Universal Studios Japan Guide

  • A how-to guide for Universal Studios Japan, and recommended strategy on how to get on the popular rides and Harry Potter World.

    Universal Studios Japan Guide | Easy Japanese Recipes at JustOneCookbook.com

    When our family visits Japan each summer, we think of what places would be interesting to visit, and share our experiences about them so the information may help JOC readers when they visit Japan one day.  The past 3 summers we visited Disneyland and DisneySea in Tokyo.  As our daughter is a Harry Potter fanatic and we were going to visit the Kansai area, Universal Studios Japan was the theme park of choice this year.

    Before You visit Universal Studios Japan (USJ)

    We did quite a bit of research before visiting USJ.  Most of the reviews we read online cautioned on the long lines.  Based on Wiki, it’s the 4th most popular theme park in the world with 13.9 million visitors in 2015.  How to avoid the lines?  You can shorten the wait with express tickets but unfortunately it’ll almost double the ticket price.

    Universal Studios Japan Map 2016

    (Click to enlarge)

    USJ offers many ticket packages (too many!) and they are somewhat confusing.  The packages for the Japanese language site also has more options than other languages.  Let me simplify them for you:

    Universal Studios Japan Tickets and Express Tickets (all the prices below includes tax)

    Non-Japanese site packages (cannot purchase online):

    1. 1 Day pass – Adult ¥7,400, Children ¥4,980
    2. 2 Day pass – Adult ¥12,450, Children ¥8,420
    3. Universal Express pass 7 – you get to have a shorter line for 7 rides (1 time only), the packages are available in 3 options and all are the same price ¥6,900.
      1. Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey
      2. Flight of the Hippogriff
      3. The Flying Dinosaur or Hollywood Dream – Backdrop or Space Fantasy (you can only choose one)
      4. The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man
      5. Hollywood Dream or Backdraft (you can only choose one)
      6. Jurassic Park or JAWS (you can only choose one)
      7. Terminator 2:3-D
    4. Universal Express pass 4 – shorter line for 4 rides (1 time only), available in 2 options and all the same price ¥4,500
      1. Option 1
        1. The Fly Dinosaur
        2. Hollywood Dream
        3. Space Fantasy or Backdraft (you can only choose one)
        4. Jurassic Park or JAWS
      2. Option 2
        1. Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey
        2. The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man
        3. JAWS or Backdraft (you can only choose one)
        4. Space Fantasy or Jurassic Park or Terminator 2:3-D (you can only choose one)

    Japanese site packages (can purchase online): In addition to the above packages, the Japanese site offers following standard packages.  I am not going to include any of the specialty packages that are only available seasonally.

    1. Royal Studio Pass – Adult ¥24,100, Children ¥21,680.  Except for the Harry Potter rides, this pass allows you to go in the express line for rest of the most popular rides as many times as you want.
    2. Annual Pass
      1. Without blackout date – Adult ¥ 32,800, ¥ 19,800
      2. With blackout date – Adult ¥ 21,800, ¥ 15,800
    3. VIP Tour – Adult/Child ¥9,900
      1. You get a private guide with you and gets express access to Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, Flight of the Hippogriff, Ollivanders Wand plus any 3 of the following rides
        1. The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man 4K3D
        2. Hollywood Dream
        3. Jurassic Park
        4. Jaws
        5. Terminator 2: 3-D
        6. Backdraft

    Now you have all the information on packages.  If you are interested in express packages, remember to book them way ahead of time in your country as you need to specify the visit dates.  There is a limited number of express pass per day.  If you have a friend in Japan you can possibly use their info to purchase tickets online, as it requires Japanese phone number, address, and name in katakana.  If you choose express tickets with Harry Potter, you not only need to pick the day you but also need to select time of the day you want to visit the area.

    I also work with a company called Voyagin (I receive a small % of sales) where you can book thru Voyagin and receive your e-ticket in minutes.  They also offer Mobile E-ticket and VIP Wristband for VIP Entry before USJ opens.

    Universal Studios Japan Review

    If you’ve been to the Universal Studios in Los Angeles, to set the expectation correctly, there is no studio tour at USJ.  It’s just an amusement park.  Compared to Disneyland, USJ targets a higher age crowd.  Many of the most popular rides require the riders to be 4 feet (122 cm) tall and Hollywood Dream/The Flying Dinosaur requires a minimum height of 4’4” (132 cm).  If you have younger children, many of the rides and attractions may not be suitable due to violent and graphic nature.

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    It’s the 15th anniversary of USJ this year!

    The Park is divided into these areas and I’ll talk about them briefly later on:

    1. Hollywood
    2. New York
    3. San Francisco
    4. Jurassic Park
    5. Amity Village
    6. Water World
    7. The Wizarding World of Harry Potter
    8. Universal Wonderland

    On the day we visited, it was raining and pouring at time; nevertheless it was still crowded.  The line was quite long even before the park opened.  As we had purchased express tickets, we were not in a rush for some of the rides.  However we had a bit of time before our Harry Potter dictated time.  We weren’t quite sure what to do so we explored the park.  Another thing to keep in mind, the studio map is not updated and Back to the Future the Ride no longer exists.

