There are three different types of Japanese characters. These are hiragana, katakana and kanji, but the basic character set should be hiragana. Katakana is mainly used for words that have been imported from foreign languages. For instance, “camera.” This word has been adopted using similar Japanese pronunciation “kamera” and is written in katakana（カメラ）.
Kanji is helpful as it enables you to instantly understand the meaning when you look at the character. However, a large amount of effort is required to learn kanji because of their complexity and the fact that there are about 2,000 daily kanji characters.
Japanese language students usually start to learn Japanese from hiragana, but romaji, which utilizes letters from the Roman alphabet as substitutes for hiragana, is available. Romaji is used in places such as train stations mainly for the benefit of foreigners, but it is not widely used in the daily life of Japanese.
However, Westerners learning Japanese feel more familiar with romaji and can take advantage of the familiar characters to learn Japanese without studying Japanese characters. Originally, romaji letters were substituted directly with hiragana. However, some hiragana characters do not have a direct representation in English. The “Hebon method,” which substitutes these particular hiragana characters with letters that are more understandable to English speaking people, is most commonly used.
For example, in the Hebon method, “si（し）” is written as “shi,” “ti（ち）” as “chi,” “tu（つ）” as “tsu” and “hu（ふ）” as “fu,” although they have the same pronunciation. Also, “Nihonzin（にほんじん）” is written as “Nihonjin,” and “roomazi（ローマじ）” as “romaji.” However, Japanese can understand both. The Hebon method comes from the creator’s name “Hepburn.” It is ironic that the Japanese changed his name to suit the Japanese method of pronunciation.