When you first begin studying Japanese, you will learn that they use three styles of writing:
Hiragana – ひらがな
Katakana – カタカナ
Kanji – 漢字
Each type of writing is used for a different purpose. Hiragana is used for writing normal Japanese words. Technically, the entire language could be written using only hiragana, but as you will learn, doing so would be inefficient and confusing.
Hiragana is very straight-forward. Each Japanese sound has its own “letter.” For example, the word for “I” is “watashi,” which when written in hiragana, looks like this: わたし. Each of those “letters” represents one of the syllables in the word:
わ = wa
た = ta
し = shi
Many beginner Japanese books will show the words written in both hiragana and and English romanization of the Japanese, which is called “romaji” or sometimes “romanji.”
So for example, you might see this, written in Japanese script with the romaji immediately below it:
わたし の なまえ は やまもと です。
watashi no namae wa yamamoto desu (my name is Yamamoto)
As soon as you have memorized all the hiragana, you will want to avoid relying on romaji from that point forward. Romaji will allow you to read faster in the beginning, but relying on it will slow down your overall progress. You won’t ever see romaji in any Japanese books or anywhere in Japan, so the sooner you can get your brain accustomed to reading hiragana, the better.
Most intermediate and above books don’t use any romaji at all, but while you’re still using the beginner books, you may wish to take a permanent marker and blank out all the romaji from all the sentences and new vocabulary words, leaving the hiragana so that your brain begins to recognize the words as you will actually see them in real life.