Travel guide for Universal Studios Japan in Osaka, and recommended strategies on how to get on the popular rides and Harry Potter World.
When our children were younger, we loved visiting theme parks during our trips to Japan. We’ve visited Disneyland, DisneySea, Tokyo Dome, Yomiuriland, and Fuji Q Highland around Kanto area. One of the best memories we had was visiting Universal Studios Japan (USJ) in Osaka,.
Before You visit Universal Studios Japan (USJ)
We did quite a bit of research before visiting Universal Studios Japan. Most of the reviews we read online cautioned on the long lines at the rides. Based on Wiki, it’s the 5th most popular theme park in the world with 14.3 million visitors in 2018. How to avoid the lines? You can shorten the wait with express tickets but unfortunately, it’ll almost double or triple the ticket price.
Over the past few years USJ has updated their site to be more English friendly so please check their site for detailed package info. If you are interested in express packages, remember to book them ahead of time in your country as you need to specify the visit dates. We work with a company called Voyagin (I receive a small % of sales) where you can book USJ tickets thru Voyagin and receive your e-ticket in minutes.
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.
The Park is divided into these areas and I’ll talk about them briefly later on:
- New York
- Minion Park (wasn’t opened yet when we visited)
- San Francisco
- Jurassic Park
- Amity Village
- Water World
- The Wizarding World of Harry Potter
- Universal Wonderland
On the day we visited, it was raining and pouring at the 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 get in the line for the popular rides. 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.
Hollywood Universal Studios Japan
Hollywood is the first area you’ll see when you enter through the main gates. The buildings are shaped similar to Rodeo Dr. in Beverly Hills, 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 event and Space Fantasy was changed to Kyary Pamyu Pamyu – a virtual reality roller coaster based on the Japanese fashion model and singer. The ride changes often and in the first part of 2019 Space Fantasy was changed to Lupin the Third: Car Chase XR Ride.
There is a 4D theater that rotates various movies in this area. However, the 4D movie showing wasn’t children friendly so we skipped.
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 Universal Studios Japan
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 ride in this area are The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man the Ride and Attack on Titan.
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 Spiderman 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 storyline. 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.
As the visitors wait in line, you walk through the Daily Bugle office and Peter Parker’s cubical.
San Francisco Universal Studios Japan
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.
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.
In this area, you can get Minion Churritos and Minion Pizzas (banana flavors… yay or nay?).
Jurassic Park Universal Studios Japan
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 riders are strapped in a seat flying headfirst down the track.
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.
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. It is based on the action movie, you’ve guessed it, Waterworld! Actors play out a fighting scene with jet skis, gunfight, and explosions.
By Freddo (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios Japan
Now the main event! Enter the magic world of Harry Potter!
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 a 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.
We subsequently visited Warner Bros. Studio: The Making of Harry Potter in 2017 when we were in London, and that experience was out of this world. We highly recommend it if you are a big Harry Potter fan.
What does butterbeer taste like? It’s similar to cream soda with a thick foam on top.
Flight of the Hippogriff
The first ride we did in the Harry Potter are was Flight of the Hippogriff.
Flight of the Hippogriff is a pretty tame roller coaster and suitable for younger children.
Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey
Inside Hogwarts Castle is the Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey ride, without the express pass the wait was 2 hours. We were also told it was a slow day at the park due to the rain, the regular wait is much longer. The cool part is the line goes through many rooms with cool props and decorations from the movies.
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!
You pass a room with the mighty Albus Dumbledore.
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 sideways vs. the front on a regular roller coaster. 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.
Ollivanders’ Wand Shop
The last attraction we experienced was Ollivanders’ wand shop. The line waiting for also over 1 hour.
The first room you enter has boxes and boxes of wands, after a while, the staff opens a secret door and you enter another room. They selected a volunteer (which happened to be our daughter) and she went 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.
Harry Potter Gift Shop
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 gives 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.
Universal Wonderland & Snoopy Studios Universal Studios Japan
The last 2 areas are more for little children, but my family actually had a blast because Snoopy Studios was indoors and 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.
Hotel Universal Port Universal Studios Japan
During our visit, we stayed at Hotel Universal Port. The hotel is right next to the park and about a 5-7 minutes walk.
Everything was Minions themed!
The rooms were very clean, seemed updated and spacious.
The bathroom had nice amenities, including bubble bath which my children thoroughly enjoyed.
Port Dining Rico Rico
Rico Rico is a buffet restaurant on the second floor of the hotel, we enjoyed dinner there with Nami’s aunts and uncle from Osaka. The food was fairly decent and we had a great time catching up. If you are looking for different varieties of food, we recommend this restaurant for families.
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 increased the cost significantly. I wished they had a similar system to Disney’s FastPass where you can enjoy express lines for free. We were able to finish all the rides before 6 pm and left the park feeling thrilled. Here are our recommendations on how to get the most out of the park.
- Go wait in line before the park opens, the park usually opens earlier than the advertised time.
- Run to the Harry Potter area and enjoy the Forbidden Journey ride asap.
- Wait in line for Ollivanders and experience the magical power of the wand.
- Move on to Hollywood Dreams Roller Coaster
- Ride the VR – Space Fantasy
- Fight crime with Spiderman.
- Soar with The Flying Dinosaur
- Get wet with Jurassic Park
- You can then slowly enjoy Backdraft, Waterworld and Jaws. Those rides are more dated and capable of handling large crowds.
Additional Universal Studios Japan Ticketing Options
- 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.
- 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 our review. Have you been to Universal Studios Japan? Which one was your favorite ride? Let me know in the comment below. This post was an update of the original one we shared in 2016.
Just One Cookbook Osaka Guides
- Tsutenkaku Tower and Shinsekai District 新世界・通天閣
- Dotonbori & Namba 道頓堀・難波
- Kuromon Ichiba Market and Kitchenware Street 黒門市場・千日前道具屋筋商店街
- America Village & Shinsaibashi アメリカ村・心斎橋筋
- Osaka Castle 大阪城
- Umeda 梅田
- Tempozan 天保山
- USJ ユニバーサルスタジオジャパン
- Expocity エキスポシティー
If you’re interested in our travel guides on Tokyo, Kyoto, Kanazawa, Kyushu, and more, please click here.