December 4, 2014 – If you’ve followed our social accounts at all for the past month, or if you listen to the podcast, you’d know that last month one of our editors visited Universal Studios Japan. Spread out over the course of the next few weeks, we’ll be covering much of what Osaka has to offer. Some things will be very familiar. Others will be quite unique. Ultimately it makes for a fascinating place that is unlike any other theme park in the world.
As the title implies, this first update will simply be covering getting to the park and through a bit of the main entry plaza. Let’s get to it!
Welcome to Osaka. We start out at their closest international airport, Kansai International Airport, KIX.
Like much of Japan, most of their signs are very visual, so while English may be sparse, you won’t feel too lost navigating public transportation.
And… you board subways. Everywhere. It’s pretty much the biggest form of transportation. So much so that even the employees of Universal Studios Japan take it.
Once you get off the subway and technically exit the airport, it’s time to get on the railway over to the park.
Unlike most American city rail systems, the cost is actually based on the distance traveled, instead of just being fixed per line.
That means fare calculations which can be a bit daunting to calculate for your first time. However fare adjustment machines are near every rail exit in case you need a refund or need to add a bit more change.
It doesn’t take a sharp eye to notice that Osaka is littered with advertisements for Universal Studios Japan. At first, the prominent placement of Snoopy, Elmo and Hello Kitty is offputting. Even after multiple days there, it still feels a bit off for American travelers, familiar with Snoopy’s ties to Knott’s Berry Farm and Sesame Street being a part of SeaWorld.
The closer you get to Universal Studios Japan, the more they will have placed notifications all around to help you get into the park.
And because of the new rush of visitors for the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, they’ve been pushing their new annual pass program. It’s not a bad deal compared to other Japanese theme parks.
Once you find the final JR (Japan Rail) line to get you into the park, you’ll immediately receive confirmation you’re going the right way.
That’s in the form of their completely skinned trains. Each car is adorned with a different scene. Many people miss the train as they’re trying to take photos of the impressive sight.
The other confirmation that you’re going the right way is that nearly everyone gets off the train. There’s one more stop after Universal, but it’s for a seaport. The crowds on some days in this park are no joke. You can try to get photos without people in them, but it’s a fool’s errand. This day in particular was on a Monday in the tail end of a 3-day weekend on a Halloween Horror Night. We’ll be covering the Halloween-specific treatment of the park in a future update.
The crowds continue up the stairs. The railway exits right into their CityWalk (which will also be featured in a coming update).
On the way to the main gate you will pass not only CityWalk stores, but some of Universal’s branded hotels.
After what feels like a tremendous amount of walking, you eventually can see the familiar arches in the distance. Sharp eyes can actually see there are two sets of arches. One is to the right of this photo, that serves as the entrance for those that drove to the park.
Their daytime Halloween event is called “Universal Surprise Halloween” and features all the characters in cute Halloween costumes.
But the real draw currently is the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, and the park reflects that well. These banners are impressive to see in person.
Just past the archway is the familiar Universal globe. It slowly rotates and is just as much of a photo spot as it is anywhere else in the world.
Opposite the globe is a grand view down their main entrance plaza. While it was still Halloween season for the park, they wasted no time preparing for Christmas decorations. Because of the frequent rain in Japan, a large canopy was constructed over the entrance in a style similar to Universal Studios Singapore. Above that you can see part of the track for one of the park’s coasters, Hollywood Dream.
Also at the entrance is a souvenir store, so you can shop for merchandise without purchasing a ticket. And a post office box is outside to mail any stamped letters.
Next door is Guest Services, should you need to pick up tickets, talk to Lost & Found, or any other things that may come up.
And finally, next to the gate is an entrance for the VIP tours.
For a price, you can get a private or semi-private tour of the park. It includes a souvenir button printed with the date on it.
As the park opens, crowds constantly flood to the ticket booths.
Because the park is primarily composed of guests that take the railway, the cast members are constantly guiding guests to the ticket booths further away that have much shorter lines. Here you can see their Halloween costumes. While cute, it does appear a little cheap, and has a certain Flintstone’s vibe to it that is not represented elsewhere in the park.
After much patience, the ticket booth will be in view.
You are presented with a number of choices for tickets, and they do take most major credit cards. This is notable since many places in Japan don’t actually accept common American credit cards.
Unfortunately, the English version of the Universal Studios Japan website does not sell tickets online, while the Japanese version does. What this means is you can’t buy their Express passes online, and they will sell out days in advance. It’s also worth nothing their passes force you to choose between attractions and only allow one ride each. For example, 1 of the 5 tickets in the Express 5 allow you go on either Jaws or Back to the Future. It’s an interesting take on the Express pass, as compared to the “free reign” passes sold at the American parks.
Excitement mounts as you are given your maps and tickets. As pictured, each ticket is currently adorned with different Harry Potter characters.
The other flyer you are given explains how to get a return ticket. Because of the immense crowds, you can’t simply stroll into Hogwarts and must claim a ticket with a specified return time. This will be covered thoroughly in the Harry Potter part of this series.
With ticket in hand you proceed to the main gates. If you want to dress up as your favorite wizard, you are highly encouraged.
Surprisingly, the tickets use QR codes to be scanned instead of traditional bar-codes or magnet stripes. The large box on top of the ticket machine is a camera box that takes photos for new annual passholders or multiday ticket holders.
Once inside, you realize how large the canopy is and the size of the buildings.
Japan has a deep love of popcorn. Something Americans only flirt with, in comparison. It’s not just about the popcorn itself, but the wacky flavors and souvenir buckets that you wear around your neck.
Saying that the park has a beautiful Hollywood street would be an understatement.
Everything is intricate. The level of detail is astounding and overlooked by many of the guests as they rush by to get their Potter return ticket.
It wouldn’t be a theme park without merchandise and this park covers that. As stated earlier, they heavily push their holy trinity of Snoopy, Elmo and Hello Kitty in everything they can. They aren’t simply confined to a single land, but are the park’s mascots and permeate every shop and food location.
It’s quite easy to spend a lot of time walking around Hollywood (the name of Universal’s main street) as there are so many details to take in.
It also becomes a bit of a game trying to spot all the different Halloween decorations. Even the area songs are all the traditional American Halloween songs, from Ghostbusters to Purple People Eater. While it’s a great touch, most of the Japanese guests have a tenuous grasp of the English language and most of the lyrics are lost on them.
The bakeries also offer a great selection of seasonal pastries that would make any other park jealous.
Anyways, that wraps it up for this update. We’ve only begun to scratch the surface of this far away land, but this should give you a good taste of what’s to come in the following updates. If you have comments on the article structure, questions about Japan’s park operations, or anything specific you’d like to see covered in the coming days, feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thanks for reading, and we’ll see you in the next installment in our Universal Studios Japan series.
Chris Glass is an editor for Inside Universal.
Chris is a Los Angeles native who grew up visiting the best theme parks in the world, but that wasn’t enough. Whenever he has the chance, he flees the comfort of Southern California to see what the rest of the world has to offer, and is always happy to return home.
You may contact Chris at email@example.com.