A Day At USJ
Welcome to Universal Studios in Osaka, aka USJ! I am a big theme park fan but this was my first trip to a Universal Studios. As I was only in Osaka for a few days, I actually seriously debated whether it was worth spending a whole day at a theme park when I could be seeing more of the town. In the end though, I’m SO glad I went – it was one of the best days of my trip (read: of my life). I spent about two hours literally walking around in a beamy, ecstatic daze.For the uninitiated, Universal Studios features a bunch of areas themed either to a specific film series, or location. I had thought this might feel a bit random, and it does – but it feels a lot more cohesive than your average Disney park. And let’s be honest, Disney parks tend to be the gold standard for theme parks! So I will briefly chat through each section, and then I’ve got a few tips for any USJ travellers out there…
Jaws and Jurassic Park
I absolutely loved the theming of Amity Cove. When I saw the map I was like “an entire area on Jaws?”. Sure, Jaws is a great film but can it muster up enough for an entire themed section? Well, actually, it’s so well done you can’t help but enjoy it. From the life-size Jaws strung up, to the incredibly enthusiastic costumed staff, to the very corny boat ride, it’s just fun.
I actually haven’t seen Jurassic Park (I KNOW what was I DOING in the 90s GAH etc) but the theming in this area was also really cool! Think a lot of netting and trucks dotted around. This area of the park is home to two of the best rides, including the obligatory wet ride which ends with you plummeting down a waterfall. I had no idea this was a wet ride until I got to the front of the queue and clocked everyone pulling out their waterproof ponchos. Queue me in a fluffy jumper and pom pom crown looking frantically in my bag for my beret. Like that was going to help! Thank GOD it was a sunny day.
San Francisco & New York
Can vouch that this area does look like both these places, but in a kind of idealised movie way. New York irl is nowhere near as clean as the USJ version! Both of these areas are home to a selection of rides, exhibits, shops and cafes. The two areas act as a homage to each location, and then incorporate attractions based on films that are set in those areas. I’m not selling it but it works really well irl!
A big highlight here is the Spider-Man ride. It’s a similar experience to the Harry Potter ride incorporating 3D visuals with a coaster. I literally walked onto this ride (twice) as the single rider queue was empty. Highly recommend!
I also really liked BackDraft in the San Francisco area, although I’ve only seen negative reviews elsewhere. Essentially it’s a walk through stage show that takes you behind the scenes of the film “Backdraft”. Obviously, nobody has ever heard of that film but it’s fun anyway and you get to see a show indoors! Turns out Backdraft is a Ron Howard movie starring Robert De Niro and Some No Longer Relevant 80s Guy as fireman. Hence the fire stunts you’ll see inside!
Obviously, I didn’t go here because like any self-respecting person I fucking hate Minions. I went to USJ to bring myself joy, people, not a migraine.
Cool Japan (Sailor Moon)
This is not a specific area, just to point out! Around the entrance is where you’ll find the majority of Cool Japan. Cool Japan is some sort of campaign whereby USJ promotes Japanese characters/culture. From what I could glean, USJ pick 3-4 shows/franchises and then feature them in existing exhibits in the park. Normally this is by adding an overlay to an attraction, or somehow incorporating the new franchise into a cafe/shop.
When I went, the chosen few included Final Fantasy (which had its own ride), and Sailor Moon! Tragically, I was there before the Sailor Moon show had started up (if you’re visiting in March you’re in luck). I did get to see the Sailor Moon cafe, with themed treats, and the Sailor Moon styled photobooth. I couldn’t work out who sponsors Cool Japan or what the criteria is for being featured. This is likely Googleable if you’re going. (And also probably only an activity for the curious business geeks, seriously holla at me, it can’t just be me).
I’ve not been to Hollywood so can’t confirm if it looks anything like the real thing! Lots of fun stuff here, but it’s mostly shops and cafes so don’t dwell here for too long when you first get in, will you? There’s a bunch of cool themed cafes and restaurants around here, plus merch – although you’ll also find all of this merch around the park. The majority of theatres are located in this area. Heads up that it’s also a good place to meet characters if you can’t bear to be seen in the kids area (more on that later).
