17 May 2016

Universal Studios: Hollywood thrills in Japan

Universal Studios Japan was on my must-see list from the moment I knew I'd be staying in Osaka. Partly because I couldn't resist The Wizarding World of Harry Potter (despite having previously visited the Warner Brothers Studio Tour in the UK, the magic of Hogwarts remains as alluring as ever to the eternal Potter fan) and partly to make up for the fact that I have never had the opportunity to go to the Universal Studios resort in Orlando. Of course I thought it would be a fun day out (that's what theme parks are for, after all), but it well and truly exceeded my expectations. Upon queueing to buy a ticket, I wondered what kind of thrill-seeking rollercoaster addict would possibly go for the 2-day ticket option. By the time I left, I wished I had time to return for a second day!

The park is divided into different themed sections. Some are for one film alone (such as Amity Village, created for Jaws) and others are based on real-life locations where multiple films are set (like San Francisco or Hollywood). Each area tends to have a mixture of rides, shows, themed restaurants and other amusements, meaning there's a lot to take in! My first port of call was, unsurprisingly, the Harry Potter area. This not only had a massive replica of Hogwarts, but also Hogsmeade at its base, which was complete with shops such as Ollivander's and Zonko's Joke Shop as well as the well-known establishments the Hog's Head and Three Broomsticks.

Welcome to Hogsmeade

The Hogwarts Express has arrived!

You can have a drink in the Hog's Head!

"The management will not take responsibility if you lose your head"

The obligatory butterbeer - with souvenir glass

Of course, you can have pumpkin juice if you prefer!

You can stroll through Hogsmeade and look in the many shops

You can buy every flavour beans - if you dare!

Shelves of novelty items at Zonko's Joke Shop

Hogwarts in all its glory

Once you've soaked in all of that, there are also two rides you can enjoy in the Harry Potter area. The one you must go on is inside Hogwarts itself. Even if you're not interested in the ride, you really should go as it allows you to explore the inside of Hogwarts! It has everything from Dumbeldore's office to the moving portraits in the corridors, all in impressive detail. The ride itself is called Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, and you experience flying through the air on a broomstick in 3D. It's kind of hard to explain the sensation, but it was amazing and I was alternately whooping, grinning and squealing throughout.

The other ride is Flight of the Hippogriff, which is fun, but definitely too short. You do however get to walk past Hagrid's Hut whilst queueing, which is cool.

Hagrid's Hut. The lights are on: I wonder if anyone's home?

After we'd soaked up the atmosphere in Hogsmeade, we started to work our way around the park. First, we landed in Amity Village, the location for Jaws. The Jaws ride is described as a 'boat tour of fear' but my experience was more that of sheer amusement over fear. We embarked upon the boat tour with a female guide, and it started with her excitedly describing the virtues of Amity Village to us (in Japanese, which added to the hilarity), but as the shark attacks began, she quickly became hysterical, all the while trying to protect us from the sharks with a fake gun, whilst also apologising profusely for the attacks. The sharks were impressive but the acting was just so over the top that it had me in stitches.

The queueing area for the ride had lots of Amity-esque decor

All appears to be calm as the boat tour begins...

Once we'd calmed our nerves (or should that be suppressed our giggles) we moved on to Jurassic Park. The area had lots of warning signs advising us how to act, should we stumble across a dinosaur. Jurassic Park: The Ride however allows you to experience some close encounters with a variety of dinosaurs via a water ride. This one's really fun, and ends in a 25 meter drop where you'll most likely get splashed. They also take a photo at this point, which you get to see as you exit the ride. My snapshot showed me grinning whilst simultaneously trying to hide behind my companion, which perfectly sums up the ride: fun and a little bit scary! After that, we'd worked up an appetite, so we headed over to Fossil Fuels and ate something that looked like a dinosaur drumstick but apparently was a turkey leg.

