Most students of Japanese go about learning to read Japanese the wrong way. In fact most teachers go about teaching Japanese the wrong way. It is harsh comment, but an unfortunate reality. It is the reason why most students never reach a level where they can read real Japanese.
Most students are taught to read Hiragana, Katakana and then memorize Kanji in order to read Japanese. This is obviously a logical learning pattern or method. However, too much emphasis is placed on learning individual kanji characters and all their readings. Once a student has reached a basic level, where they can read hiragana and katakana, they should start trying to read kanji in context. The problem is students try to learn and memorize hundreds of kanji in no context at all.
Memorizing hundreds of kanji readings will not help you read Japanese. More emphasis should be place on actually reading kanji in context and on “kanji vocabulary”. I struggled for years in order to reach a level where I could read real Japanese. I spent hours and hours on trying to memorize hundreds of kanji and lots of grammar points. When I went to practice to read I couldn’t. It was like having all the right ingredients, but not knowing how to use them. This is the problem you are probably facing right now with your Japanese - you know hiragana, katakana, a few hundred kanji, basic grammar, but you can’t read.
Practice Reading Japanese
Rather than learning individual Kanji characters in no context at all you should learn “kanji vocabulary” and and spend more time trying to read kanji vocabulary in context. The problem is, it is very hard to do this unless you have money to pay for private Japanese lessons. If you have a Japanese friend ask them to read and go through easy Japanese articles with you. Read articles aloud and be willing to skip kanji you don’t know when practicing reading. You can always look up the kanji later. If you do this for a few weeks you should notice a dramatic improvement in your understanding of Japanese and reading ability.
Culture plays an important part of Japanese, too. Most teachers of Japanese forget this. Try to learn as much as you can about culture, social customs and the Japanese mind-set. These factors play an important part in learning, speaking and reading Japanese. If you are interested in learning to read Japanese you can try searching for Japanese sites made for children. There are also a number of Japanese lesson blogs out there that touch on the subject of reading kanji in context.