Twelve-year-old Yuichi Yoshioka was crowned the winner Saturday of The Japan Times Spelling Bee after correctly spelling the word presentient and landing a spot in the annual National Spelling Bee contest next month in Washington.
Yoshioka, who attends Global Indian International School in Tokyo, beat out 19 representatives from other schools across Japan to win the contest.
“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 got manteau, fluoride, cubicle, rotunda, blithe and dressage correct, among other words.
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 aged 10 to 14 from 19 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 comestible 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 National Spelling Bee held in the United States, 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.”
In addition to an expenses-paid trip to the U.S. National Spelling Bee, Yoshioka also won a Webster’s Third New International Dictionary, a $100 savings bond for the Samuel Louis Sugarman Award, and a Britannica.com one-year subscription.
“My wife will probably accompany him to the U.S.,” Katsuya Yoshioka said, adding that he is trying to rearrange his work schedule so he can join them.
The first National Spelling Bee took place in 1925 and drew nine contestants, according to E.W. Scripps Co., which organizes the contest.
The event, which Scripps says is intended to promote correct English usage and increase children’s vocabularies, has since grown into a prestigious event that receives prime-time media coverage across the U.S.
The contest, which is open to students in registered schools up to the eighth grade, is featuring 275 challengers from as far away as China, Ghana, New Zealand and South Korea this year.
Sonia Schlesinger, an American student at Nishimachi International School in Tokyo who won the first Japan Times Spelling Bee last year, competed in the U.S. finals to finish 20th out of 270 spellers.
“You should all walk away happy that you had a chance to be here, because you are already the top spellers in Japan,” Schlesinger told the contestants before the bee.
The Japan Times Spelling Bee was sponsored by Asian Tigers Japan, Costco Wholesale Japan Ltd., Nifco Inc., Simmons Co., Stars and Stripes and the Tokyo American Club. The U.S. Embassy and the American Chamber of Commerce in Japan also supported the event.