Yuichi Yoshioka was crowned the winner of the second Japan Times Spelling Bee, held at The Japan Times headquarters in Tokyo in May last year, after he correctly spelled the word “presentient,” landing a spot in the annual Scripps National Spelling Bee contest the following month in the U.S.
Yoshioka, who was 12 at the time and attended Global Indian International School in Tokyo, beat out 19 representatives from other schools across Japan to win the May 14 contest. The event, originally scheduled on March 12, had been postponed for two months due to the March 11 Great East Japan Earthquake.
“I can’t believe this,” Yoshioka, whose mother is from the Philippines and father is Japanese, said after receiving a trophy from U.S. Ambassador John Roos.
Before spelling the winning word, Yoshioka spelled correctly words such as “manteau,” “fluoride,” “cubicle,” “rotunda,” “blithe” and “dressage.”
Yoshioka said he practiced by looking over words he didn’t know and asked his mother to test him over and over. Studying the meaning and the origin of the words were what made him the winning speller, he added.
Contestants ages 10 to 14 from 20 international and U.S. military base schools around Japan competed for a ticket to the finals in Washington.
Philsik Chang of KAIS International School challenged Yoshioka to the end by correctly spelling words such as “keeshond,” “verbiage,” “filibuster,” “cynosure” and “coati,” but missed on “comestibles” to finish second.
Hana Kameike of Horizon Japan International School placed third.
Following the fierce competition, which went on for more than two hours, Roos applauded the spellers.
“You guys are amazing,” Roos said, while also congratulating Yoshioka for a well-deserved victory and telling him to “win one for Japan” at the competition in the U.S.
Similar to the rules of the Scripps National Spelling Bee held in the U.S., each competitor spelled the word out loud. They were also allowed to request a definition, the language of origin, an alternate pronunciation and have the term used in a sentence.
Yoshioka’s father, Katsuya, said his son is fluent in both English and Japanese and also speaks Tagalog.
“He’s been practicing spelling for about a year,” the father said, adding that the triumph was a result of his wife’s “Spartan education” method.
Last year, the Scripps National Spelling Bee was held in early June at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center in National Harbor, Maryland.
Of the 275 contestants from around the world who made it to the U.S. event, Yoshioka was one of 29 who did not speak English as a first language. He fell just short of the score needed to move to the semifinals
In the three-day event through June 2, Sukanya Roy, 14, from Pennsylvania was crowned the champion when she alone correctly spelled the word “cymotrichous” at the end of a grueling 2½-hour final.
The participants in the 2011 Scripps National Spelling Bee event ranged in age from 8 to 15 and traveled from as far afield as Ghana for the chance to show off their spelling ability and take home the grand prize of more than $40,000 in cash and prizes.
Rather than trying to memorize the Webster’s Third New International Dictionary, from which the words are chosen, students usually focus on understanding the etymology of words.