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Finance for the Homeless Man

   Living downtown as I do, it’s not uncommon to see homeless men rummaging through the garbage in search of empty cans. Some of the more industrious of these vagabonds can amass such a stash of crushed cans—all crammed into large plastic bags and lashed together on the backs of bicycles—that from a distance they can look like camels accoutered for an expedition.

   It always made me wonder how much a vagrant could earn in this manner so I was delighted when a local news program did a story on the city’s homeless.

   One kilogram of used cardboard, according to the reporter, can be sold to the scrapyard for about seven yen, or just under a buck (US[1]), meaning that even the most determined homeless man can only earn about two hundred yen ($2.50) a day. Every kilo of aluminum cans, on the other hand, brings in ¥140. After collecting cans all day long, a hobo might make about ¥1000 ($13), or enough to buy a bentô and perhaps a couple cans of happôshu.[2]

   A friend told me that one of the happier moments in a homeless man’s foraging life is when he comes across an alluminum alloy wheel for a car. One wheel in good condition can be sold for about ¥500 ($6.40).


[1] At today’s exchange rate, one dollar equals about 77 yen. Hallelujah!

[2] Happôshu (発泡酒, literally “foaming alcohol”) is a low-malt beer-like beverage. Dreadful stuff, but, as the saying goes, beggars can’t be choosers.


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Reader Comments (2)

Nice blog. Happoshu doesn't really need a "literal" translation, does it? If we were to go down that route, accusations of "horse-deer" may well be heard.

I prefer the translation "Sparkling Alcohol" or "carbonated alcohol" etc.

Other than that, nice work!

November 9, 2011 | Unregistered Commenter6810

Thanks for the comment! Much appreciated.

Generally, I agree with you about literal translations, but when I'm introducing kanji to people who either don't speak Japanese or can't read it, I like to explain what the characters mean before providing more colloquial examples.

This method is not uncommon. "Beyond Polite Japanese", an excellent and entertaining reference book published by Kodansha and available at, introduces words in the same manner. Have a look:

November 10, 2011 | Registered CommenterAonghas Crowe

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