Universal Studios Japan (USJ) is the home of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter and is a great destination for people of all ages when in and around Osaka.
Universal Studios Japan, located in Osaka, is one of four Universal Studios theme parks, and actually the most visited of all the Universal parks worldwide. Most visitors are Japanese tourists and tourists from other Asian countries such as Taiwan, Hong Kong, and South Korea. The park opened on March 31, 2001. Visitors to the park total at least 8 million each and every year. I have already given a detailed tour of Universal Studios Singapore, and really enjoyed my time there, so now it’s time to see what USJ has to offer!
How do you get to Universal Studios Japan? Well, as you can see from the diagrams above (from the official USJ site) it really is not that difficult from downtown Osaka. Just use the popular tourist line, the Osaka Loop Line, and head to Nishikujo Station, and then get on the Yumesaki Line to Universal City station, where you will find USJ sitting pretty beside the waterfront!
Tickets for USJ cost 7,200 Yen for adults and 4,980 Yen for kids, and these prices include entry to the park and access to all the rides and attractions for an unlimited amount of times. However, considering there are lots of people (usually) at USJ, it may be wise to invest in a Universal Express ticket, which means you can skip the main queues and get on the rides much quicker. This obviously means you will see and do more than you would if you just bought the basic ticket. To pay for a Universal Express ticket, you will need to fork out at least another 3,300 Yen for the cheapest option, although this option won’t allow you to skip the queues for the Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey attraction, which has the longest wait times anyway, so if that’s on your plan then the 5,200 Yen Express ticket is your best bet.
If water rides and rollercoasters are your thing, then you will be pleased to know that you can find them at USJ. Although winter in Japan doesn’t really lend itself to getting drenched in a theme park, you can still buy a poncho and brave the splash on the Jurassic Park River Adventure. This is a highly-themed attraction where you begin a boat ride through the Jurassic Park enclosures, softly sailing past gentle dinosaurs until something goes wrong (something ALWAYS goes wrong within theme park ride storylines) and you are no trying to flee a raptor attack. The finale is a steep drop down into the waters below. Interestingly, I found that you get wetter sitting towards the back rather than at the front, especially on windy days!
Perhaps to help you dry off after the water ride, you can head straight to the Hollywood Dream next. This is a cool rollercoaster that goes deceptively fast at speeds of up to 56mph as it twists and turns through the Universal Studios backlot. Small children will not be eligible to ride this one (52″ minimum height), so it’s strictly for the teens and parents – and maybe even some of them aren’t brave enough!
For the kids, USJ has a lot to offer, especially its character Snoopy that is prominent all over the park. Snoopy can be found mainly, though, at the area of the park known as Universal Wonderland, and here you can also find characters from Sesame Street and Hello Kitty.
There are some attractions that Universal Studios Japan that totally unique, such as the Jaws and Back to the Future rides. Both of these used to be at Universal Studios Florida but have been closed down now to make way for other attractions. So now USJ has the only version of Back to the Future, which is a simulator ride (albeit quite rough and old-fashioned nowadays), and Jaws, which is a firm family favourite – but don’t put your hands too close to the side of the boat – who knows what could be lurking under the surface of the water!
For something a little more modern, look no further than The Amazing Spider-Man ride. This is based on the comic books not the movies, but is still a great ride. You are sitting in ride vehicles that go along on an indoor track between simulator screens where you see 3D action in front of you. Of course you have to wear special 3D glasses. I found Spider-Man to be one of the most popular rides in the entire park, and the queues were always well over an hour (sometimes 2 hours at the start of the day) so plan your day well if you want to help Spidey save New York from Doc Ock and the gang!
Space Fantasy – The Ride is an indoor spinning rollercoaster that has a fantastic soundtrack and is not too intense, so most members of the family can ride it. There is a height requirement, though, so obviously small kids won’t be able to get on. Still, as long as you don’t mind the noise, it is a great attraction, and like the Spider-Man ride, Space Fantasy is one of the more popular rides in the park, so after you’ve seen Harry Potter and co at Hogwarts, this had perhaps better be your next port of call.
I can remember flying to Orlando when the original Wizarding World of Harry Potter opened back in 2010 within Universal’s Islands of Adventure theme park. I am quite a big fan of Harry Potter (aren’t we all?!) and wanted to experience the opening week for myself. I stayed for less than 1 week in Orlando but I enjoyed myself so much that I vowed to visit every Universal theme park where they were building a Wizarding World (that’s basically every one, apart from Universal Studios Singapore, which is too small). So, after a few visits to Orlando, I now get to check out the Japanese version of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, and also get to enjoy my favourite theme park attraction EVER: Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey COMPLETE IN JAPANESE!
I am used to large crowds, but I was surprised that not too many people were in the Wizarding World today. It made it more gentle than I feared in terms of being able to admire the scenery and enjoy the music of the area (without being squashed and squished). The sights of the snow-capped roofs of Hogsmeade Village brought a smile to my face, and it really is just like being in the movies. One thing I would love is to visit this park in Osaka when it really is snowing – that is something we would never get in Orlando and it would be epic to feel the real snow fall on your face as you take photos of Hogwarts Castle in the distance!
If you’re wondering what to eat and drink when in Universal Studios Japan, then do not wonder any longer: just head for the Wizarding World area of the park and find the nearest Butterbeer cart. Buy yourself a frozen butterbeer or a regular butterbeer – maybe both if you’re not saving your Yen – and sit back and enjoy the unique and secret taste of this trademarked Harry Potter beverage!
I hope that one day you can get to Osaka and enjoy the experience within Universal Studios Japan!