Friday, December 24, 2004

Xmas 04 - Usagi Sho

Xmas 04 - Usagi Sho
Originally uploaded by Jason In Japan.

Me as Santa with the awesome kids at my smallest elementary school - Usagi Sho.

I was Santa-san 4 times last week at four different yochiens (kindergartens). It was exhausting, and at times it too closely resembled being a mall Santa, but I had a blast doing it and the kids' reactions were priceless. Should be even more fun next year!

Sunday, December 19, 2004

Tuesday, Dec. 14th - getting started

getting started
Originally uploaded by Jason In Japan.

Getting started with my jikoshokai (self-introduction) at Araki Shoogakkoo (elementary) with a combined class of about 70 third graders.

You can also click on any photo on this page and you'll be taken to my online photo album at, which has more photos than just the ones included here.


group - smiles

group - smiles
Originally uploaded by Jason In Japan.

My supa-genki kids at Araki sho. This was a fun day. Combined class with two classes of kids and two combined periods, so I was "on" for an hour and 45 minutes.

short sleeves vs sweater

short sleeves vs sweater
Originally uploaded by Jason In Japan.

It's the middle of December, but I still wear short sleeves to work, as opposed to the Japanese sensei on the right in a sweater. My fellow teahers can't get over this and always ask me if I'm cold.

You'll also notice in these pics that I'm sporting my Santa-san beard.


Originally uploaded by Jason In Japan.

Teaching about my hometown, San Diego. I lie and tell the kids that that's me in the photo...
(I'm kidding)


Originally uploaded by Jason In Japan.

Teaching about California and America during my self-introduction. Ironic that 4 months after arriving in Japan I'm still intriducing my self to students, but since I have 5 elementary schools I'm still meeting a few of the classes for the first time.

Jason money -Spidey

jason money -Spidey
Originally uploaded by Jason In Japan.

Handing out "Jason money" to the bingo winners. In this pic you can see how I replaced George Washington's face in the American dollar bill with Spider-Man's head. I also have bills with Pokemon characters, Star Wars characters, Batman, Superman, and my face.

Namae wa

Namae wa
Originally uploaded by Jason In Japan.

Leaning over to hear this young man tell me his name. "Namae wa?" (What is your name?) I tower over these kids, but they love how big and furry I am.
Bonus for my sister - you can see her age on the whiteboard behind me; part of my self-intro where I have the kids guess how old I am.

Jason face

Jason face
Originally uploaded by Jason In Japan.

We're getting ready to play "animal bingo" here. Also, according to my niece, Brittany, this is a classic "Jason Face."


Originally uploaded by Jason In Japan.

Teaching colors. OK - say it with me... "Gold."

shaking hands

shaking hands
Originally uploaded by Jason In Japan.

At the end of the lesson I shake hands and say goodbye to every student.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Santa Jason - the drunk?

So last week was a terrible week. But this week is starting out great.

It started on Saturday with a nice get-together at my friend Rob's place out in Sada for a Hanukah celebration. About a dozen JETs and some Japanese people gathered to eat traditional foods, drink and play games. Fun was had by all and Rob and his girlfriend, Kayoko, were very gracious hosts. Rob has a pretty spiffy two story semi-detached house - one of the benefits of living out in the sticks. Pictures from the night can be seen here.

Going to the party on Saturday, where I ended up sleeping on Rob's tatami instead of heading home, meant missing a kendo tournament on Sunday. I was supposed to show up at 7am at the Jr High to get on a bus to Nita which is about 90 minutes away. I was still asleep at 7am on Sunday, considering I didn't go to bed until 4am, so I didn't show up. When I got home Sunday afternoon, there were 4 messages on my machine with no message - just calls then hang ups. I wondered about it until I got an email from one of my English teachers asking me if I was alright, as she'd come by my place at 2pm and noticed that my newspaper was still in my mailbox. Seems the Kendo team had called asking her to check on me since I didn't show up. I was resting later that day at about 5pm and a knock on my door got me out of bed. 4 or 5 of the Kendo parents were at my door, just checking to make sure I was OK. It was hard for me to explain where I'd been, so I just nodded that I was fine and all seemed well. They smiled and went home. I didn't know if I should be a bit miffed about being so closely watched, since I'd mentioned on Friday at Kendo practice that there was a chance I wouldn't make it to the Sunday event since it was so early on Sunday morning and I'd be at a party the night before. But I mentioned it to a JET friend and he said it was nice that they cared, since he could be missing three weeks and no one would notice. And I guess in light of what happened with the Kendo coach, Ishitobi sensei, the previous week (see last post), it's understandable for them to be concerned.

