The Japanese use three different forms of writing to express their language: hiragana, katakana, and kanji. Hiragana, the foremost widely-used script, is the basis of the language. Every Japanese word that exists can be written in hiragana. Katakana is a written form of Japanese that is used to express borrowed words from western languages. For example, saying things like "American" or "John". Finally, kanji is traditionally Chinese, but is widely used in Japan. It combines sounds from hiragana to form parts of or full words to distinguish themselves from other sounds. You see, in Japanese there are no spaces. All of their characters run together, so using kanji is a way for the Japanese to make sentences easier.
Originally I began learning simple Japanese phrases. I started with はじめまして (hajimemashita - How are you?) and きせともうします (Kise to moushimasu - My name is Kise.). Of course I was just saying those phrases and not writing them. I felt like I was on top of the world. Now that I'm older, though, I am digging deeper into the Japanese language so I can speak it when I travel to Japan. As I mentioned previously, respect is a big thing for me. Whenever I go to a Japanese or Chinese restaurant I try to speak their language to them out of respect. I don't always have a lot to talk about, but I know my "thank yous" and "pleases".
Now that I am trying to get more official with learning Japanese I am working on my hiragana studies. I've gotten all the way into katakana with my resources, but I am working at memorizing the hiragana before I go further. I've realized that it is essential to memorize all of the hiragana symbols (there are 46-48 original symbols to learn) because it makes learning katakana and kanji much easier. Also, I've found it's easier to read once you know the hiragana as you can put words together easier in your mind.
I am using a variety of resources in my quest to learn Japanese. Some of them are digital and some are print. So far, I am really enjoying Japanese from Zero. If you want to get into Japanese and don't know where to start, I highly recommend this book. You can pick up a copy straight from Amazon. This book offers an approach to learning the Japanese language that is both efficient and easy to grasp. There is more than one Japanese from Zero book, so you can continue learning once you've got the basics under your belt. What's more is that the author of the book has a whole playlist of videos on YouTube that follow the lesson plans in the book, so you can learn even more while studying. While I enjoy that book, most of my time spent learning Japanese is studying while I'm mobile. That means I make use of several apps on my phone. I'm using an iPhone, but so far I've found the apps I use are available on Android as well. So far I've really taken a liking to Duolingo and Memrise. Duolingo has a straightforward approach to Japanese and gets you started straight away learning words. Memrise uses formulas to help you learn steadily, starting with hiragana. Between the two I think I prefer Memrise because it is more user-friendly and it doesn't have you trying to translate words you don't know yet.
In particular, since I've focused on memorizing hiragana, I started using a free app called Kana Mind. It's basically a flash card game where you can select which type of kana you want to learn and whether you want to learn it from the kana itself or the romaji. I really like this app because it tracks your proficiency in each symbol. Once you hit 100% proficiency the app will continue to show you all the kana symbols so you keep them fresh in your mind. If you miss a few the app will focus on the ones you missed to get your proficiency back up to 100%.