I’ve read the books and seen the movies multiple times. I downloaded the new Niantic Wizards Unite game within an hour of its beta release, and yes you could call me a bit of a nerd when it comes to the boy wizard. Not surprising then that I found a day for us to spend at Universal Studios Japan – Harry Potter Wizarding World.
Universal Studios Japan (USJ) can be intense. From gates open until the parade is done it’s a long day. You’ll be exhausted, there’ll be too much sugar, lots of laughing, screaming and trying to go in 6 directions at once. And that was with just the two of us so if you are planning to add kids into that mix you are going to want to do a bit of research and pre-planning. We’ve got you covered on all the most frequently asked questions and of course a glimpse inside the magical world of Universal Studios Japan.
Table of Contents
- How to get to Universal Studios Japan
- Finding the best Universal Studios Japan ticket price
- Planning your day at Universal Studios Japan
- Harry Potter Wizarding World
- Minion Park
- Jurassic Park
- Universal Spectacle Night Parade
- A few other things we are often asked
- Accessibility and height restrictions?
- Our final thoughts on visiting Universal Studios Japan
How to get to Universal Studios Japan
Universal Studios Japan is located in Osaka which makes staying in the city an ideal base but a day at the park is also a relatively easy day trip from Kyoto, Kobe and many other nearby cities in Kansai.
The simplest and cheapest way to get out here is by train. Universal Studios has its own station called Universal City on the JR Yumesaki line. If you have a Japan Rail Pass that is already active you can make use of that, otherwise individual tickets or your ICOCA card for convenience is the way to go.
The JR loop line is usually your best alternative through to Nishikujo Station then switch to the Yumesaki Line for the final 5 minutes of the trip. If you are staying in Namba it’s not on the JR loop so you’ll take the Hanshin Namba line to Nishikujo instead. If you not sure you can always look up the quickest route from your closest station using the free Hyperdia site or Google Maps.
Finding the best Universal Studios Japan ticket price
In your trip planning, consider whether to pre-purchase your Universal Studios Japan tickets or buy them at the gate on the day. There are advantages to each option.
The best-priced tickets we found are from Klook. They are a ticket and tour seller that we discovered in Asia years ago but they are now becoming better known for their great deals in Australia and New Zealand too. They were cheaper than purchasing tickets either at the gate or on the other sites we checked. Most importantly, they are an approved USJ ticket agent which you need to check as Universal Studios in Japan don’t allow reselling of tickets other than through these accredited distributors.
We like Klook because we can purchase in our own currency (Australian dollars for us) and know the full cost upfront. It removes any foreign purchase fees from the credit card, exchange rate surprises and as I’m a planner, I like having things organised in advance when I can.
The main reason travellers choose to purchase at the gate rather than online is that they might change their mind at the last minute about going or to avoid outlaying the payment too far in advance. In this situation, you can still get the benefits of pre-purchase by bookmarking the link on your phone and purchasing closer to the date of your visit, even once you are in Japan. That way you can still get all the benefits without committing months in advance.
With a pre-purchased ticket at USJ, you just show the purchase voucher on your phone at the gate. You don’t need to print it out or queue to exchange a voucher for a ticket.
A big difference when you buy your tickets online ahead of time is that it’s much faster to enter the park in the morning with pre-purchased e-tickets rather than having to queue to buy them at the gate. That means you get inside and onto the rides faster.
Planning your day at Universal Studios Japan
It’s a good idea to know what your priority rides, activities and shows for the day are before you arrive. For us, it was mostly about the Harry Potter Wizarding World and we knew we wanted to spend a good amount of the day exploring everything there was to see in that area of the park.
We also wanted to do the Minion ride and spend some time there, the night parade was a must and then as much else as we could fit in around those. It will be different for everyone but having an idea what your group wants to prioritise will make it much easier and you’ll get to do more in the day.
You’ll also want to think about how early you plan to arrive and feasibly how long you plan to stay in the park. If you have young children and really want to make it through to the night parade just before closing time then it might not be practical to also be there at opening time.
There is an express pass e-ticket that will reduce queuing throughout the day substantially and it is really nice zipping through to the front on those really popular rides but it does cost extra and if that’s not an option there are ways to still fit a lot in without it.
Top tips for fitting everything into your day at USJ
- Avoid visiting during public holidays, school holidays and high tourist times such as the golden week and cherry blossom season.
- Mid-week visits will be less busy than at the weekend.
- Know your ‘must do’ rides before you go so you can prioritise those into your day or with Fastpass tickets
- Be at the park for opening time and go directly to the line for the most popular ride you want to take first.
- Have your lunch either early or late to take advantage of the lunchtime lull in the queues.