Monday was the start of the last full week of classes before we break for winter vacation next week. I have to be Santa three times this week at three different kindergartens. Monday was the first at Yokan yochien (Yokan kindergarten). Ironically, the Santa suit was not designed for someone Santa size, so they had to alter it making it bigger so it would fit me. I took part in a little skit about two mice, Guri and Gura, who are famous children's books characters here, that meet Santa. I bring them a cake and then dash off as I'm late. All the 3, 4 and 5-year-olds enjoyed my cameo appearance. I then came back into the room and sat in front of the gathered kids and answered questions in English as Santa. They'd ask, "Where do you live?" or "What is your favorite food?" in Japanese and I'd answer "The North Pole" or "Christmas Cake" in English and the Kindergarten teacher would translate. It was really fun and the kids were super cute. I got to hand out gift bags the teachers and parents had prepared and shake each kids hand and say "Merry Christmas" in my best Santa voice. After I left, the kids all wrote little notes and drew pictures for Santa, which the head teacher of the yochien gave me today - so how cool is that? I get to do it two more times this week in Hinomisaki and at Araki yochien. Monday afternoon all the Jr High attended a concert in the local music hall, featuring traditional Japanese instruments. It was pretty good music and the kids clapped along and enjoyed themselves.

Today was a more normal day, but I was super busy. I taught three Jr High classes in the morning, ate some rice for lunch, did my 15-minute radio show, then it was off to Araki shoogakkoo to entertain 70 3rd graders. After I introduced myself and talked about my family and San Diego a bit, we played color bingo and animal bingo and then the kids got to ask me questions. First question, almost always from a girl, is am I married/do I have a girlfriend? They proceeded to ask the accustomed questions about favorite foods, animal, how tall I am, how much do I weigh - one girl asked what job I had. I said "Ima (now)?" and she nodded, so I said, "Eigo sensei," and she seemed amused, like it was funny to her that I was getting paid to run around and teach 3rd graders how to say "purple" and "monkey." And I have to agree, that some days it is pretty funny that I get paid to do this. Then one boy asked a question that all three Japanese teachers in the room were either unable to translate or too embarrased to translate, so I just looked at him and said, "Wakari nai," which means "I don't understand" or "I don't know."

Making chit-chat to the best of my limited-Japanese abilites in the staff room before my show-stopping performance with the 3rd graders, one of the male teachers offered me some coffee and I politely declined, saying "Kohii nomimasen (I don't drink coffee)." He looked at me strange and then said something about how he thought Americans liked coffee. It's funny when one of the my likes/dislikes get extrapolated to the entire American population. I explained that many Americans do indeed like coffee, I just don't care for it - I prefer tea as a hot beverage, and Pepsi as a cold beverage. He followed the line of inquiry and asked if I liked "sake." Now sake is not only the Japanese rice wine that many of you have heard of, but osake is the Japanese word for alcohol as well, so I had to make sure which one he meant. I explained that I wasn't really a big drinker - that I had a little at the Kanpai (Cheers) but then I usually just switched to cold tea or cola. He looked puzzled and then said "Biiru" (Beer)? I shook my head no, and he laughed, saying in his best English, "That's interesting because you look like drunk." I hope he wasn't commenting on my appearance at that moment, as I'm sure I did look a bit disheveled, having just come off my scooter, and I am sporting my Santa beard right now, but it's clean and not stragely. So I took it that he meant I looked like I'm a big drinker, probably because I'm a big guy and most JETs have a reputation for enjoying alcohol.

From Santa to a drunk within a day - what a job. :)

Anyway - hope all is well where you are. If any of the SDA students are reading this, I encourage you to check out my friend and fellow JET Trevor's blog, which is an interesting read. But the real bonus is that he posts the same entries in both English and Japanese, and everyday he posts a new kanji for that day with it's meaning and reading and examples. Fun stuff to help you learn the language. I got a 98 on my first Japanese language test in the correspondence course I'm enrolled in. I missed one question. It was an open book test so no real big accomplishment, but it's good practice. My next test is due January 28th.

