Conveniently, the Japanese language has three different written formats: kanji, hiragana, and katakana. Kanji is the most complex and is not easily learned; however, a basic understanding of hiragana and katakana will be very useful. Both are phonetic, and some knowledge can helps in translating menus. With a little training, you too can read menus with ease…slowly, but easily.
Most train stations (at least in Tokyo) have the current and upcoming stations indicated in a combination of kanji, hiragana, and romanji — the Arabic symbol version of the language. Knowing the Japanese version of your home station is critical, unless you don’t mind traveling around in circles. Power Japanese (a CD-ROM based learning program) is highly recommended as a way to learn the language.