were a surprisingly enterprising bunch who built snug (if hardly typhoon-proof) shelters out of wood scraps and plastic tarps and supplied themselves with many of the comforts of ordinary living, from lighting to cooking utensils. They survived by collecting empty cans for recyclers, gardening and even fishing. Some liked to party, while others were defiant loners. It was hard to imagine any of them as salarymen, though some balked at the “homeless” label. They had, they insisted, trades, pasts and identities that belied their current circumstances.

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