Thursday, December 09, 2004

A beautiful and a sad day

Yesterday was a gorgeous day weather-wise. Sunny and bright, crisp and cool without being too cold. I love weather like we had yesterday. Unfortunately I couldn't really enjoy it. I had to do something in Japan yesterday that I've never had to do before - I had to attend a funeral and mourn the passing of a friend.

I wasn't planning on reprinting my monthly column that I write for the Shimane JET publication "The Black Taxi." But I'll reprint this one since the end few paragraphs detail the events of yesterday and I can't muster the emotional energy to write about it again.

There have been funerals for people I care about, but they've always taken place in England, as every relative I have is English. So I've never attended any of those - my Mom or Dad would go instead. And everyone close to me in America is still alive, so I've been lucky. I don't even own a black suit, which was the cause of some concern Tuesday, as Japanese men dress for funerals in black pants, black shoes, black tie, white shirt and black jacket. I was able to borrow a jacket, so that part was taken care of. The Japanese also give a gift of money in a specially designed envelope featuring intertwined black and white coarse ribbons, but my supervisor helped me out with this detail as well. I had to memorize a short saying in Japanese to say instead of the Japanese for sorry ("gomen nasai"), which they don't say at funerals. It was a somber and sad occasion that really did little for me to abate the shock of the unexpected loss, but a sure sign that life will go on was the behavior of the 9th grade class of students I walked to the ceremony with. They were quiet and sad, but not morose and we chatted a little as we walked, and that cheered me up somewhat.

So please read to the end of the following column for the details. Sorry that the paragraphs preceeding the funeral details are rather frivolous and innocuous - I'm usually a happy-go-lucky kind of guy but this week has been cause for pause and reflection.

Be well.



The Hitchhiker’s Guide...

Birth and death. It’s a never ending cycle and so it goes that this month I have news of another big-deal celebrity birth and, unfortunately, news of another passing to tell you about.

First up, actress and star of two holiday films hitting U.S. theaters this month (“Closer” & “Ocean’s 12”), Julia Roberts, gave birth to twins on Sunday, November 28th. Roberts, who is married to cinematographer Daniel Moder, delivered Hazel Patricia Moder and Phinnaeus Walter Moder at a hospital in Southern California. Roberts, 37, has been married to Moder for two years after high profile relationships with Keifer Sutherland and Benjamin Bratt and a marriage to Lyle Lovett, that did not produce children. OK - Hazel is a pretty decent name, but “Phinnaeus”? And “Walter” as a backup? To paraphrase “The Sure Thing,” whatever happened to simple and direct names like Nick? Nick’s your buddy, Nick’s your pal. This trend in funky names for celebrity offspring isn’t a recent phenomenon, but it certainly seems to have been embraced by modern movie stars looking to forever saddle their kids with clunky and taunt-inducing sobriquets.

In movie news, there are a bunch of good ones and much-anticipated ones coming out this holiday season, but we won’t be seeing any of them until the new year in Japan. So if you’re heading home and see some good flicks over the holidays, post on the BT web site or send me an e-mail and let me know what was worth checking out and what to avoid. I’ll be staying in Japan for the holidays, so no new movies for me, although I did make it out to the amazing Movix complex in Yonago the other night to see Pixar’s latest offering, “The Incredibles.” I’ll be trite and simply say it was indeed incredible. Another great animated film from Pixar (“Finding Nemo”) and the director responsible for 1999’s underrated “The Iron Giant.”

