I've been thinking of learning Japanese for quite a while now. While I'm generally interested in all languages, I am interested in learning Japanese for different reasons than why I learned German or French. While I learned the latter two because I love travelling the countries in which those languages are spoken, I know virtually nothing about the Japanese language or culture. I have learned Latin, French and Spanish to varying degrees, and I am reasonably proficient in German. However, I think that Japanese would be a change - as it is an oriental language, grammatical structures would be entirely different from those of the Romance or Slavonic languages, not to mention that vocabulary would have different roots from those of the languages I'm already used to. The writing systems will be entirely different, too. While I found learning the Cyrillic alphabet challenging, Japanese seems to use three alphabets.
My main reasons behind learning Japanese are as follows - the general structure of the language is interesting, in that it almost totally differs from that of the languages I've learned before. Also, I have played a series of computer games made in Japan and used to watch a Japanese kids' programme, both of which I would like to play or watch in Japanese. The computer game released an edition in which all dialogue was spoken in Japanese, with English subtitles. Being the language enthusiast that I am, I found this fascinating. I don't think Japanese sounds as nice as French or Italian, but those reasons are good enough for me.
Can anyone suggest a grammar book for Japanese learners? I am expecting to come across terminology which is specific to the grammar of oriental languages, which I will likely not understand straight off. In which order should the Japanese alphabets be learnt? I have read a little about their functions, so I would guess that Hiragana should be learnt first? Although Kanji looks a lot of fun and an incredible challenge, I have heard that many Japanese childrens' books are written (almost?) entirely in Hiragana. Is that so? I would imagine that it would be asking too much of young children to remember so many seemingly complicated symbols.
As for grammar books - my friend, who has been learning Japanese for a few years now, has recommended one called "Japanese the Manga Way". What does everyone else think? Also, I have found some sites which show how to draw Hiragana and Katakana characters. I think it would be enough just to copy out the characters from the webpage until I have fully committed them to memory, but does anyone have any other suggestions?
Any views would be a great help, as Japanese is completely new to me.
Thank you very much.