The usual Japanese writing system is called kanji (it was actually imported from Chinese, but I digress), but in modern times Japanese also is often written in Latin letters, called romaji.
Because romaji was developed for pronunciation purposes, it is extremely regular. Almost all sounds correspond to one letter, and vice-versa.
- The following consonants are pronounced like in English--B, D, F, H, J, K, M, N, P, S, SH, T, W, Y, Z.
- ch: always like in "church"; never like in "character"
- g: always hard--"go"; never soft--"gem"
- r: somewhat like the English r, but pronounced solely with the tongue.
- a: like in "father"
- e: like in "let"
- i: like English 'ee'
- o: always long, "rode"
- u: always long, "rude"
- There are no digraphs, all vowels are pronounced separately.
It's also worth noting that, unlike English, Japanese is not a stressed language. All syllables are weighted equally.
- Aiko (f)--"ah-ee-koh"
- Daiki (m)--"dah-ee-kee"
- Haruko (f)--"hah-roo-koh"
- Hideaki (m)--"hee-deh-ah-kee"
- Kaede (f)--"kah-eh-deh"
- Tsubasa (m)--"tsoo-bah-sah"
Like English, Japanese also has homophones--words that sound alike but have different meanings. While these words are written differently in kanji, in romaji they're usually spelled the same. This is why most Japanese names have two, three, or even more translations! Parents choose which kanji (and therefore which meaning) represents their child's name.