- Prepurchase your tickets online so you can avoid the delays involved in purchasing at the gate.
Harry Potter Wizarding World
As we entered we got 2 brochures in English, one is the Studio Guide with maps and information, the second covers that days events. Heading to the right along Hollywood Boulevarde from the entrance you come to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.
When I saw the movies I was wowed by how they had transcribed the exact images from my head after reading the books onto the big screen. It was the same from the moment we entered the outer reaches of the forbidden forest and walked towards Hogsmead and the castle. Your eyes pass over the barriers and the crowds and the familiar scenes transport you into the Harry Potter experience.
As you walk through the village of Hogsmead you’ll be tempted to stop at all of those familiar haunts. Honeydukes for sweets, Zonkos Joke Shop, the Owlery and Ollivanders. You want to visit them all while you are here but if you’ve headed here first I highly recommend you get up to the castle and take the Forbidden Journey first.
Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey Ride
Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey was our first ride of the day, we did this one both with the Fastpass (first) and without later in the day because I just couldn’t resist. After leaving our small backpacks and loose items in the lockers, it’s off exploring the castle spotting all those little details as you go.
The talking paintings, the defence against the dark arts classroom, the Headmasters office, it’s all here. The attention to detail in how it’s been put together is incredible.
I won’t spoil the details of the ride itself but you’re facing sidewards beside your companions in a 4 seat car. A rigid bar holds you in place securing you in for a wild ride. It’s not a roller coaster as such, rather a movie based dark ride that moves in every direction short of fully upside down as it simulates flight.
I was a little concerned in the days before our visit when I read a review that said the seats on the Japan rides were tiny and too small for most Western visitors. Fortunately, that wasn’t the case on any of the rides we did. They do have size and weight limits, as theme park rides do in all countries but I’m a size 16 and it was no more restrictive than similar rides here in Australia.
The ride uses advanced technology to immerse you in incredibly realistic scenes. Graphics are sharp, vibrant and 3 dimensional without the use of 3D glasses. It’s not just the visual effects either, feel the heat of the dragon’s breath, the deep chill in the presence of dementors and the movement of air as you speed through the sky. So good you’ll want to do this a couple of times if you can.
Flight of the Hippogriff Ride
The second Harry Potter ride is the flight of the hippogriff. This one is an outdoor rollercoaster suited to families so it’s quite mild but still fun and we scored the front seat which makes it feel a little more intense.
The queue progresses past Hagrid’s hut and the pumpkin patch as you make your way to the care of magical creatures class and take a ride on the wicker basket hippogriffs.
Other Harry Potter World activities not to miss
Trying out the Butterbeer was a must for me, it’s non-alcoholic, sweet and really quite good. As you come into Hogsmead there is a large barrel vendor, queue up on either side to be served. If this one is too busy there’s a second barrel vendor further up as you move towards the castle. You can also order it with your meal at the Three Broomsticks.
We found a shady seat in the Owlery to enjoy our magical brew before a stop in at every shop and display window in the village.
While you’re in Hogsmead make your way to Ollivanders wand shop. Here you will see young witches and wizards getting fitted for their first wand. You might even be the lucky one chosen to join the demonstration.
You can buy your own wand and cast spells at interactive spots around town or take a break for sustenance at the Hogs Head pub or the Three Broomsticks.
There is a variety of street performance on throughout the day too, this takes places in each of the different areas particularly targetted at the younger audience.
You might not have realised you were a Minion fan until you go but these are just so cute and funny, and the main ride is so much fun. Minion Park is colourful, fun and has space to take some time out and sit in the park or wander the Minion marketplace.
The Minion ice cream cookie sandwich available from Delicious Me is also very good and a perfect excuse to stop for a few minutes and take it all in.
Despicable Me, Minion Mayhem is another story based ride with exceptional visual effects. Although the scene-setting at the start is in Japanese there are subtitles and it’s acted out in a way that you are in no doubt of the storyline. When someone asked me later if it was in English I had to stop and think about it, there was nothing lost in the translation.
Once you move through the scene-setting part and board the ride there is some rapid acceleration, dips, climbs and stops but this one is more about the story than the thrill. I highly recommended it if you have any awareness at all of the mischievous little Minions.
There are two rides in this area both are very popular and can be used with the express pass. The escaped dinosaurs street entertainment is exceptional too.
Jurassic Park the ride, is a log flume styled ride in an explorer boat. It follows the winding river past dinosaurs that appear from out of the trees and up out of the river, geysers and volcanic terraces. Along the way you get nudged off course into the restricted area where a T-Rex is on a rampage and you end up getting tipped over the dam wall.
