F-16 test pilot becomes Kyoto taxi driver

New occupations bring new challenges and new rewards.


The other day I got into a Kyoto taxi driven by a man about my age. We began talking, and I learned that he’d moved from Tokyo two years ago, after retiring from his previous career.

This guy had a great story. He’d spent many years flying high-performance aircraft as a test pilot. In the last decade of his career he tested electronic equipment in Japanese versions of F-16 fighter jets. He told me about flying at twice the speed of sound and what it felt like to fly up as high as 20,000 meters, where he could see the curvature of the earth. While we were stopped at a red light, he illustrated the arc of the earth’s horizon with both hands.

He retired in his mid-fifties and spent a little while wondering what to do with the rest of his life. Then he decided to become a taxi driver. He chose Kyoto for its beauty and history, even though he has to live away from his home in Tokyo. I was a little surprised, but he said it wasn’t such a big change from his previous job.

I asked him how he felt about driving a taxi after so many years as a test pilot. His answer made me realize that every career has its challenges and rewards. Driving in a crowded city is a lot more frightening than flying alone high in the sky, even at Mach 2. He’s especially nervous about people dashing in front of his taxi. But he also enjoys his new job. He gets to meet a lot of different people, and he has interesting conversations every day.