You might want to import and be able to play the VN ports coming to the Vita. You might want to read manga raw. You might even want to watch anime in Japanese without subs (the non-Japanese otaku dream). Whatever the reasons are, learning Japanese is a very good endeavor. Here's a guide for those who are just starting out and for those who want to learn their Kanji.
I will make this list very short that it will make learning Japanese look easy which is important because learning Japanese doesn't have to be hard!
Learn Hiragana and Katakana
This is the easiest part of learning Japanese. This could be as easy as going to Google and searching "learn Hiragana", "learn Katakana", or "learn Kana" which is just Katakana and Hiragana.
The Katakana chart.
So, what's the difference between the two? Hiragana is used for "native" Japanese words while Katakana is usually used for "borrowed"/foreign words. Words like "hamburger" (ハンバーガー) are written in Katakana while words like kawaii (かわいい) are written in Hiragana. Hiragana can also be used as "Furigana" which is sort of like a reading guide for Kanji. Most of the time, though, you'll see Hiragana accompanying Kanji. You'll learn more about that once you study Kanji.
The Hiragana chart.
So...ok, now you know about the Kana. What now? Well, I've actually taken the effort to give you all you need to learn the Kana. Scroll up and you'll see charts of the Hiragana and Katakana characters. Start memorizing them! The traditional way of learning them is starting with "a" going to "o" so you'll be going "a ka sa ta na ha...i ki shi chi...o ko so to...". The easiest way to learn this is by printing out the chart, having it laminated (alternatives: use plastic cover or cover it with tape) and just practicing a lot. That way, you remember the figure and the way it's written.
These are the very basics of the Kana. However, if you've got that down pat, there shouldn't be any problems learning the rest (b, p, v, half-width characters) which I would tackle on another post but you'd have no problems learning them on your own using online resources.
Also, the pronunciations all use the "short" sound of the vowel. (f)"Ah"(ther), "eeh"(ndia), (t)"ooh"(as in two), "eh"(lephant), "o"(range).
Step 2 (*new):
Learn the Grammar
Ok, so originally, I recommended you go straight to Kanji. However, I found a really good grammar guide that you could go through in a few days. Learning Japanese grammar will help since you'll be able to actually use the Kanji you're learning. Even if it's as simple as "I saw one goldfish", it can be really satisfying chaining together things that you've learned.
Anyway, here's the link to the guide: (Tae Kim's Guide to Learning Japanese)
PDF and iOS/Android versions of the guide are also available.
Step 2: Step 3:
Once you've mastered the Kana, you can now move on to Kanji. You might be thinking, "shouldn't I study the grammar first?", "can't I survive with just Hiragana and Katakana, study the vocabulary, and not learn the Kanji?". For the first one, unless you live in Japan or in a mainly Japanese speaking environment, grammar would be much easier to learn if you know how to read. As for the second one, yes you can but, again, due to the environment, it will be harder.
Anyway, why start with Kanji so early? Because you can't rush learning the Kanji. You really have to be patient with it and give it time. There are 2136 joyou kanji (which are the Kanji taught in Japanese schools). If you want to be literate in Japanese, you have to learn these characters and more. However, those 2136 should give you a good level of literacy.
The task seems daunting but, given determination, persistence, and patience, you should be able to finish it in a matter of weeks or a few months.
How do you go about studying? Most people recommend the book "Remembering the Kanji". I'll be recommending something a bit similar but easier to use (more information packed/comprehensive but a bit slower) and free.
Kanji Damage (Warning: NSFW Language)
Kanji Damage is one of the better Kanji learning sites/techniques that I've tried out. Basically, it cuts down all the bullshit that comes along with learning Kanji. It also makes the card for each Kanji comprehensive. Just look at how awesome that flash card looks. Jump to the tools section below if you want to know how to use Kanji Damage offline (or track your progress)
Heisig's Remembering the Kanji
Learning the Kana and Kanji aren't enough. You should keep yourself immersed and try reading as much stuff as you can. This doesn't have to start when you've mastered the Kana and Kanji. It can start now. Just by watching Japanese dubbed anime, you can get a bit of a head start. Once you learn how to read (even with just a few Kanji), though, the flood gates start to open.
This is also a good time to learn more about grammar. Kanji Damage should have helped you a bit in that department. (Moved learning grammar to an earlier part of the process [Step 2])
Here are some sites that provide ways for you to immerse yourself:
Ok, so, those are good but it can be painful trying to search every time you don't know or forget a Kanji. This is where rikaikun comes in.
Rikaikun is an extension for Chrome /Firefox that allows you to see dictionary entries for Japanese words just by mousing over them. This is a great help since you won't need to always search on the dictionary. It also makes learning Kanji using newspapers much easier. Just make sure not to be overly reliant on it!
