I was a linguist for the Army, and as such studied Japanese for several years, as well as Serbo-Croatian, Swahili and Nepalese. I will be brief.
The most important element is repetition. You have to touch the language in some way every day, even if it's a small way (run through some vocabulary, do some flash cards). You are literally creating alternate pathways between meanings in your brain, and if you don't reinforce that daily, it quickly dissipates.
As for Japanese specifics, you're going to find that there are technically three writing systems. Kanji are the classic, complex characters that were adopted and adapted from Chinese. Katakana and Hiragana are the phonetic systems, similar to our own alphabet in that each symbol represents a sound, with no inherent meaning. Katakana and Hiragana are almost entirely the same sound system, (a, i, u, e, o...ka, ki, ku, ke, ko etc.) but they are frequently very different in appearance. Hiragana are used for the ends of japanese words and to indicate grammar, while katakana are generally used for scientific names or cognates (words directly borrowed from other languages, for example, McDonald's is pronounced makudonarudo, and is written with katakana).
So your first step would be to memorize the hiragana and katakana and practice them until you can read and write them almost as easily as our alphabet. This will make your future efforts much easier. You should also look for audible resources to ensure you are pronouncing the sounds correctly, even if only in your own head.
The next step requires you to know how much time/money you can spend on this. If time and money aer no object, obviously you could take classes at a local school or purchase rosetta stone. Otherwise, you can try and learn with a coursebook (preferably one with an audio component) and supplement with studies in ancillary texts. An excellent coursebook is Genki 1: An Integrated Course in Elementary Japanese. You should try to acquire a teacher's edition so that you will have the answers. There is also a very good workbook companion that is sort of essential for driving concepts home.
Supplemental books I also recommend are: A Dictionary of Japanese Particles by Sue A. Kawashima as well as A Guide To Remembering Japanese Characters by Kenneth G. Henshell
Finally, you should also regularly leave japanese-language movies running in the background while you do other things. This helps you familiarize yourself with intonation and the flow of the language. After learning your first 50 words, you will absolutely start picking up small phrases in these films, and hearing the subsequent words -even though you don't understand them- will greatly ease your understanding as you study, because you will be encountering familiar sounds and their associated intent. (Which is how we learn our native language as children...we keep hearing how it SHOULD sound and flow, which eases us into future concepts.)
Learning the language solo is a huge task. The written part is easier to accomplish alone, and listening you can grasp if you surround yourself with audible Japanese as much as possible both while studying and just existing. Speaking, however, will require interacting with native-speakers at some point. Best of luck!
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