Yukari Miyake Shines as SDF’s ‘First Diva’

The Yomiuri Shimbun
A native of Okayama Prefecture, she was born Dec. 14, 1986. She joined the Maritime Self-Defence Force in 2009 and was assigned to the JMSDF Band, Tokyo. Its album in 2013, “Inori — Mirai e no Utagoe” (A prayer — singing for the future), became a big hit and won three major domestic music awards that year.

Yukari Miyake, a singer in Tokyo’s Maritime Self-Defense Force band, is known as the “Self-Defense Forces’ first diva.” Miyake, a petty officer second class, serves as the main singer for “Departure — Arata na Funade” (Departure — the start of a new voyage), the first album released by the JMSDF Band, Tokyo, in six years.

The SDF has had more singers join its crew since Miyake became an MSDF member in 2009. What does she think about carrying out her “mission”?

Wanting to be a singer

During an interview with The Yomiuri Shimbun, I asked Miyake to perform while we took photos. She sang “Furusato” (Hometown), a well-known children’s song. I was fascinated by her clear and pure voice.

Ever since she was little, she loved to sing. Miyake said she always sang children’s songs with her grandmother.

“I sang as if I was onstage while holding something, pretending it was a microphone,” she said. She showed a bright smile, like the sunny weather of the Seto Inland Sea, near where she grew up.

When she was a junior high school student, she began seriously considering a career in singing. “I wanted to become a musical actor,” Miyake said.

She enrolled in a public high school with a music course, where she joined a dancing club.

After graduating, Miyake took a vocal program at Nihon University’s College of Art. She had a fulfilling student life and also performed in musicals with friends.

However, Miyake had to face reality as her graduation neared. “I wondered if I should continue singing or give it up and become financially independent by entering the workforce,” she recalled.

An unlikely career

She started job hunting and got an offer from a department store. Then her vocal instructor told her that the MSDF was looking for a singer.

Miyake was initially “not interested in [it] at all.” However, after visiting the MSDF band for a look, she decided to take a recruitment exam, and in 2009, Miyake became the only singer in the SDF.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Yukari Miyake

“I had never imagined I would become an SDF member,” she said.

Even though she joined the MSDF as a singer, Miyake had to go through the same training programs as other new members. In the MSDF’s Yokosuka Recruit Training Center, she learned basics for five months, such as saluting, running and swimming. Training also included crawling and running while holding a rifle that weighed more than four kilograms.

Away from family members, trainees had to spend days living in groups under strict conditions, such as not being allowed to watch TV or make phone calls whenever they wanted to.

About two months into training, one of her fellow trainees said, “Hey Miyake, please sing some songs.” Without much thinking, Miyake chose Japanese folk rock song “Tsubasa o Kudasai” (Please give me wings).

When she finished singing, “Everyone there cried,” she recalled. “They told me, ‘Thank you.’ Their reaction brought me to tears as well.”

The experience significantly changed her approach toward music.

“Until this experience, music was just a fun thing for me,” she said. “Since then, I’ve got an additional purpose: singing for someone else. It was very fortunate for me to have such an experience before officially joining the band.”

Visits to disaster-affected areas

The significance of singing for someone else grew stronger for Miyake after she joined the JMSDF Band, Tokyo, as she performed for ceremonies and other occasions in Japan and abroad.

In particular, she still remembers well the series of concerts that her band held in areas devastated by the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake.

Miyake and her fellow members headed for the Tohoku region, with their vehicles driving on roads still damaged, and sometimes would return to their base late at night on the day they held concerts.

Kazuhiko Kawabe, who served as master of the MSDF band at the time, wrote and composed a song titled “Inori — a prayer” to inspire hope in people affected by the earthquake and tsunami. The latest album features a duet version of this song performed by Miyake and male soprano Tomotaka Okamoto.

Via the JMSDF Band, Tokyo, website
Yukari Miyake, left, and Kosaku Hashimoto, right, both singers in the band, flank male soprano Tomotaka Okamoto at a concert in September.

