Daichi Hayakawa, 12, won The 4th Japan Times Spelling Bee on Saturday, booking a place at the National Spelling Bee to be held in Washington this spring by correctly spelling “metamorphosis.”

“Of course I feel happy because I won and can go to America,” said Hayakawa, a student at Katoh Elementary School in the city of Numazu, Shizuoka Prefecture.

This year’s event at headquarters of The Japan Times in Tokyo involved 42 students from third-graders through age 14 from schools nationwide, many of whom go to international or U.S. schools.

Hayakawa’s victory was hard-fought, especially during the seesawing championship round against Tuhina Mishra, 14, who finished runnerup. The two tackled 45 words before Hayakawa prevailed.

Mishra got the first chance to win after Hayakawa made his first mistake of the round, misspelling “effigy.” But she blew it by incorrectly spelling “Botticellian.”

Then, after the two had grappled with the likes of “eschewal” and “tattersall,” Mishra got another opportunity to win a ticket to Washington but came up short again, misspelling “andouille.”

The two continued their battle for a little while longer, as an audience of more than 100 people intently followed the contest.

But after Mishra misspelled “Bauhaus” and Hayakawa correctly spelled “syntrophism,” his chance finally arrived and he immediately snatched it, correctly spelling the championship word “metamorphosis” to clinch the crown.

“It was like sitting on a knife-edge,” Hayakawa said of the championship round.

Hayakawa also competed in the 2012 Japan Times Spelling Bee, but exited in the first round. To train for this year’s competition, he said he studied a lot over the past year with his father, who found a website they used to improve his spelling skills.

By winning this year’s contest, Hayakawa will now get a chance to fly to Washington and compete with the best U.S. spelling prodigies in the National Spelling Bee in May. He said that while he is looking forward to the event and hopes to triumph, “I’m already nervous about it.”

Duncan Aronson, 13, from KAIS International School in Shinagawa Ward, Tokyo, took third place, while Gautham Elango, an 11-year-old student at Tokyo YMCA International School in Koto Ward, came in fourth.

This year’s competition attracted a record number of contestants, 42 of whom made it to through to Saturday’s finals — seven more than last year.

Any schools can register their spelling champions, ranging from elementary school third-graders up to 14 years old. The 2013 Japan Times Spelling Bee was sponsored by Costco Wholesale Japan Ltd., Travel Nippon Inc., Qooco Japan KK, Nifco Inc., Simmons Co. and the University of Southern California.

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