Misawa spelling prodigy wins 6th Japan Times Bee


Staff Writer

A diligent speller whose favorite English word is “floccinaucinihilipilification,” or “the action or habit of estimating something as worthless,” proved his exceptional talent by correctly spelling the championship word “snood” to clinch the 6th Japan Times Bee on Saturday at Japan Times Nifco Hall in Tokyo.

Sean Fogerty, a 13-year-old student from Robert D. Edgren High School in Misawa, Aomori Prefecture, defeated 40 rival spelling wizards representing schools across Japan for this year’s event.

“I can’t believe it . . . I can’t comprehend it,” Fogerty said after winning the trophy. In the two previous contests he took part in, he fell short of the final round.

U.S. Ambassador to Japan Caroline Kennedy congratulated the new champ in a letter presented especially for the event. “Spelling under the spotlight in front of friends, parents, and judges is far from easy. Congratulations to you for demonstrating a winning combination of intelligence and composure,” Kennedy wrote.

Fogerty, who said he practiced for the event by using a list of past spelling bee words that his mother compiled, was consistently calm and confident throughout the contest, correctly spelling such words as “lederhosen,” “anachronism” and “corpuscle.”

His chance of glory came suddenly, in the 19th round, after Ganesh Gautham Elango, a 13-year-old male student from K. International School Tokyo who also had been highly consistent, misspelled the word “revelry,” or, as defined by Webster’s Third New International Dictionary, “boisterous merrymaking.”

Then Fogerty, who had got “friar” right in that round, correctly spelled out “snood,” a noun meaning “a net or fabric bag for confining a woman’s hair pinned or tied on at the back of the head,” according to Webster’s.

With his victory, Fogerty won the honor of representing Japan at the Scripps National Spelling Bee championship in the United States, which will be held in the capital, Washington, in late May.

“I’m going to spend as much time as I can on it, so I can do as good as I can there,” said Fogerty, whose dream is to become a writer by employing his abundant vocabulary.

Since its establishment in 1925, the Scripps National Spelling Bee has been a popular media event aired mainly in the United States. The event also has been held in countries including Japan, China, South Korea, Jamaica, the Bahamas, Ghana and Canada since 1976.

The Japan Times Bee was launched in 2010 as the only spelling contest in the nation officially endorsed by the Scripps National Spelling Bee. The Japan Times has hosted the annual contest ever since.

This year’s event included an “Optional Oral Vocabulary” session in the middle of the spelling rounds, which, just like the Scripps final in Washington, spellers had to choose a definition of a word presented orally by a pronouncer. Two contestants exited after this session.

Elango, who has participated in the event three years in a row, finished in second place, followed by Maria Yoshikawa, an 11-year-old female student of The Montessori School of Tokyo, in third spot. Yoshikawa exited in the 18th round after misspelling the word “whorled.”

The contest participants, aged 8 to 14, were winners of local school spelling bee competitions and were representing a total of 41 schools, including international schools, across the nation that have high reputations in English-language education.

This year’s contest was supported by the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo, the American Chamber of Commerce in Japan, and the International New York Times. It was co-sponsored by Costco Wholesale Japan Ltd., Yours Corp., the University of Southern California, Simmons Co. and Nifco Inc.