    Our goal was to ride as many of the popular rides as possible.  During the time we visited, Jurassic Park the ride was down for maintenance (check maintenance schedule).  Along with the height restriction with our children, we were out of luck with 4 of the most popular rides.

    Now we have all the basics out of the way, are you ready for the tour?  Let’s go!  I’ll take you briefly through each of the areas.  I apologize beforehand for not having great pictures.  At times it was pouring rain like crazy and difficult to take shots.

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    Before the park opened, there was a long line waiting to get in even on a raining day.


    Hollywood is first area you’ll see when you enter through the main gates.  The buildings are shaped similar to Rodeo Dr., and there are 15 shops for souvenirs and gifts you can browse in.  The main ride attractions in Hollywood are Hollywood Dream roller coaster and Space Fantasy.  During our visit, there was a special summer event and Space Fantasy was changed to Kyary Pamyu Pamyu – a virtual reality roller coaster based on the Japanese fashion model and singer.  There is also a 4D theater that rotates various movies in this area.

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    The 4D movie showing wasn’t children friendly so we skipped.

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    Kyary Pamyu Pamyu XR ride was very interesting.  We thought it was a kiddy ride and didn’t have high expectation.  The ride is similar to a roller coaster ride, but throughout the entire ride you wear a virtual reality goggle.  With the goggles on, you can’t really tell at all what the track looks like in real life.  The ride was a lot more fun than we expected as we glided and flew through a virtual world with dancing Kyary Pamyu Pamyu on digital roller coaster tracks.

    New York

    The New York area, in my opinion, had by far the coolest buildings.  The details were astounding and it was fun to just check out the faux storefronts.  The main rides in this area are The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man and Terminator 2 in 3D.

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    Spiderman The Ride

    This ride is the same as the one at Islands of Adventure in Orlando built at a cost of $120 million.  The ride is really super cool!  It mixes a roller coaster ride with 4D movie they’ve created so the car you ride in become part of the story line.  Besides really cool vehicle motions, there are also heat, water, air elements, and villains in 4D chasing you that makes the ride intense and thrilling.

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    As the visitors wait in line, you walk through the Daily Bugle office and Peter Parker’s cubical.

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    In the car getting ready for adventure with Spider-man!

    Terminator 2 3D

    This is another attraction that exists at other Universal Studios Parks.  The technology is a bit dated as Terminator 2 is from the late 90’s.  The ride takes place in a large room that can fit hundreds of people.  You first watch a brief history of Cyberdyne Systems, and then a Cyberdyne host shares the story about the company, towards the end something happens…  You can read more about the experience here.

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    San Francisco

    As you go clockwise around the park, the next area is San Francisco.  I enjoyed the replica Fisherman’s Wharf and Ghirardelli Square, but there is only 1 attraction in this area.  The Back to The Future ride has been retired so the only ride left is Backdraft.  It is based on the classic firefighters movie, Backdraft.  Similar to Terminator 2, the attraction walks you through 3 different room explaining how pyrotechnics in movies work.  In the last room, it’s where the audience experience one of the fiery scenes from the movie up close and personal.  If you love explosions, then you’ll really enjoy this attraction.

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    In the line waiting to enter the Backdraft attraction.

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    In this area you can get Minion Churritos and Minion Pizzas (banana flavors… yay or nay?).

    Jurassic Park

    In Jurassic Park, there are 2 major attractions, Jurassic Park and The Flying Dinosaur.  The Jurassic Park the ride was under maintenance when we visited and our children were not tall enough to ride the flying dinosaur.  Flying dinosaur looked like a super fun ride, as the rider are strapped in a seat flying head first down the track.  Perhaps we’ll get to ride it as a family in a future visit.

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    The Jurassic Park is a water ride where a boat takes you through a river surrounded by dinosaurs.  The many mechanical dinosaurs are lifelike as they move and make noises.  In the end, the boat enters the laboratory where the T-Rex is attacking, and to escape the boat plunge down a huge slide at the end.

    Amity Village & Water World

    Since Amity village also only has 1 ride – Jaws, I’ll combine it with Waterworld, another 1 attraction area.  Jaws is based on the scary 70’s movie, Jaws!  This classic universal attraction was a delight to everyone onboard and suitable visitors of all ages.  During the ride, the boat goes through a quiet town and is eventually attacked and chased by the shark.

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    It started pouring when we got in line for Waterworld so we skipped since we’ve watched the same stage show in Los Angeles Universal Studios.

    Waterworld Show Universal Studios Japan

    By Freddo (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

    The Wizarding World of Harry Potter

    Now the main event!  Enter the magic world of Harry Potter.