Next year will be Miyake’s 15th year since joining the MSDF. Now four others have followed her steps, working in respective music bands of the Ground, Maritime and Air Self-Defense Forces. The JMSDF Band, Tokyo, welcomed a tenor in 2021.

During the novel coronavirus pandemic, many members felt empty as the band had much fewer opportunities to perform. This renewed Miyake’s appreciation for singing and performing music for someone else.

“As I get older, I often wonder how I will be able to continue contributing as an SDF member,” Miyake said. “I believe the younger singers will watch how I do and will follow my path.

“Therefore, I shall study and brush up my skills as much as possible and make the utmost efforts to keep delivering my music. That’s all I can do.”

Courtesy of Universal Music LLC
The cover of “Departure — Arata na Funade”

‘Departure — Arata na Funade’

Released from Universal Music LLC, the album “Departure — Arata na Funade” features Tetsuo Ueda, current master of the JMSDF Band, Tokyo, as a conductor.

This album includes anime song “Lion” from “Macross Frontier,” for which Miyake is joined by Mariko Nakagawa, petty officer third class of the JMSDF Band, Yokosuka. The opening theme song of “Uchu Senkan Yamato” (“Star Blazers”) is sung by Kosaku Hashimoto, petty officer second class. It is one of the regular pieces played by the JMSDF Band, Tokyo.

Also included are “Sekai no Yakusoku” (“The Promise of the World”), the theme song of Studio Ghibli’s animated movie “Howl’s Moving Castle,” covers of popular songs such as “Ruriiro no Chikyu” (Bright blue Earth), originally sung by Seiko Matsuda, as well as “Ito” (String) by Miyuki Nakajima.

What is JMSDF Band, Tokyo?

What kind of group is the JMSDF Band, Tokyo, to which Yukari Miyake belongs, and what does it do? To find out, I interviewed band director Hirokazu Ishida.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Hirokazu Ishida, the director for the JMSDF Band, Tokyo

The Yomiuri Shimbun: How many members are there, and how is the band structured?

Ishida: There are about 70 members in the JMSDF Band, Tokyo. They play wind instruments as well as the contrabass, piano, harp, and more. The Maritime Self-Defense Force has six bands. The Tokyo band is directly overseen by the defense minister. The other five are based in Yokosuka, Kanagawa Prefecture; Kure, Hiroshima Prefecture; Sasebo, Nagasaki Prefecture; Maizuru, Kyoto Prefecture; and Mutsu, Aomori Prefecture.

Q: On what occasions do the bands play?

A: The JMSDF bands have three duties: performing to motivate MSDF members, performing at ceremonies and functions, and performing for promotional activities. The first includes performances for MSDF officers who have graduated from the National Defense Academy when they leave for long-distance practice voyages of about six months and for MSDF members when they set off on destroyers. On such occasions, we play pieces like the theme music for TV anime “Uchu Senkan Yamato” (“Star Blazers”) and military march “Gunkan” (Battleship) on the pier.

Via the JMSDF Band, Tokyo, website
The JMSDF Band, Tokyo, plays at the graduation ceremony of the National Defense Academy in March.

For our second duty, we perform at events for each unit and at ceremonies such as fleet reviews and changes in high-ranking officials. And for our third, we perform at local events, parades, schools and so on. Bands from the Ground, Maritime and Air Self-Defense Forces take turns playing the fanfare for Grade 1 horse races. We also organize two regular concerts every year. One of the concerts features pop music and film scores to let the public learn about the band. At the other concert, we play classical music and original works for wind ensembles to show how much we have practiced.

Q: When do you perform overseas?

A: Selected members of the SDF bands join long-distance practice voyages and hold goodwill concerts at ports of call. If the spot was once a battlefield, such as for the Battle of Midway, we fire a gun salute for the dead and perform for the repose of their souls. We start such concerts as the sun goes down, just as it touches the sea. This is something only we can do, I think. Sometimes we are invited to overseas events, too.

Via the JMSDF Band, Tokyo, website
Members of the JMSDF Band, Tokyo, play a fanfare at a Grade 1 horse race in May.