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Yugen Padhye, an 11-year-old student at Tokyo YMCA International School, won the 12th Japan Spelling Bee on March 6, after correctly spelling the winning word — “dodecahedron,” a three-dimensional, 12-faced shape.

Padhye will now have the chance to take part in the Scripps National Spelling Bee contest, for which the top 10 to 12 spellers from across the globe will gather in person in Orlando, Florida, on July 8, according to organizers. But he will first need to go through the screening process — the preliminary, quarterfinal and semifinal — which will be held virtually in the weeks prior to the finals.

Yugen Padhye, an 11-year-old student at Tokyo YMCA International School, holds a trophy after winning the Japan Spelling Bee on March 6. | STS PHOTOGRAPHY
Yugen Padhye, an 11-year-old student at Tokyo YMCA International School, holds a trophy after winning the Japan Spelling Bee on March 6. | STS PHOTOGRAPHY

“I’m quite proud, and a bit surprised because I didn’t think I was going to win,” said Padhye.

As the spellers were narrowed down to three finalists, the competition, which is sponsored by The Japan Times, became very close, with the “champion word” — the word that will allow a contestant to win the competition if he or she answers correctly — slipping past the contestants several times.

What may have been a unique challenge for the participants this year was the competition’s new online format. Each speller participated from their school or home, and their anxious parents and teachers could be partially seen in the background.

“Online spelling bee was for me a new experience because you are not actually in the room with other spellers,” said Padhye. “So it’s different, but it’s fun.”

This year marked the first-ever online Japan Spelling Bee since it was established in 2010. Unique rules ranging from turning the camera on with an adult present, to raising both hands while spelling out loud, were applied in order to maintain fairness.

Thirty participants from schools across the nation gathered this year, with some as young as 9 years old. Consisting of several spelling rounds and a vocabulary round in between, contestants were asked to spell words out loud in the initial round using hints such as the definition, origin of the word and usage in an example sentence. In the latter round, spellers were asked to choose the correct usage of the word from multiple options.

“The spellers will benefit from this contest for the rest of their lives in several ways, including that they have been exposed to these advanced words at a relatively young age,” said Devin Stewart, The Japan Times opinion editor, who served as one of the judges.

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