Yukari Miyake, 26, the only vocalist in the 230,000-strong Self-Defense Forces, has seen her debut CD rise to the top of the classical music charts.

“When I was a child, I loved musicals,” Miyake, who holds the rank of petty officer third class in the Maritime Self-Defense Force Band, Tokyo, said in a recent interview.

A native of Kurashiki, Okayama Prefecture, Miyake studied singing at Nihon University College of Art with the dream of performing on the stage one day.

However, toward graduation she was recruited by a company that had no connection to music. She was about to give up on her dream when a professor suggested she apply to become a singer in the SDF.

“I couldn’t imagine what life in the SDF would be like,” she said. But any concerns evaporated once she talked directly with SDF officers at a recruiting fair.

“I was impressed with the officers for their dedication to the public,” Miyake said. “I no longer had any hesitation in applying.”

She enlisted in April 2009.

Although Miyake had developed her physical strength practicing karate in college, the five months of basic training at the SDF went “far beyond my imagination,” she said.

It included boat training, which caused the skin on her waist to peel off, and running with and firing a heavy rifle.

One day during training, the commanding officer asked her to sing “Tsubasa o Kudasai” (“Give me Wings”) — a cappella in front of her fellow trainees. At first the trainees didn’t really pay attention, but eventually they were moved to tears.

It was the first time she was thanked for singing a song and the experience taught her “what it means to sing for people as a member of the SDF,” she said.

Her debut CD, “Inori — Mirai e no Utagoe” (“A Prayer — Songs for the Future”) was released at the end of August and made it to the top of the classical music section of the Oricon charts in early September. She is accompanied by the MSDF Tokyo band.

The title song, “Inori,” was composed in honor of people who lost loved ones in the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami.

Miyake, who was on standby in the aftermath of the disaster, now performs in areas in the northeast that were hit by the disasters. She said she feels happy whenever she see smiles on the faces of her audience and receives a warm response.

“I’d like this song to give a helping hand to as many people as possible so they can move forward,” Miyake said. “I want to continue to serve the public by singing.”

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