This is the story of the singular people who gather at a lotus pond in a small park in Tokyo.

For example: one day, an old man in a plain suit sat next to me on a bench in the park. He began to put powder on his face and eventually changed into a woman’s kimono. Once transformed, he began dancing to a Japanese ballad that came in over his radio, smiling radiantly the whole time. He told me that he was a master of Japanese dancing, a homosexual, and that he had cancer.

There are other examples: an old millionaire who shows up in his underwear, riding a rickety bicycle. A devilish-looking man who, in fact, still lives with his mother.

The pond is a wide lotus pond called Shinobazunoike. Intrigued by these characters, I began to go more often. Quickly, I encountered more people — similar to the first but, of course, completely different and unique.

There is something about the people I met at the pond that attracted me in a peculiar way. It was something more than just how they looked or just what they said about themselves. It was as if they had a kind of magnetic power, unseen and quiet, attracting those who were similar to them and those who liked to look.

Each subject has his or her own background and a character so unique that no stereotype can define them all. It is as if all sorts of mutually-conflicting and complex human characteristics — vigor and weakness, harshness and gentleness, beauty and ugliness — all reveal themselves in their truest forms in these subjects.

I titled the series “Thirteen Orphans”. The name comes from one of the strongest hands in the game of mahjong. It is an unusual hand because most hands aim to gather one or two types of the same card while in this hand, all the cards must be completely different. The hand is high-scoring but volatile: if just one card is missing, the entire group becomes worthless. Thus, each individual is unlike all the others but combined, they make a valuable whole.

—Tsutomu Yamagata

Editors’ note: See all of the winners and finalists: LensCulture Portrait Awards 2014.