Welcome to Hogsmeade! Whilst in Osaka I visited Universal Studios Japan, home to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. I’ve already posted about the rest of USJ, but Hogsmeade was so cool (and so photo-worthy) I decided it deserved its own post. Welcome to Hogsmeade! Like many of you, I’m Generation Potter age, and as a massive book nerd grow up with the original series. Now, I should be honest – I’ve quite a lot of issues with the films, author, and continued cash-in canon of the series. But I did truly love the first 7 books and I was super excited to be able to visit The Wizarding World at USJ!
I should also confess here that I’ve not been to any of the U.K. Harry Potter attractions. I really was not a fan of the films (apart from scenes with Bill Weasley – hot damn he is FINE AF) and wasn’t sure if I’d enjoy it properly or not. After my USJ visit I’m really keen to visit the UK based attractions when I can! Despite my weird relationship with the source I definitely found Wizarding World to be a pretty magical place and would recommend to Potterheads and muggles alike. I want to try and take you inside USJ; there are a lot of posts that chat about how magical Wizarding World is, but I want to try to actually articulate why it’s so great, if I can.
When you enter through the huge arched gates into Hogsmeade at USJ, it’s really like stepping into another realm! I couldn’t believe how good the themeing was and how many little details they had included around the area- just wandering around looking at everything took me an hour.
The entrance at USJ is at the end of a very long tree lined path, so you have to walk away from the rest of the attractions and the colourful facade of the theme park. This is a really effective layout choice – it really feels like you are leaving the real world behind and going somewhere new! It also helps that a whole host of crows and sparrows live in the trees, so you can see life flapping around above you and it feels like a real forest rather than a conveniently planted fake facade *cough* Disney *cough*.
By the time you hit the arched entrance, that well known Harry Potter score is playing and you can see the turrets of Hogwarts in the distance beyond the row of shops and alleys. In another clever layout trick, no other part of the theme park is visible whilst in the Wizarding World so you can gaze around at the TinyTown roofs without a glimpse of some other coaster invading your eyeline. Now that really is magic…!
The layout is essentially one long street, aka, Hogsmeade, with the castle at the end of the area. The main attraction is Hogwarts castle, home to the EXCEPTIONAL Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey ride. I can’t say enough good things about this ride – it was phenomenal! It combines 3D visuals with a dark rooms ride and a classic coaster, and essentially you zoom through various locations and scenes from the films. I don’t want to give too much away in case you visit, but it was an incredibly immersive experience. Usually, I find themed rides to be a basic coaster with a kind of themed overlay, but the different elements are woven together in such a way here that you really feel involved! In my nerd research on the way home, I was not surprised at all to find the Rollercoaster and Ride Guild have named it the best ride in the world across 3 different years.
The other ride, Flight of the Hippogriff, is your standard outdoor coaster. It looked fun, but it’s no three time award-winning ride is it? If it’s a toss-up between the two and you’re stuck for time I’d recommend the Hogwarts ride again. I went three times in total – it’s so darn good! As well as the rides and castle, you have a whole host of shops. Some of these (Zonkos, Ollivanders, Wiseacres) you can actually go in and purchase merch from. Products range from wands and robes to life size broomsticks and stuffed owls. Other shops are just fronts, but they all have moving window displays and most of them are interactive (if you buy or rent a wand, you can “cast spells” to make parts of displays move and light up and so on). It’s a really cool idea. I didn’t actually rent a wand but had a lot of fun watching various people make objects come to life in front of my eyes!
What makes it unique
There’s a few differences between the two Wizarding Worlds in Osaka and Orlando. Osaka is a bit smaller and I think either has less shops altogether, or the same shops but smaller variations (I can’t tell from the Internet). I still spent the majority of my time wandering around the shops so it’s not like you have to hunt them out! There’s also no Leicester Square or Kings Cross area in Osaka (fine by me as I have the real deal on my doorstep). You just have Hogsmeade station, so therefore the train at transport you between the areas and you can’t actually go on it. Fun photo opportunity though, and there is a stationmaster!
