Matt Knoedler, KITV 4 Island News - 31-year-old Hilson Reidpath is working on his PhD at UH Manoa studying Japanese literature and East Asian languages and literature.

"To even have a contest that focuses on Okinawa is something new and exciting," Reidpath said. 

That hard work has earned Hilson first place in the first-ever Okinawa Essay contest. A joint venture between the Okinawa Prefecture Government and George Washington University whose library has hosted a series of scholarly works on Okinawa since 2015.

The requirements were simple but broad, a 5,000-word limit, proper citations, and offer in-depth research on a topic related to Okinawa. 

"These three were essays that the judges actually learned something from reading those essays," Professor at George Washington University Mike Mochizuki said.

What took Hilson to the top was the essay focused on the Okinawan poet, Yamanokuchi Baku and his struggle to find his own cultural identity in a new land. Stories Hilson believes are relatable to some Hawaii residents today, who can tie their heritage to the Hawaiian and Japanese islands.  

"Okinawa is a place with its own unique history and its own unique challenges, and Baku is a man speaking to those challenges," Reidpath said. 

Reidpath is no stranger to Okinawa, he lived there for three years. Now, winning this competition will allow him to go back.

The contest also serves as a way to help bridge the gap between Japanese and American cultures among college students.

The Okinawa Prefecture remains home to tens of thousands of U.S. troops.