Kiyoto Saito, a young rice farmer from Kengo, Japan’s Yamagata prefecture, is trying to change people’s perception of agricultural work through his unusual attire. Whether he’s driving a tractor, or is standing up to his knees in the marshy rice fields, Kiyoto is always wearing an elegant suit complete with shirt and tie.
Kiyoto’s family has been cultivating rice in the fields around Kengo for around 400 years, but as a teenager he found the tradition boring, and moved to the city. He returned to his native town a few years ago determined to start a family and get involved in the family business, but decided to put his unique twist on it.
The idea of wearing a suit in the fields started as a joke. One day, at the dinner table, his brother joked about farming in an elegant suit, but Kyioto took it seriously. He viewed the idea as the perfect way to change public perception of agricultural work in Japan. “Most people think of farmers as ‘dirty all day’ and not making much money,” he told Zoomin TV. “I want youngsters to think ‘ farming looks fun’.
But getting his point across was a bit difficult at first, and no one seemed to understand what he was doing in a rice field dressed as a businessman or office worker. “I stood out so much, they couldn’t understand why I wore a suit,” Kiyoto recalls. “One farmer said ‘Are you making a fool out of us’?”
Even his family was surprised by his choice of farming attire, at first. His grandfather worried that doing farm work in a suit would be dangerous, and his father admits he was confused the first time he saw Kiyoto in the fields, but he didn’t say anything about it.
But things changed as time went by and people learned about the young farmers quest to challenge preconceptions, and today Kiyoto Saito says many people support his style. “So I’ll keep wearing my suit,” he says.
A dapper rice farmer is a rare sight, so it’s no wonder that Saito has been featured in Japan’s biggest newspaper, Yomiuri Simbun, as well as other publications, and invited on various television shows. He also has a blog where he regularly posts his farming experiences and photos of himself all dressed up.