In DVD news I have more anniversary special editions to comment on. Two more terrible names to add to the list of all-time bad monikers would be Ren and Ariel. If you’re an 80s movie fan then you know that those two names belong to the lead characters in “Footloose” - a film celebrating its 20-year anniversary with a special edition DVD. “Footloose” was huge hit in my Texas town when it came out in 1984 and the soundtrack was everywhere. It’s total cheese, but enjoyable cheese. And Kevin Bacon, as witnessed on a recent “Will & Grace” where, playing himself, he dances to the title track with Will, obviously has a healthy sense of humor about the film that made him a star. Bacon provides a commentary track on this DVD, which also features an interesting documentary about the making of the film and includes contemporary interviews with many of the stars of the film. Another of my favorite films enjoying an anniversary this year is the delightful family film, “Mary Poppins.” Dick Van Dyke’s dodgy cockney accent aside, this Disney classic from 1964 is still an entertaining and funny and thoughtful film that gets the special treatment it deserves in this two-disc edition. Many Disney fans consider “Mary Poppins” to be Walt’s crowning achievement and it was the only one of his features to be nominated for a best picture Academy Award until Beauty and the Beast in 1991.
The big release on DVD this week is the expanded, 4-disc Platinum edition of the concluding chapter in the LOTR trilogy, “The Return of the King.” If you have the other two Platinum extended versions of “Fellowship of the Ring” and “The Two Towers” then this is a must buy. The amazing amount of detail and care that went into these superlative DVD editions has set the bar for future special version DVDs of epic films like the LOTR films.

Another DVD that was just released to coincide with an anniversary is the first official release of the Live Aid concert from July of 1985. It’s the 20th anniversary of the release of the first Band Aid charity single, “Do They Know It’s Christmas,” which topped the charts in December of 1984 and raised money for victims of the famine in Ethiopia. A new crop of British pop stars has just released a remake of the 1984 chart-topper and it debuted at the top of the U.K. singles chart last week. Although the Band Aid 20 track came nowhere near the first-week sales of its 1984 predecessor, it sold 292,000 copies, including two purchased by Prime Minister Tony Blair at an HMV store in Edinburgh on Friday. The original Bob Geldof-led single sold nearly 800,000 in its first week and went on to sell a reported 3 million copies in the United Kingdom alone. The project led to the global fundraising phenomenon Live Aid the following year.
The 2004 version features Paul McCartney. Coldplay's Chris Martin, Travis' Fran Healy, the Darkness, Keane, Robbie Williams, Dido, Snow Patrol and Natasha Bedingfield, among others. U2 singer Bono, who was a member of the 1984 Band Aid chorus, also participates in the new recording. Like the original, proceeds will provide aid for Africa, particularly Sudan's Darfur region.
The DVD of the Live Aid concert is a four-disc package that offers 10 hours of footage from the two simultaneous concerts that took place in Wembley and Philadelphia on July 13, 1985. Even though I know many of my fellow JETs were too young to remember that historic day, I vividly recall where I was that day - at work at a summer job at a toy store in a mall in Dallas. I annoyed my boss by running into the back room every few minutes to listen to the radio simulcast. I didn’t have MTV at the time, which was the only station showing the entire concert, so after I got home from work I had to settle for the ABC broadcast, which showed highlights of the first part of the concert and then showed the last three hours live. Many of my heroes performed that day and two of my favorite bands, U2 and Queen, turned in triumphant sets. Curiously absent from the concert, considering how big they were in 1985, were Prince, Michael Jackson and Bruce Springsteen. The simultaneous Wembley/Philadelphia broadcast lasted 16 hours. The 4-disc DVD set is 10 hours, plus extras. They’ve cut out some of the backstage stuff and a few of the songs too. Extras include the documentary “Food and Trucks and Rock N Roll,” which features the original Michael Buerk news report that stirred Geldof into action and charts the genesis of Band Aid, Live Aid and how the money raised helped alleviate, if not eradicate, the suffering.

No room this month to talk books, but I’ll be back next month with reviews of the new Greg Rucka thriller and Garth Ennis’ run on the Vertigo comic “Hellblazer.”

Finally, I yet again have to end the Guide this month on a somber note. I’ve experienced many firsts since moving to Japan this year, but today, Wednesay, December 8th, I had to experience something I never imagined I would have to take part in - a Japanese funeral. On Monday morning, one of my JTEs at Taisha Jr. High was found dead at his home. Turns out he had a hemorrhage in his brain and died in his sleep on Friday night after school. Ishitobi sensei was my only male JTE and the kendo coach at Taisha Chu, my base school. We had become friends in the short 4 months I’ve been here and we enjoyed nights out drinking and singing karaoke with the kendo parents. He had a great singing voice and often entertained us with his deep-bass renditions of traditional Japanese songs. His English was really good, so I relied on him at school to help me understand what was going on from day-to-day. He was my liaison to all the teachers at my 5 elementary schools and he was the one who urged me to join the kendo team and take part in some unique aspect of Japanese culture. Ishitobi sensei was 48 and a bachelor, so much of his free time was devoted to the kids at Taisha Chuugakkoo. It might seem odd that I feel such loss for a person who I’ve only known for such a short period of time; heck, I didn’t even know his first name until today. But Ishitobi sensei had become my mentor, and I will miss his easy laugh and his enthusiasm for our classes and his stern but fair teaching presence. At the funeral today, which took place in a building located on the grounds of IzumoTaisha shrine, I understood little of the speeches or ceremony, and it occurred to me as I walked back to school that it would have been Ishitobi sensei that I would have asked to explain what I’d witnessed. More than just a mentor, Ishitobi-san was my friend, and I will miss him.

