Homework Again

I'm back into an organized, scheduled learning mode for the first time since college, and I'm having MUCH more fun doing it.  I've decided I want to learn Japanese.  It was hard remembering exactly why I started getting interested in it.  My teacher said many of her students become interested in it after watching 'anime'.  I'm not really a fan of that, though.  I'm sure there's at least a small part just fascinated with the samurai/ninja/etc. history, plus the fascination with technology from there.  On a "deeper" level, I'm interested in how similar our cultures are in many ways, while developing on opposite sides of the globe.  (However, I'm very aware of SEVERAL differences in the cultures, too.)

My first assignment is to memorize one of three ways of writing the Japanese have.  There's hiragana, a series of symbols equating to syllables, used for native Japanese words.  Then there's katakana, which is a separate series of symbols equating to the same syllables, which is used for foreign or "loan words".  Then the third is Kanji, which is, from what I understand, a Chinese style of symbols equating to more complete words, phrases, or concepts.  There are approximately 4,000 of them, and apparently many Japanese people don't even know all of them.

I've used a combination of a podcast, several iPhone apps and now travelling out to USI one night a week to get where I want to be.

I'm fairly confident now that I could get around, ask where things are, buy things and have a very basic conversation with someone, but I want to go beyond that.  When people are speaking Japanese on television, I want to not have to use the subtitles.  When I see Japanese writing, I want to be able to read it.

Do you have any Japanese learning tricks?  Any advice?