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Still Flying High

Jun Takahashi, the world’s oldest active commercial pilot at ninety-three, entered the Guinness World Records in 2014 for being the oldest active commercial pilot alive. He’s been a pilot for seventy years, and lives a relaxed, happy life under a simple philosophy that includes always maintaining reserves of both mental and physical energy.

Ninety-three-year-old Jun Takahashi has logged over 25,000 hours in the air, and possesses the rare ability to master any type of aircraft. Known as the “god of airplanes,” Takahashi is also the captain of the Red Cross Flying Squadron for the Japan Flying Association and its emeritus chairman. He was happy to talk about his secrets to staying so youthful and active at such an age.

Today, Takahashi flies about one or two times a week. He pilots aircraft that pull gliders at the airspace at Fujikawa in Shizuoka Prefecture, for example, and is an instructor for Cessna glider pilots. He also trains young Japan Self-Defense Forces aviators and gives lectures nationwide, continuing his daily engagement with the art and craft of flying.

“I’d dreamed of flying freely through the sky like a bird since I was a child, and being a pilot was my dream job,” Takahashi explains. “To acquire flying skills, I became a student at the preparatory course for navy fliers. Later I worked as an instructor, teaching people how to fly small aircraft and the like. When I turned forty-nine, I became a freelance pilot. My main interest has always been flying, and I’ve managed to make a career out of doing what I love, so the concept of retirement or leaving the workforce has never entered my mind.”

Obtaining a pilot’s license is a one-time affair, but there are annual physical examinations required to maintain it, and a license cannot be renewed unless the pilot clears that process at a medical institution recognized by the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism. Takahashi says he wants to continue renewing his license as long as possible, and be flying even past the age of one hundred.

“I’m often asked what my secret is to being an active pilot for so long,” he says. “I think it’s because I always make sure I have leeway and energy to spare when I do things. I put eighty percent of my energies into a task and make sure I have room to relax. If you put out a hundred percent constantly, you’ll eventually run out of steam. You should always conserve that extra twenty percent so that you can put out the full hundred percent, or even exceed it, when you really need to. This way, even if an unexpected problem crops up, you don’t panic.”

This leisurely but lively approach to life is also reflected in Takahashi’s private life. On the day of the interview, he appeared standing tall in a crimson varsity jacket and jeans. “Japanese old folks are too conservative,” he says with a smile. “If you don’t put on more flair as you age, you’ll become boring.” He has his white locks permed once a month at a salon, and his skin care regimen, down to his hands, is unstinting. This stylish gent says he even buffs his own nails.

“Staying young at heart is also important, so I sometimes go out for meals with the ladies,” Takahashi explains. “I’m also keen on maintaining discipline and constancy in my life. I force myself not to use a journal or notebook, but rather keep everything in my head. I also try to be punctual for everything. I eat whatever I like, but not eating until I’m full has been a longtime habit. The trick is to not get too worked up about things and give yourself both the mental and physical latitude to have fun. I think that’s the real secret.

“You cannot turn back the clock,” he adds. “Forget about the unpleasant past and look to the pleasant future. Don’t brood on mistakes, don’t ever make excuses, and use failures as fodder for your own learning. If you stick to that attitude, life becomes fun and interesting, and you’ll start to feel gratitude toward your family and those around you.”

This free and flexible approach is undoubtedly the primary secret to Takahashi’s youthfulness, along with his sincerity and thoughtful attitude when relating to those around him.