I went to see Shrek 4D, and the Monsters Rock n Roll show which was a lovely musical theatre type thing. Both were in Japanese; but this didn’t affect my enjoyment. The Shrek 4D show was a simple enough plot to follow and I managed to actually understand the odd sentence as well (cue me imagining I was fluent in Japanese for the rest of the day lol no girl).
OKAY GUYS WELCOME TO HEAVEN! This area is clearly the “little kids” area…there’s always that one section of a theme park with lame rides and lots of arcade games, y’know? Wonderland features Hello Kitty, Snoopy and Sesame Street. Mature thrill-seeking adults might want to bypass this area, but it was BLOODY GREAT for me! I was raised on both Sesame Street and the original Peanuts comics so this was like walking around my childhood brought to life. I expect this is how a lot of people feel at the Harry Potter place! There’s not much in the way of rides in Wonderland, but there is still at lot to do here.
Snoopy gets a huge indoor area with characters and interactive little games, a cafe and a GIANT shop. The Sesame Street area has a playground and a carousel. You can also see a lot of Moppy paraphernalia – Moppy is a small pink Sesame Street character who only exists at USJ (she looks like a pink Fraggle). Hello Kitty gets represented in a photo area, a booth selling adorable character food, and (of course) a shop. You can also meet Hello Kitty, but only inside her fashion collection (?) whereas the other characters were just wandering around.
This area raised some important questions for me, and any fellow entertainment business geeks out there (are you out there?). Sanrio have their own theme park in Tokyo, so why have they licensed Hello Kitty to USJ? Also, seeing as Disney now own the Muppets, what does this mean for Sesame St? I thought Sesame St Workshop was acting as a subsidiary company, but then why are they here at Universal, presumably on an independent license because they have an additional character? All things I was genuinely considering in between squealing at an Elmo hat or something. Just some of the fun and witty banter you can expect from me on a day out on a theme park.
Check out the shops!
As mentioned, I LOVE Sailor Moon, Snoopy and Sesame Street, so no surprise I loved the shops here. I am really not normally much of a shopper but when it comes to being on holiday? Plus merch I won’t see again? Multiplied by characters I dearly love? The merch here is some of the best I saw out of the 6 theme parks I went to in Japan. Sorry Disney hardcore people but WHERE ARE THE MICKEY POM POM CROWNS HUH.
As we all know, I bloody love a ridiculous headpiece so the next level array of crowns, fluffy eye headbands, character caps and oversize scrunchies was basically a dream come true. The Japanese really take their themed headgear seriously and that is one aspect of the culture I am WITH. I actually really regret not buying more than two crowns, but it was enough of a hassle carrying the two (!) I did get around for the next month (!!) in my very full backpack (!!!). So I think I made the grown up decision there. Or at least, however grown-up buying a pompom Sesame Street crown can be. (Shout out to you if you saw the IG vids at the time!)
Use single rider
Japanese people are great at queueing, and they also love to stick together, which means hardly anybody uses the Single Rider lines. If you’re by yourself or in a 2/3 then definitely queue in the Single Rider lines. I literally walked onto the majority of rides; longest Single Rider queue I had was 25 minutes for the Final Fantasy. The main line had a wait time of 110 minutes!
Express or not?
Hmmm. Before going, I had read that the park was basically always rammed and that you should go on a Tuesday or Wednesday ideally. I also saw that to get on the majority of rides you either needed to arrive about an hour before the park opens to get in and start queueing, or get an express pass. I didn’t do any of those things! The express pass was expensive, and I had already reserved tickets for a Friday (aka a peak day) before researching properly, so I decided to take my chances. And it was fine! I only had one long queue in the whole day, went on every ride (some multiple times), and was mostly able to just walk on stuff due to lack of queue. I don’t know if I just got lucky or what! I think if you’re going on a weekend in summer, then an express pass probably is worth it, but I had zero problems going in February.
Overall I had a bloody great day; I didn’t know what to expect and was blown away by the epic theming and array of stuff to do. You might have noticed I’ve neglected to mention one key section: the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Coming up in my next post! Because let’s be real, this is already long enough.
Here’s another Minion pic for any psychopaths reading. Seriously they are bloody awful but at least you can see how well themed the merch stands are!