Longtime readers of The Japan Times will remember Kanji Clinic, a regular column that featured every month on the Bilingual page from 2001 and then bimonthly from 2010 until 2012. With her friendly and encouraging style, columnist Mary Sisk Noguchi helped readers unravel the complexities of Chinese characters, adding an element of fun to a process that is too often fraught with frustration for many learners of Japanese.

Mary's fans were no doubt disappointed when her column ended, and few could have known of her untimely death last year on Dec. 21 at the age of 56. For this belated tribute, The Japan Times spoke with her husband, Mitsunori Noguchi, a professor of economics at Meijo University in Nagoya.

"We first met in 1985 at Duke University in Mary's home state of North Carolina," Noguchi explains. "I had just finished my Ph.D. there, and she was teaching Japanese in the Department of Asian Studies, having recently returned from a three-year stint working at Shudo University in Hiroshima. The department had arranged a picnic for their language students and was looking for native speakers of Japanese to join them for conversation practice. Mary's boss, a friend of mine, asked me to come along, and that's how we got together."