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2019 Spring - Michihiro Nagase

The sky’s the limit:
teen dream of being a pilot took flight
Michihiro Nagase


Did you have a clear future career goal when you were a junior high school student? Were you too busy with sports activities and other things? Confucius, a famous Chinese philosopher, said he was willing to learn at the age of 15, but Mr. Michihiro Nagase set his mind on becoming a pilot when he was only 14.
Although he grew up in a single mother’s economically-challenged environment, he believed fulfilling his dream was inevitable. Nagase focused on that destination and soared above all obstacles to become a pilot.
He recalls many good memories and laughs even though his family was facing poverty. It took over a year of effort to ensure Mr. Nagase graced the cover page. With the generous cooperation of WestJet, we were finally able to interview Captain Nagase!
Father disappeared without a trace when I was two years old
My father often changed jobs. One day, he suddenly disappeared when I was two years old. He left a lot of debt with my mother who was co-signer. My mother and I were living at my father’s employer’s apartment at that time, so we were forced to move out. We were only able to afford a very old small one-room apartment which had a shared kitchen and bathrooms.
Due to my father’s debts, we were extremely poor. Because my mother made ends meet with several jobs, she was rarely at home so I used to spend a lot of time alone since my days in elementary school. I started cooking for myself.
My mother was pretty easy-going, so I became a very independent little kid and acted at my own discretion. The idea of making decisions by myself forced me to mature early. I believe my mother had an extremely tough time raising a kid by herself and paying father’s huge debts, but that lifestyle of poverty didn’t bother me because I knew nothing else. I have nothing but appreciation for my mother who raised me by herself.
When I was in Grade 3, my father unexpectedly came home and he took me to an arcade where he let me play as much as I wanted.
The very next day, He left a little money and disappeared again. Since then, I have never seen my father. The relationship between myself and my mother was very strong. She explained everything including our financial situation and treated me like an equal.
When I was in Grade 7, I assisted my mother with her housekeeping job on the weekends and started to save money for the future.
Help raising younger brother
When I was a high school student, my mother had a baby with her partner. A new life soon began with a baby brother.
My mother had to go back to work and make money right after giving birth. On the way home from school, I had to pick up my brother from a day-care and sometimes took him to see a doctor. I’d be wearing my school uniform and nurses called me “Baby’s Dad.” It was very embarrassing.
Some friends say that it is amazing that I didn’t drop out during this challenging situation. But I was focused on my dream, and delinquency would be another obstacle to achieving it. Because I wanted to save as much money as possible to acquire a pilot’s licence, I couldn’t afford going down the wrong path.
Deciding my future while gazing at the starry sky
In 1990, when I was 14 years old, I saw in the news that Mr. Toyohiro Akiyama, a TV reporter, went to space as a Japanese astronaut for the first time. It was shocking news for me. While watching the star-filled sky on the way home from the public bath (my apartment didn’t have a shower room).
I said to myself: "That’s it! I want to be an astronaut.”
I was excited and my heart was pounding.
I went to my Junior high school’s library to read up on becoming an astronaut. There were several routes to get there, and one of the qualifications was to log 1000 flight hours as a captain in a jet plane. With that, I’d be able to apply with NASA. Therefore, I decided to first become a pilot. Research led me to Japanese Aviation High School. But the tuition fee was over $200,000 CAD - outrageously expensive. I had to find another route to realizing my goal of being a pilot. My mother told me, "I cannot afford to pay the tuition, but I will support you with all my heart.” Getting there required money, so I graduated from the computer programming department of my high school with a scholarship while holding down several jobs. My only regret was not being able to show my mother that I achieved my dream of being a pilot and giving her five grandchildren. She passed away due to lung cancer in 2006.
Life between Canada and Japan
To become a pilot in Japan, airline companies train pilots. In other words, after graduating from university, you need to be employed by an airline company, then you acquire a pilot’s licence through in-house training and practical flight experience. If you become a pilot this way, you learn in the cockpit by flying the same regular route.
I was not sure if I wanted to go down this path because I wanted to become an experienced pilot who could respond instantaneously to any situation. It is somewhat different from the pilot image I had. At that time, I learned that you can acquire a small airplane pilot’s licence without being employed by an airline company overseas.
Eventually, I could become a pilot of a jet passenger plane through this path. But at that time, studying overseas was marked by corruption, a system that sold training qualifications that lacked any kind of credibility.
I decided instead to go to a Canadian flight school with strict, high standards that involved climate and geography curriculum, without going through corrupt middlemen.
After graduating from high school, I wanted to check out Canada and actually visit the flight school. However, I couldn’t afford the cost, so I decided to get a job before visiting the school.
My first job was moving air cargo with a forklift for a year. Then I traveled to Canada for a three-month period to see a Canadian flight school. It was my very first overseas trip.
After choosing the school, I returned home and worked for a motorcycle courier service company that paid on a commission basis.