OK - so that wraps up another edition of the Hitchhiker’s Guide. I’d like to extend my warmest holiday wishes to all the Shimane JETs. Please be safe if you’re traveling this holiday season and I hope everyone has a wonderful New Year. Take a moment to tell the ones you love how much they mean to you.


Sunday, December 05, 2004

Rain, rain - go away...

It's been pouring rain all weekend. Sucks!

Last night was the first time when I really wished I had a car here. I needed to go out. I had to return some movies to the video store by midnight to avoid late fees and I fancied a hamburger for dinner. But it started raining yesterday at about noon and didn't stop all day and night. Plus, some of the local JET community were getting together at my friend Mark's place to watch English premier league football (soccer). So I made the decision to venture out into the night on my scooter and make the 15 minute trek over to Izumo to return the videos and watch some soccer.

One of the pieces of really good advice I got from my predecessor, Sara, was to bring "rain pants." I wasn't sure what rain pants were, but I had these seemingly water-proof workout pants that I brought with me. Turns out that they're more "water-resistant" than water proof, but they help on days when I have to scooter to work and it's only raining a bit. I also have some Adidas sweat pants that are not that comfortable, but they are 100% polyester, so I put those on and then my rain pants on over those. I have a rain jacket with a hood and some water proof gloves that my folks just sent me from England, sol I was decked out and ready to go. Man was it raining though. I have no face shield on my scooter helmet so the rain was pelting my face as I rode along despite the fact that I can only go about 30 kmh.

I arrived at the video store first and took the videos upstairs, still dripping wet from my ride, and turned them in without renting more. I got back on my scooter and rode the last 5 minutes over to Mark's apartment and wasn't too worse for wear. Wet, but not soaked thru and oddly enough it wasn't that cold last night.

I did yell my first obscenity at a Japanese motorist last night. I was cruising down a main street in Izumo toward Mark's place and an oncoming car wanted to make a right across my lane of traffic (we drive on the left here in Japan). I have a decent headlight on my scooter, so I know she saw me coming, but she proceeded to pull into my lane of traffic. Well, I swerved and as I passed I extended my middle finger and yelled the accompanying "F- you!" Have no idea if it was understood, but it was necessary all the same. I'm on a scooter with low visibility in the pouring rain and you just have to go first - I think not!

By the time I left Mark's at about 2am, it had stopped raining so the ride home was uneventful. But the wind was strong all night, making my house and windows creak something awful at times, and it's rained on and off all day today, so kind of a sucky weekend.

I'm gonna have a good old fashioned British Fry Up soon, as I finally bought some eggs to scramble and I have toast and sausage, so that should be nice. Nothing on Japanese TV today that I can watch, except some sports like J-league soccer, so I'll probably read (I'm in the middle of two books right now, with the "Da Vinci Code" winning out recently) and work on writing my article for a Shimane JET publication that they put out here called the Black Taxi. I've been writing a monthly column on movies and pop culture called "The Hitchhiker's Guide..." and it seems to be well received, although it's really hard to tell how many people are actually reading it.

Hope your weekend is going well. Hopefully posts this week about the Speech contests in November and what I did for Thanksgiving and my return to Kendo.

Be Good-

Thursday, December 02, 2004

Learning Names and Language

What follows is a list of the names of the 23 ni nen sei (8th grade) students in one of my twice-weekly, elective English classes.

8 of the names below belong to female students; the rest are boys’ names. See if you can pick out the girls’ names...


