Japanese is considered one of the most difficult languages to learn (together with Chinese, Korean, Arabic, Hungarian, Polish and Hindi) specially because it has three types of alphabet and different words depending of who are you talking to. For example, is different to talk to your parents, boss, old people, friends, etc.
The most basic thing you need to learn is that there are three types of writing systems:
1. Hiragana: consists on characters that represent one sound such as one vowel (a, i, u, e, o) or syllables (ka, sa, ta, na, ma, ra, etc). It is used to write native japanese words that have no kanji and also grammatical particles and suffixes. This is a basic chart of hiragana letters:
2. Katakana: it has the same sounds as Hiragana, but Katakana is mainly used to write foreign words into Japanese. Also to represent onomatopoeias, technical and scientific terms, name of plants, animals and minerals. This is the chart of Katakana letters:
3. Kanji: are the adopted logographic Chinese characters. Each drawing represents an idea or concept, and, depending on the order or combination, the meaning of the words change, which makes this kind of writing system the most difficult of the three. To decide which reading is correct, you have to recognize which word it represents, which can usually be determined from the context. Kanji has two ways of reading: on`yomi (the Japanese approximation of the Chinese pronunciation) and kun`yomi (the Japanese native reading). This are some of the most simple Kanji characters:
To learn all the Kanjis you need many years and a lot of practice. Native Japanese people learn kanjis since little, so they gradually memorize thousands of characters.
It is important to point out that the proper way to write japanese letters is to draw the lines in order. It`s easier to memorize also!
So, if you want to learn Japanese, start practicing hiragana and katakana and then try to learn the kanjis so you can start reading and writing!