Without a doubt, one of the big barriers to learning Japanese are the kanji, the Chinese characters that communicate meaning in written Japanese. Elementary school students start learning kanji in the first grade, starting with the simplest character there is (ichi, the number one, written 一) and going all the way up to the last character of the sixth grade (hai, meaning ash, written 灰). Although many might blanch at the idea of mastering the entire list of 1945 joyo or "general use" kanji, what you need to be considered literate in the language, it's really not that bad if you take it a step at a time. In recent years, the rise of waapro (word processing) and computers has brought a real change in how people work with their writing system. Since characters are written by hand less often, instead increasingly typed using a computer keyboard or cell phone's keypad with the correct character picked from a list, many Japanese (and gaijin, like yours truly) lose much of their ability to write the characters, although the ability to read them is usually not affected. The problem is pretty widespread, with Japanese people from all walks of life generally less able to write kanji than the previous generation. The other day I caught a TV show called Neptune League in which teams of famous people -- say, female TV announcers, who are all supposed to be very well educated -- ride in a train traveling through a computer-generated mine shaft. Words fly out at them, and they must correctly write the kanji characters on the screen or the CG car will be sent crashing to the bottom of the shaft. It's quite an interesting show -- everyone in our family gets quite excited as they try to write the correct answers before the timer runs out.