How’d you do? There are ways to detect gender as you get more familiar with Japanese, but it’s still damn tough. And my pronunciation is way off on a few, which of course elicits laughter anytime I try and say some names. Notice that I have a Hiroshi and a Hitoshi. I have two boys named Tomoya and two boys named Yasuto.

The list of girl names starts with Mayu and goes thru Maiko. Many female names end in ~ko. So I have 8 girls in the class.

Add two more obstacles to my trying to learn my students’ names:

1) Subtle differences in pronunciation are a big deal sometimes. It’s not just like Americans named Willem vs William or Kirsten vs Kristen, or Katy vs Kate. Those are still identifiable as male or female names. But a common boy name here is Yuuki and a common girl name here is Yuki. I’ve called a few boys here Yuki, without elongating the U sound, and it gets howls of laughter from his classmates and in one instance a well-deserved glare, since I’d just made him a girl.

2) When I ask Japanese kids their name by saying “What is your name” in either Japanese or English, the response is always lightening fast and most often said in the traditional Japanese style of last name (or family name) first followed by the first name. So I would be Harris Jason, or John Lennon’s wife would say her name Ono Yoko when speaking with other Japanese people. When I ask the kids their first name, they often looked puzzled or stare back blankly, since all their teachers generally refer to them by their last names.

I’ve been making a real effort to at least learn the names of the teachers I interact with on a regular basis, but I’m a visual learner when it comes to remembering names, so I need to write them down. But I feel bad asking teachers to say their name or spell it after 4 months of being here. I know my main teachers at my Jr. High because I see them almost everyday, but I’m still meeting some of my Elementary teachers for the first or second time, and anytime they send me a lesson plan or other document their name is always written in Kanji, which makes it really hard for me to decipher.

I’d like to learn more of my students’ names, especially at my Jr. High, but it’s really tough. The chances of me remembering a child’s name at one of my 5 elementary schools is even more remote. And the ironic thing there is that many of my Elem. kids love rushing over to me and blurting out the only English phrase they really know by heart, which is “My name is ~~~~.” I just smile and say “Nice to see you again” or “Genki desu ka” which is “How are you?” in Japanese.

You want to know the hardest thing for me right now in regards to learning written Japanese? Let me offer an example:

Here^%\sentence++hasmanywords#@$it andallrunstogether^&*youunderstand

The above sentence is almost unintelligible. Well that’s kinda like learning Japanese. They put no spaces between words, so you just have to learn particles and markers for word separation. They often use no punctuation, so no periods at the ends of sentences, no commas, no question marks. They do have a form of quotation marks. They use and intermix three different writing alphabets: Hiragana, Katakana and Kanji. The symbols above represent Kanji. Even when I can decipher some sentences, there are still tons of Kanji I can’t read, so there are little holes in my sentences. Add to that the fact that in a Japanese newspaper the text is meant to be read from top to bottom and from right to left, and you can see some of the difficulty I’m having with the written language.

But I persevere. My speaking abilities are definitely getting better, and my confidence in the classroom after four months is far greater than when I first arrived. Of course, much of that vocab is classroom specific stuff like “Mo ikai” which means “one more time” or “suwatte” which means “sit down” or “joozu desu nee” which means “well done” or “really good.” I’m still struggling when I go out into the Japanese community, but it gets better with each passing day. My ability to understand what is being said TO me is much better, but I’m still having trouble articulating what I want to convey without resorting to English.

I just turned in my first Japanese test in a correspondence course offered thru the JET organization. It was fairly easy for me, as I have at least studied Japanese a little bit in college, but I still had to look some things up (it’s an open book test), so that was disappointing. I have to set aside more time to study in the evenings.

That being said, I’m gonna turn the computer off for a while and try to get some other things done, like the dishes and some laundry and maybe I’ll even listen to my Japanese language CD while I’m doing these tasks.


Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Non-Japan related news: Jeopardy Whiz ends 74 game streak

My parents came out to California in late May of 2004 to celebrate my college graduation and help me prepare to move to Japan. One of my favorite programs to watch each night has always been Jeopardy. My folks often joined me on the couch to watch the show, and just after they arrived we started watching a young man named Ken Jennings win night after night in such convincing fashion that it was stunning. Just last year Jeopardy changed their rules so contestants could keep coming back and competing as long as they could keep winning. No longer did they have to stop after 5 wins and then just come back for the Tournament of Champions. So Ken kept winning and winning and banking more and more money. It was astonishing to watch - he seemed unbeatable. Jeopardy went on summer break just before I left for Japan in late July, but Ken came back this fall and continued right on winning match after match. Well, I read on the net today that he finally lost the other night. Wish I could have seen it.

