Hiragana ひらがな: traditional phonetic alphabet, typically used for original Japanese words.
Katakana カタカナ: phonetic alphabet used for foreign words, although occasionally used for Japanese words.
For anyone living in Okinawa, or even just visiting for awhile, I think it really opens up the possibilities if you learn the basic alphabets. It enables you to read more menus and signs, even with limited vocabulary. Menus with western food (such as Italian, American, French, etc) will use a lot of katakana (because the dishes are foreign!) and by simply sounding them out, you will likely figure out the meaning.
How does one go about doing this? Well, memorization and practice. There are even some phone apps, like Dr Moku, to help you. I also find the cute (and cheap!) little books and posters in the Daiso/100円 stores are great tools; even though they are for Japanese children, they are fun and a great way to simply practice.
Honestly, I am surprised to learn of people living here and not giving it a go to learn the alphabets and some basic Japanese. Relying on places to have English menus or translations in stores limits you. Worse yet, those who rely solely on their phone translators… while the technology is improving, there ares still some issues with “lost in translation,” especially when it comes to handwritten signs or stylized scripts. Plus, you can gain some small respect from the local population for attempting to learn (you will often hear things like nihongo ojouzu desu ne! you speak Japanese well!). By learning the basics, a whole new Okinawa opens up to you.