After said dinosaur drumstick, we needed to sit down for a little while to digest: so we watched the Universal Live Rock And Roll Show. I really wanted to see this, as it's the one part of the park that actually harks back to the beginnings of Universal Studios: those classic horror films the studio made in the 1920s to 1950s, with characters such as The Wolfman, Frankenstein and Dracula.

All of these and more featured in the show, which was great fun to watch, although I do have some bones to pick with whoever chose the songs for the show... no matter how much I love It's Raining Men and I Will Survive, these can hardly be classed as rock and roll songs!

Other rides/attractions worthy of mention are Back Draft (I'd never heard of the film, but the attraction ends with an impressive display of different pyrotechnic techniques used in films), the Back to the Future: The Ride (you get to travel through time in a DeLorean - need I say more?) and Terminator 2:3D which uses a clever mix of real footage, live actors and 3D effects to make you feel like you're in the centre of the action. With so many different amusements the day flew past, and soon enough the sun set and the park took on a completely different atmosphere.

One of the highlights of the day came when we were about to leave the park. I'd just gone into the Hello Kitty's Celebrity Style shop to buy merchandise (of course), when I came out to see that everyone was lining the streets. So we decided to see what it was all about, and found ourselves in the midst of the Magical Starlight Parade. We saw characters from Alice in Wonderland, Arabian Nights, Cinderella and more, all brought to life by hundreds of colourful lights.

It really was an incredible day! I hope I've inspired you to visit Universal Studios, should you ever be in Osaka. If you do, check out my tips below for how to make the most of your trip.

My tips for visiting Universal Studios Japan:

  • Arrive early: you want as many hours as you can get in this place, as there's a lot to do (and remember, you will inevitably spend some time queueing). Hours of operation vary, and you can check opening times for your visiting date here.
  • Stay until doors close: you don't want to miss the magical starlight parade! Plus the park with all its neon lights looks stunning once night falls.
  • Buy an Express Pass: if you are an adrenaline junkie and want to go on the more extreme rollercoaster rides (such as the Flying Dinosaur or Hollywood Dream - The Ride, you should buy an express pass to shorten your queuing times. I saw queue times of over 2 hours for some of these rides. If you want to buy an express pass, arrive at the resort as early as possible, as they only release a limited number of these each day.
  • There aren't just rides in the park, there are also shows, 'experiences', and parades. Take a look at one of the Studio Information boards to see the next start times of these, as well as current queueing times for rides, to help you plan your day.
  • I found that a lot of the rides had much shorter queues after 17.00. So if you find that one of the rides has too long a queue around lunch time for example, try again later in the day.
  • Remember spending money. You're not technically allowed to bring your own food and drink into the park (although I did bring my own water flask) so you will have to buy snacks and refreshments... plus there's a lot of cute merchandise on sale, which you many not be able to resist!
  • Remember you're in Japan, so any footage from films is dubbed into Japanese, and the actors in any rides/attractions also perform in Japanese.This is fine if you are already familiar with the film, but perhaps read up on any films you're unfamiliar with if you are planning on visiting the ride, so that you have some idea what's going on, as you won't understand the introduction!

Have you been to Universal Studios Japan? Do you have a favourite theme park?


  1. I loved Universal - on my first visit to Osaka I didn't get the chance to go but I was so glad I did last visit. We spent the whole day there as it was such an experience. It was Golden Week so super busy but the crowds added to it as every group was dressed up to a theme!

    1. Wow, it must have been super busy during Golden Week! I bet the costumes were awesome though. There weren't many people dressed up when I went, apart from a group of guys who were dressed as Where's Wally for some reason.

  2. I CANNOT WAIT TO GO HERE! I've had it scheduled for our last day in Japan. Steve is sad the back to the future rides won't be open. It was the only one he wanted to do :(

    1. You'll both have an amazing time, even if the Back to the Future ride is closed. It's a great choice for your last day in Japan, you'll definitely leave on a high!