Here's the AP News story:

NEW YORK (AP) - ``Jeopardy'' whiz Ken Jennings finally met his match after a 74-game run as a pop culture icon who made brainiacs cool, beaten by a woman whose own 8-year-old daughter asked for his autograph when they first met.

As someone who always has prepared his own tax returns, Jennings was tripped up in Final Jeopardy by this answer: Most of this firm's 70,000 seasonal white-collar employees work only four months a year.

The correct reply: ``What is H&R Block?'' But Jennings guessed Federal Express, ending his remarkable run as the biggest winner in TV game show history with a haul of $2,520,700.

Having an accountant-friend who's nearly impossible to reach at tax time paid off big-time for his conqueror, California real estate agent Nancy Zerg, who ousted the baby-faced killer competitor in the episode airing Tuesday.

During his streak that began June 2, Jennings usually had opponents so thoroughly beaten that the Final Jeopardy question was meaningless to the outcome. But Zerg was within striking range at that point, with $10,000 to Jennings' $14,400.

The champion had to think; out of the corner of his eye, he noticed Zerg had quickly written her reply.

``I was pretty sure before the music ended that was the ballgame,'' he said in an interview with The Associated Press.

Her correct reply gave Zerg $14,001 to Jennings' $8,799.

Even before that, she had needed an unusual display of Jennings fallibility to stay in the game. He twice answered wrong on Daily Double questions, which give contestants a chance to make big wagers and increase their leads.

Maybe that's why he paused, ever so slightly, when asked in the AP interview Tuesday whether he had lost or been beaten. He then graciously gave Zerg credit.

``I would have dwelt on it if I missed something that I knew or didn't phrase it in the form of a question,'' said Jennings, a computer software engineer from Salt Lake City. ``It was a big relief to me that I lost to someone who played a better game than me.''

Zerg, a former actress who lives in Ventura, Calif., told the AP that she psyched herself up before the game by repeating to herself: ``Someone's got to beat him sometime, it might as well be me.''

Hanging out backstage with fellow contestants, she saw some Jennings opponents had essentially lost before the game. She heard one person say that it looked like he was playing for second, and another just wishing not to be humiliated.

``I heard another one say, `It's no great sin to lose to Ken Jennings,' and they went in and lost to Ken Jennings,'' she said. ``I thought, `That's no way to play the game.'''

Some stats: Jennings' average daily haul was $34,063.51. He toyed with the previous daily record of $52,000 - tying it four times - before shattering it with a $75,000 win in Game 38. He gave more than 2,700 correct responses.

He combined an extraordinary breadth of knowledge, uncanny skill at sensing the precise instant to ring his buzzer, and a sharp competitive instinct hidden behind his grin and polite manner.

It made many of the games boring. But ``Jeopardy!'' executives aren't complaining; ratings were up 22 percent over the same period last time.

Jennings said he'd been thinking about walking away after some future milestone - 100 wins, perhaps, or $3 million or $4 million in winnings. He said there were about a dozen games where one reply made the difference between winning and losing.

``The fact that they had all fallen my way was beginning to worry me,'' he said, ``because at some point the law of averages was going to kick in.''

He wasn't prepared for how much he'd miss the daily competition, though.

``It didn't really hit me that was going to be the hard part,'' he said. ``I thought the hard part would be the loss.''

The loss is actually a distant memory and not really a secret: The show was taped in early September and news leaked right away. Video clips of his loss appeared Monday on the Internet.

Neither Jennings nor Zerg expect the record will be broken.

``It's not because things fell the right way,'' she said. ``It's because he's that good.''

Jennings, a Mormon, will donate 10 percent of his winnings to his church - and a European vacation is planned, ``probably a really nice one.'' He'll hardly slip back into anonymity; he's visiting David Letterman and Regis Philbin this week, has a book deal and is open to any commercial sponsorship opportunities.

He's in a new tax bracket now, and H&R Block is making sure he'll always remember the company for other reasons: It has offered him free tax preparation for life.