There’s quite a bow wave but it looks more dramatic than it is, we got a bit of a splash, not saturated as it appears here.
The flying dinosaur is a rollercoaster and it is not for the faint-hearted. The giant Pteranodon has swooped down and grabbed you in its giant claws and takes you on a series of dips and rolls.
This is one of the longest roller coasters in the world with an intense initial drop of almost 38 metres. Be prepared to spend time upside down and this ride, it is definitely one the thrill-seekers are not going to want to miss.
Universal Spectacle Night Parade
While our photos from the night parade weren’t good it was so much fun to watch and something I’d recommend that you need to stay on until the end of the night for.
It travels a good distance around a defined route so it’s quite easy to get a spot with a good view of the parade. Each section has multiple floats and all your favourites are here, the dinosaurs, Harry Potter, Minions and Transformers. It’s bright, colourful, high energy and sends you off at the end of the day with a huge smile.
A few other things we are often asked
Can I take food and drink into Universal Studios Japan?
Like most theme parks around the world, their rules don’t allow food and drinks from outside to be brought into the park grounds. I did have my reusable water bottle in my bag the day we went, I didn’t even think about it and it wasn’t an issue.
My understanding is that for infants and those with medical needs you can bring food in but do be aware that it needs to be a genuine requirement. Catering to individual food preferences is not a reason for an exception.
Under the published rules you can only leave and re-enter the park if you have an annual pass so you can’t plan to go out for lunch and come back. I have spoken to people who had their hand stamped at the gate and successfully came back in on the same day but these are an exception and it’s not part of the terms and conditions of the daily tickets so I wouldn’t rely on it personally.
There are a lot of options for meals and snacks within the park and although it is quite spread out you’d never need to go far to get something to drink or find a bathroom.
Each section of the park has its own dining options. Some are snack-based from a cart, others are sit down restaurants, cafeteria and a pub. The studio guide you are given at the entry has a matrix of eating options and helps you identify any specific categories such as vegetarian, eating with food allergies, kids menu and a price indication.
Does Universal Studios Japan have Luggage and bag storage?
You want to carry the minimum amount possible with you throughout the day. Inside the park can be crowded and on many of the rides, you won’t be allowed to have bags or loose items.
If you have checked out of your accommodation and have suitcases or other luggage with you the best option might be to have your hotel hold it for you to collect later or store it in a train station locker at a major station along the way. The train out to Universal City is very tightly packed, particularly if you’re using it around opening time or after the parade finishes for the evening, which will make managing luggage more difficult.
The luggage lockers are located outside the park and are for a single days use, any luggage not collected after the park closes is removed ready for the next day. The largest locker size is 802mm high x 357mm wide x 453mm deep so it will fit a reasonably large suitcase. Small and medium-sized lockers are also available in this area outside the park.
Most ticket types don’t allow you to exit and re-enter the park so carry items you might want like a jacket or sunglasses with you and only leave things in these lockers that you won’t need until the end of the day.
You can’t carry bags or loose items on many of the rides and for these, your personal items will need to fit into the ride lockers. These are regular small locker’s that fit a small bag and jacket.
If you are flying out of Kansai Airport that evening you will catch the train from the Universal City Station to Nishikujo Station then change to the JR Kansai Airport Rapid that runs about every 15 minutes through to Kansai Airport. All up the trip will take around 70 minutes and the cost will be Y1190. If you are continuing on via the shinkansen you can take a direct train to shin Osaka (around 12 minutes) or you might also change at Nishikujo (about 15 minutes).
Many rides can’t be done with bags or loose items so they will need to fit into the ride lockers. These are regular small lockers and aren’t designed for luggage or large bags. The dimensions are 300 mm high x 360 mm wide x 425 mm deep.
Accessibility and height restrictions?
Many but not all of the rides provide some level of wheelchair accessibility. The park also caters for service animals. They can accompany you on some activities and for others there is a designated waiting area for them while you enjoy the ride.
Height restrictions are also in place for some rides to allow restraints to work effectively, these are clearly marked for each ride.
You can review the accessibility arrangements at USJ here.
Our final thoughts on visiting Universal Studios Japan
We had an absolute blast at USJ, arriving at opening time and staying through to the end of the evening parade as the park closed. While perhaps considered as a destination more suited for families, and it would be so much fun to be here with children, we thoroughly enjoyed it with just the two of us.
The park has employed all the latest technologies to provide the ultimate fantasy experience and as a long term fan of Harry Potter I can’t think of a way it could be improved on, absolutely fantastic and we’d absolutely do it again.
If you have any questions we’ve not covered here please leave them in the comments below, we’re always happy to share what we’ve learned and it gives us the opportunity to make the articles more useful for others in the future.
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