    Harry Potter Map Universal Studios Japan

    The Harry Potter World isn’t too big, but there are many shops and buildings you can browse around.  It’s very hard to describe the feeling we had when we were there, but we definitely all felt we were in magical area.  The decorations were amazing, the storefronts were authentic, Hogwarts Castle was breathtaking.  The main rides here are Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, Ollivanders’ Wand Shop, and Flight of the Hippogriff.

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    Butterbeer tastes like cream soda with thick foam on top.

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    Hagrid’s Hut

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    Flight of the Hippogriff is a pretty tame roller coaster (kiddy level).

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    Inside Hogwarts Castle is the Harry Potter ride, without the express pass the wait is 2 hours.  I was also told it was a slow day due to the rain, the regular wait is much longer.

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    Folks wait patiently in line.

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    The line goes inside a room with lots of portraits.  What’s really cool is the face and eyes in the artworks move.  How do they do that??  Definitely high on the cool factor!

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    You pass a room with the mighty Albus Dumbledore.

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    So what was the ride like?  It’s impossible to describe unless you’ve ridden it yourself.  The roller coaster seats are on a track but you sit in them while you’re facing the side.  The ride takes you on a 4D experience that has you flying on a broomstick with Harry through various adventures.  From Quidditch match to escaping dragons and creatures, the flight takes you up and down and you feel as though you are really flying.  It was definitely the best ride in the park but if you are prone to motion sickness, do avoid the ride.  Here is a YouTube video of the ride.

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    The last attraction is Ollivanders’ wand shop.  The line waiting for also over 1 hour.

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    The first room you enter has boxes and boxes of wands, after a while, a secret door opens and you enter another room.

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    They select a volunteer (our daughter was selected) and the volunteer goes through the experience of selecting “the one” wand.  There are some cool effects in the room as the magician talks about the special power behind the wand.  When my daughter finally selected the “right” wand, the wind blew from underneath her and a spotlight shined on her in the dark room.

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    After the experience, the exit door opens into the wand shop.  There are 2 types of wand sold, one with a sensor and one without.  The one with a sensor give you magical power in front of 6 store windows where you can make objects fly and move.  The regular wand is just for decorative purpose.

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    There were plenty of Harry Potter outfits and goodies available for purchase.

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    Universal Wonderland & Snoopy Studios

    The last 2 areas are more for little children, but my children actually had a blast because Snoopy Studios was indoors.  We didn’t have to worry about the rain.  It was not crowded so they were able to ride the indoor roller coaster many times, and enjoyed other attractions with very little wait.  There aren’t any major feature attraction in these 2 areas.

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    Hotel Universal Port

    During our visit, we stayed at Hotel Universal Port.  It’s right next to the park, about a 5-7 minutes walk.

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    View of USJ from Hotel Universal Port.

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    Everything was Minions themed!

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    The rooms were very clean, seemed updated and spacious.

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    The bathroom had nice amenities, including bubble bath which my children thoroughly enjoyed.

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    4 Beds!  No fighting over blankets 🙂

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    Nightview of Minato Ward from the hotel room.

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    Rico Rico is an buffet restaurant on the second floor of the hotel, we enjoyed dinner there with my aunts and uncle from Osaka.  The food was fairly decent and we had a great time catching up.  If you are looking for different variety of food, I recommend this restaurant for families.

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    Iberico Ham!

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    Final Verdict and Recommendation for Universal Studios Japan

    Our family had a lot of fun in the park, I didn’t like the fact that we had to buy express tickets which doubled the cost.  I wished they had a similar system to Disney’s FastPass.  We were able to finish all the rides before 6 pm and left the park feeling thrilled.  Here are my recommendation on how to get the most out of the park.

    1. Go wait in line before the park opens, the park usually opens earlier than advertised time.
    2. Run to Harry Potter area and enjoy the Forbidden Journey ride asap.
    3. Wait in line for Ollivanders and experience the magical power of the wand.
    4. Move on to Hollywood Dreams Roller Coaster
    5. Ride the VR – Space Fantasy
    6. Fight crime with Spiderman.
    7. Soar with The Flying Dinosaur
    8. Get wet with Jurassic Park
    9. You can then slowly enjoy T2, Backdraft, Waterworld and Jaws.  Those rides are more dated and capable of handling large crowds.

    Additional Options (goes to another website)

    1. Get online tickets as the website is in English and easy to navigate, plus you don’t have to print out anything, just show your mobile QR Code at the entrance.
    2. Half of what express pass costs, the VIP Wristband grants you a grace period of 10-15mins to head into the park before its official opening hours to enjoy some of the popular rides minus the queue! or be the first one in the Harry Potter Area minus the crowd!

    Hope you enjoyed reading my review.  Have you been to Universal Studios?  Which one is your favorite ride?  Let me know in the comment below.

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