Saki Nara, 15, and Ayumi Yoshida, 10, showed off their mastery of public speaking Sunday to emerge as the winners of the All Japan Junior English Speech Contest, delivering pitch-perfect monologues that won the hearts of judges and spectators alike.

The 33rd installment of the annual contest saw the participation of 1,600 elementary school students and 450 junior high school students, with 23 of the top performers in the elimination rounds taking the stage at Uchisaiwaicho Hall in Chiyoda Ward, Tokyo, for the finals.

The elementary school pupils recited a prepared story, while junior high school students spoke from their own original material.

Nara, a Tokyo ninth-grader, gave an emotional speech about being bullied and how she overcame it by joining her school drama club.

“I felt like a bird without wings,” she said, but added that in drama practice she “learned to be honest” with herself.

Each participant delivered a speech lasting three to four minutes, but what sealed the deal for Nara — aside from her fluency in English — was her passion.

“Now I feel as free as a bird,” Nara said on stage with tears in her eyes. “I am myself.”

Meanwhile Yoshida, a fifth-grader from Yamaguchi Prefecture, gave a flawless recital of the story of Aladdin and his magic lamp in a performance rich with body movements.

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