Anki is the preferred spaced repetition flashcard program of choice of the Japanese learning community. A Kanji Damage deck also exists for it! This way, you can use Kanji Damage offline (and track your progress) and use spaced repetition to make the memorization easier! To read more about Anki/spaced repetition technique, do check out their website. A web version of the app also exists so you can use it on your phone! You only need to create an account and synchronize with the servers to make sure that your decks are up-to-date. Android and iOS Anki apps also exist, though the iOS app is particularly expensive.
Here's another great list of resources from whitemare!
For those who intend to make a serious effort, Tad Perry's Quick And Dirty Guide To Japanese is an internet classic.
HTML with kana: http://www.csse.monash.edu.au/~jwb/kanaqadgt…
As for books, The Original "Point-and-Speak" Phrasebook is a help for those travelling to Japan or even just those with pipe dreams. (There are multilingual and English only versions.)This book is effectively a picture dictionary, showing words and pictures together (objects and drawings of actions) which helps memory retention, and can be used to show nihonjin what you want. I find the combination of pictures and words sparks curiosity and memory more than reading lists alone.
Vest Pocket Japanese is old (first printing in 1967), but it's still useful. It's got an extensive phrase section, a very thorough grammar section including verb conjugation (plain and polite), and a solid 3000 word J-E/E-J dictionary. This and Point are the two I carry on my vacations to Okinawa (I live in Taiwan).
Instant Japanese by Boyd De Mente isn't extensive but will get you talking fast. His books teach only 100 basic words, but the combinations you can make provide a lot of everyday sentences that will get you used to the grammar and structure quickly. It uses mostly romaji(phonics with Latin letters), but it does show you the kana and kanji.
The Lonely Planet phrasebook is okay, but it's nothing special. It's good enough for short term tourists, but not for serious learning.
Here's another list with just about everything you need to know to learn Japanese:
My Japanese Coach for the Nintendo DS - published by Ubisoft.
It's focused on general Hiragana and Katakana education, teaching you to write them as well as speak them. VERY basic grammar and pronunciation tools as well, using the built-in mic on the DS.
-Recommendation courtesy of LoserMLW. Thanks!
If you have an iOS device, I cannot possibly recommend imiwa? enough. It's a EDICT-based comprehensive dictionary with a lot of really cool searching and learning features to it. Also, be sure to enable Japanese input on your device, as it has a lot of uses even for learning the language.
Also, for PC, I also have to recommend Wakan; it's a very flexible and descriptive word processor that's also based on EDICT (albeit an older version - unfortunately Wakan hasn't been updated since 2008, but I still haven't found a better alternative for what it does), and it will show you various forms and definitions of words as you type them. It doesn't really help as much with things like verb conjugations, but it's extremely useful for writing more complex sentences in Japanese once you actually learn some words and basic grammar, as it will show you the definitions of the words right on screen alongside the Japanese text, and it also has a lot of really cool search features similar to imiwa, only even more flexible.
-Recommendations by wohdin.
User brethren also recommended a Japanese Learning RPG, Slime Forest Adventure.
Another incredibly useful piece of software (since My Japanese Coach for Nintendo DS was mentioned) is the Kanji Sonomama Rakubiki Jiten (also for the DS). Literally "Kanji, just-the-way-it-is, fun-to-use Dictionary," it's something my college Japanese teacher recommended to me when I first started out, and it is fantastic.
Essentially, it is a Japanese-English dictionary tool that allows you to look up words (or individual kanji) by drawing them on the screen—-which, I can tell you, is generally far quicker than looking a kanji up in a dictionary based on radical or stroke count.
Of course, it's intended for the Japanese market, so not every word or kanji has a definition in English, and you probably should know a bit about written Japanese before jumping into it, since stroke order is important if you want to find more complex kanji.
Still, it's easy to use, an includes a lot of extras (like quizzes on weird or similar kanji, and several Game-and-Watch games hidden in dictionary entries)!
-Recommendation by sabbac108
Engage with other Japanese learners! You can talk to people here on AniTAY/TAY about learning Japanese! You can also try out the other Japanese learning communities out there on the web. You only have to find one that suits you. To give you a head start, here's a Japanese learning subreddit.
You can also use apps such as HelloTalk to help you find native speakers who can help you learn the language.
Hope you found this guide useful! If you have any comments, suggestions, or even corrections or additions to the article, feel free to comment down below!
4/30/2014 - Added section on grammar and link to HelloTalk.
5/1/2014 - Added new user-recommended resources.
Say hello and go practice your Japanese over at TAYClassic!