I returned to Canada in 1996 and acquired a private pilot licence at Centennial Flight School in Vancouver in 1997. After that, in order to gain experience in a different airspace, I garnered a commercial pilot licence with Brampton Flying Club near Toronto.
After returning to Vancouver in 2000, I obtained an instructor licence at the Canadian Flight Centre. That allowed me to begin a professional pilot career as an instructor with a practicum work visa.
It might sound easy, but I regularly ran out of money and had to go back to Japan and work as a truck driver or sales worker. With enough savings, I returned to Canada to attend a flight school. It took me over 4 years from when I first came to Canada to the time I became a flight instructor.
I have never been to an English-as-a-second language school. In my opinion, it’s difficult to maintain motivation if you intend to study only English. But I never tired of studying aircraft no matter how long it took, and the more I got into it, the more I enjoyed it. I entered flight school without knowing English very well, and in the lecture class I repeated the same instruction over and over. I learned English that way because knowing the language was a way to understand aviation.
Built experience to fly a big aircraft
Obtaining a pilot’s qualification in 2001, I acquired a valid practicum visa for one year and worked as an instructor after graduation.
When my visa expired, my employer renewed my work visa for two more years, and based on that experience I applied for an FSW (Federal Skilled Worker Class) immigrant status.
It took me 5 years to become a landed immigrant, so I gained experience in flying as an instructor.
In 2006, I was hired as a co-pilot of an air ambulance and moved to Timmins, Ontario. Half a year later, I took captain promotion training at Moncton Flight College in New Brunswick and then rose to the post of captain.
The following year, I joined Central Mountain Air, which connects BC and Alberta as the captain of a commuter aircraft (a propeller plane with 18 passengers). After that, I flew for five years as the captain of a propeller-driven aircraft of 32 passengers. Meanwhile, I also served as an ACP (Approved Check Pilot) for updating pilots’ qualification as a simulator instructor and an Examiner.
Stationed at Canadian North in Edmonton, a company with a 136-seater Boeing 737 aircraft, I flew across the Arctic, throughout Canada, and North America for five years beginning in 2012. On a flight to the Arctic Circle, I gained rare experience such as taking off and landing a jet aircraft on runways in remote areas with gravel and in harsh environments.
However, due to the collapse of oil prices, flight contracts drastically decreased. However, I luckily became employed by WestJet in 2017, realizing a 20-year goal. My experiences as a captain and background as a simulator instructor helped me to achieve my current status as a captain of the DHC-8 Q400 aircraft. Additionally, as an instructor I am doing pilot’s recurrent training and also initial training for new pilots.
Spiritual training through Karate
When I was a child, I loved a comic book called Karate for Life. I longed to learn Kyokushin Karate. While I was studying in Vancouver, I entered a Karate Dojo run by Master Tats Nakamura who has participated in Karate world championships, and I got completely caught up in mental and physical training through this discipline.
After winning a local competition, I captured the Canadian Championship twice and participated in the international competition where I took the North American weight category championship two times.
I have participated in the world Championship held once every four years as Canada’s representative in 2007 and 2011. If you fight on a big stage like the world tournament, you are not scared of anything anymore. No matter how much preparation is made for Karate matches, there are many cases where unforeseen circumstances arise. Thanks to Karate, no matter what happens at work or in private life, I can adjust and adapt. I cannot imagine being where I am now without Karate and my sensei Tats Nakamura.
In January 2019, I opened a Karate Dojo at the Panorama Hills Community Centre. I respect the Japanese martial arts spirit and courtesy but hope to find humour and enjoyment even in the strictest training.
Setting a career goal as a 14 year-old
Based on my experience I always tell my five children, "If I didn’t set my goal at the age of 14, I don’t think my dreams would have come true.”
Some people go to University without any particular goals and lose their focus. After a while, they seek out their own path in a quest to find their true calling. However, if you find what you want to do at the earliest possible stage, like 14 years old, you can achieve your goal more quickly. My intention was to be independent at the age of 18.
We tend to be more serious without financial support from parents. You cannot be serious unless you strive with money you’ve earned yourself. It is better to have a slightly higher target. I never doubted that I’d one day become a pilot.
Do I still have a dream to become an astronaut? A few years ago, ANA's pilot, Takuya Onishi, who is one year older than me, became an astronaut.
So I suppose space is still within reach.

Michihiro Nagase
Born in 1976 in Chiba Prefecture.
Came to Canada in 1996. Obtained a commercial pilot licence in Ontario and worked as a flight instructor in Vancouver. Acquired flight time and experience and became a landed immigrant in 2006. Worked as an air ambulance pilot in an extremely cold place in Northern Ontario. Became Boeing 737 pilot in 2012, flew around the cities of the Arctic and North America. Joined WESTJET in 2017.
Being acknowledged a career of the instructor and examiner work in his previous job, now working as a simulator instructor while working as a pilot.
Total flight time 9000 hours.
1 boy and 4 girls, father of 5 children.




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2019 Spring


  • Michihiro NagaseThe sky’s the limit: teen dream of being pilot took flight
  • Michiko OnoChannelling the essence of tea leaves
  • Kiyoshi TakasugiTackling hardship leads to fulfillment

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    前号(2019年4月号)      Japanab Home      次号(2019年7月号)

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