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Soichi Shimabukuro shows off his invention, an amphibious wheelchair, during the 2006 Okinawa business Fair.

Soichi Shimabukuro shows off his invention, an amphibious wheelchair, during the 2006 Okinawa business Fair. (Chiyomi Sumida / S&S)

Soichi Shimabukuro shows off his invention, an amphibious wheelchair, during the 2006 Okinawa business Fair.

Soichi Shimabukuro shows off his invention, an amphibious wheelchair, during the 2006 Okinawa business Fair. (Chiyomi Sumida / S&S)

The Okinawa business fair is a showcase for military purchasing officials to discover varieties of merchandise and services available on the island, including Japanese dancers for hire for special occasions.

The Okinawa business fair is a showcase for military purchasing officials to discover varieties of merchandise and services available on the island, including Japanese dancers for hire for special occasions. (Chiyomi Sumida / S&S)

CHATAN, Okinawa — Graceful Japanese dancers. Island home-cooking. An ocean-going wheelchair.

They’re all among services and goods the U.S. military community on Okinawa could be enjoying soon courtesy of Okinawan businesses.

That was the message the area’s second annual local business fair on Wednesday was aiming at more than 100 people connected with U.S. military purchasing.

Naha City’s Regional Employment Opportunities Council sponsored the fair to help local firms do more business with the military, which the council estimates spends up to $500 million annually on contracts with Japanese businesses.

“Yet most of the contracts have been awarded to companies outside Okinawa due to local businesses’ lack of knowledge of the bidding and procurement systems,” said Mitsuaki Kawajo, council vice chairman.

Added council member Satoru Uehara: “The (U.S.) military-related income on Okinawa is too large to ignore.”

That’s why the council, funded by the Japanese government, began a one-year training course two years ago, Kawajo said. Wednesday’s fair became the trainees’ “graduation exam,” said Uehara.

As anxious-looking vendors watched, the U.S. visitors toured booths lining a large banquet hall.

At one booth, Hiromu Aharen and his staff showed how the firm’s oxygen equipment could be used in base gyms and clinics.

In another booth was an eye-catching, kimono-clad model representing Itten, an agency offering Japanese dancers for special occasions.

“We often hear Americans say they did not know such a service was available on Okinawa,” said Yumiko Tomita, the agency’s producer and the model’s mother.

A group of Nago housewives hopes “to offer home cooking and local food catering services to military families,” said Takuya Enomoto. From the group’s booth emanated the savory smells of locally prepared dishes.

Military representatives at the fair included contracting and procurement officers from Kadena Air Base’s 18th Contracting Office; Regional Contracting Office; the Navy’s officer in charge of construction and AAFES and Marine Corps Community Services.

And they appeared receptive. Lori Harlin is Camp Foster Marine Corps Regional Contracting Office deputy director. As she tasted locally produced fruit juice, she called the fair “a good opportunity for us. … We want as many vendors as available.”

As Dale Fitzgerald, MCCS Purchasing and Contracting Branch director, toured the booths, a chair with rubber wheels caught her attention. Soichi Shimabukuro, from a Haehabu iron factory, was displaying his invention, an amphibious wheelchair he calls a “chair boat.”

It lets handicapped people safely enjoy ocean bathing, he explained, saying he’d sold chairs to several Okinawan and mainland beach and welfare facilities.

Having one or two at Camp Schwab’s Ourawan Beach, Fitzgerald said, might be a good idea.


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