Osaka does have a lake outside of Hogwarts, which gives you some stunning views (especially from The Three Broomsticks), and Osaka also has an actual post system set up in the Owlery. So you can literally post a letter from the Owlery in Hogsmeade! There’s also a nighttime illumination show at Osaka; this is set up basically via projections onto Hogwarts Castle and was a really lovely way to end the day. I also want to stress that a big difference IN GENERAL between most American theme parks I’ve visited and most Japanese is the themeing and level of detail. Sure, the Orlando theme parks are out of this world in terms of detail and cute little quirks. But efficiency, detail and great design are hallmarks of the Japanese lifestyle and culture, so when you add that into the mix of people creating a theme park it’s just next level. IT’S NEXT LEVEL, PEOPLE*.
*This applies to the Disney parks too, and I say that with love.
Things To Know
Ride Queue Times
Bring a podcast or two for the Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey line because my God, you’ll need it. But it’s 100% worth it! There are no fast passes at USJ unless you buy an Express Pass (and even then you still have to do the inside queue which is maybe 45-60 minutes at most). I spent almost two hours queueing in the morning. The outside section of the queue is quite boring, but offers nice views of the Hogwarts Greenhouses (filled with actual wild birds). The inside part takes you through Hogwarts which is pretty cool! We passed a wall of moving portraits, the Fat Lady, Dumbledores office, and finally, Harry, Ron and Hermione who set up the plot of the ride. Essentially, Hermione has enchanted some desks to fly around. They lose control, you get stuck one, and a rollercoaster ensues. Definitely head back in the evening, especially if it’s been a quiet day at the park – I rode the ride twice more at 6pm when the queue was down to just 20 minutes!
All of the indoor section of the Hogwarts ride features the actors from the film, but it’s dubbed in Japanese. The story’s not crucial for the ride so if you don’t speak Japanese don’t worry. I was surprised I could actually understand what a lot of characters were saying – probably because most of the portraits are just rattling off stuff like “nice day today!” and “where did you come from?!” and other basic phrases.
You’ll be fine wandering around the park; most of the employed face actors in the Hogsmeade area are British and happy to chat! I feel obligated to say here that nearly every review of WW I read before going stated how weird it was hearing Harry Potter & pals talking in Japanese. So, maybe prepare yourself for that? I actually didn’t find it that weird or jarring, but by the time I visited USJ I’d been in Japan for about 6 weeks. I would have been more surprised to hear English being used as a default at that point!
Much like the rest of USJ, the veggie options are mostly side dishes and the vegan options are basically negligible. I scoured the Honeydukes shop… the only vegan option in Wizarding World I could find was Pumpkin Juice! Tragically this meant Butterbeer was off limits, as were the Cauldron Cakes. (Side note: people are always sharing photos of the frogs, but my God, it’s the Cauldron Cakes that look truly delicious). I can’t remember veganism ever being an issue in the books (the characters are relentlessly stuffing meat in their faces) but you’d imagine that if Universal are trying to cater to a young and largely progressive audience, they’ll be adding some vegan, or at least veggie, fare to the menu pretty soon.
I had read on the internet that the Wizarding World is really popular and that to stand any chance at all of getting in, you need to arrive first thing in the morning at the theme park (ideally an hour before, as people can and do queue from then). Once open, you need to head to get a timed entry ticket specifically for Wizarding World (a bit like a fast pass). Your other option is to buy a special Express Pass ticket for the day that includes entry for Wizarding World (and also includes fast pass for a few other rides).
Well, this fool right here overslept and rocked up an hour and a half after the park opened with just my standard issue day pass in hand… only to find the park was at 40% capacity and they hadn’t even bothered to do the timed entry thing. You could just waltz in and out when you liked! I actually laughed out loud after running through the park trying to possibly secure the last of any timed tickets that were available, only to find a girl in a Ravenclaw scarf stood there going “no timed entry today. Free to all.” It should be noted here that I went on a Friday, which are normally busy days, and I went mid-February, which isn’t high season but isn’t off-peak either. I’m not sure if I got lucky, or if it’s not quite such an issue to get tickets and the Internet is just a bit paranoid about getting tickets. Either way if you think you might miss it, go first, and see the rest of the park later. Unless you get stuck in an almighty Hogwarts queue you won’t spend the whole day at WW.
The Japanese are excellent at queuing- if you want to see the show you definitely need to rock up 20-30 minutes before to get a good spot. There’s a designated area for watching the show and it fills up fast! The show itself is maybe 25 minutes; it is projection based, but quite innovative in the displays. There’s no language involved so don’t worry about that either!
Have you visited either of the Wizarding Worlds? I’d love to know how Orlando compares!