November 21, 2015 – Welcome to this inside look at Universal Studios Japan. In this series, we’re going to be taking a an in-depth tour of Universal Studios Japan on a land-by-land basis, providing you – our reader – with a virtual tour of what this unique park has to offer.
As a long time visitor to the park, I can best describe Universal Studios Japan as the ultimate studio park from Universal. Combining the best elements of its sister parks in the United States, Universal Studios Japan is simply staggering – both in size and scope – in what it has to offer. Believe me, this is no understatement. Not only do you have the amazingly popular Wizarding World of Harry Potter land at your disposal, but you also have the Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man, Jurassic Park: The Ride, Jaws and Back to the Future: The Ride in one single park. No other Universal park in the world can claim such a roster.
However, while most of our audience is probably familiar with the park for its large lineup of classic Universal attractions, we should also be aware that Universal Studios Japan is also incredibly unique, housing such attractions as Space Fantasy – The Ride, Animation Celebration, Hollywood Dream – The Ride that allow the park to differentiate itself from the rest of Universal’s lineup. More on that later.
But before we delve inside, let’s start with a look at Universal CityWalk Osaka and the main entrance.
A quick note on public transportation before we get started.
Universal Studios Japan is connected to the larger JR (Japan Railway) network within Osaka prefecture. JR – Japan’s predominant railway operator – is divided into different subsidiaries across the country according to region. For instance, Tokyo (for those visiting Tokyo Disney Resort) is operated by the East Japan Railway Company (JR East), while Osaka (for those visiting Universal Studios Japan) is handled by the West Japan Railway Company (or JR West).
On top of that, there are also rail networks operated by local governments. In our specific case, our hotel – the Hyatt Regency Osaka – was connected to the larger JR network through the New Tram via Osaka’s local transportation network. As one might expect, local rail passes or tickets from one region may not be compatible with another. Our experience has shown that purchasing a Suica card or Pasmo card – prepaid cards that carry credit – is the most convenient way to pay for your fare across Japan. Simply purchase the card at any station and tap the card at the paypost to pass. Cost varies depending on the length of travel, and we highly recommend using Google Maps beforehand to chart your destination.
» Public transportation (specifically rail) is the most convenient way to travel throughout Japan
» Different rail systems are operated by different companies despite the similarity in name
» Purchase a Suica or Pasmo with extra fare (around $20-$30 USD worth per card) – these cards should be compatible with a majority of local railway systems
» Cost depends on the amount of distance you have traveled (which means you must tap in at your arrival destination and tap out at your destination)
» Google Maps is your friend – search for directions before you travel
In closing, while Japan’s railway system is incredibly expansive, I also found it to be very complex and somewhat difficult to navigate. If you’re like me, you might want to allow for some extra time to get accustomed to the Japanese rail system as you make your way to the park.
If you’re traveling to Universal Studios Japan, you’re going to be looking for the Universal-city Station which leads directly to Universal CityWalk Osaka. If you’re unsure, just look for posters shown below based off Universal’s most prominent attractions (and their sponsors).
Like almost every other Universal park (with the clear exception of Universal Studios Singapore), Universal Studios Japan features its very own CityWalk location.
More akin to CityWalk Hollywood than CityWalk Orlando, Universal CityWalk Osaka features some familiar favorites (such as Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. and the Hard Rock Cafe) alongside some interesting offerings (a McDonald’s, for one) spread across four floors. It’s considerably more condensed than any of its stateside cousins, so you’ll have to explore level-by-level instead of simply passing through to get a true of what CityWalk Osaka has to offer.
Theming wise, residents of Los Angeles will get a kick out of CityWalk Osaka’s light references to Southern Californian life. Oh, and there’s a smaller version of King Kong if you’re yearning for a photo opportunity before you head into the park.
Finally, it bears mentioning that CityWalk houses five on-site hotels – the newest one being the Park Front Hotel, which (as its name suggests) is located just in front of the park’s main gate. As with most hotels in Japan, these on-site hotels are pricey, so be prepared to pay for the convenience of being located on the property.
Heading to the main gate, Universal Studios Japan is fed via two archways – one leading to CityWalk, and the other leading to large parking lot.
If you’ve never seen Universal Studios Japan’s arch before, it can best be described as a combination of Hollywood and Florida’s design. Think of Hollywood’s size mixed in with Florida’s faithful recreation of the Universal globe, and you have arguably Universal’s best archway to date. As you approach the park, you’ll hear a mix of Universal’s most memorable soundtracks blaring in Universal fashion with the main entrance straight ahead and Universal’s iconic uniglobe directly opposite of the main gates.
As you approach the main gate, you’ll see traces of Art Deco permeating throughout the architecture. To my untrained eye, it looks as if Universal drew inspiration from Art Moderne (think Pan-Pacific Auditorium) – a nice hark back to Los Angeles’ glamorous movie-making past.
Tickets – like most theme parks in Japan – are inexpensive compared to the U.S., with discounts for children, seniors and those with a disability. That being said, their iteration of the Universal Express Pass – offered in three tiers – is incredibly expensive. Each tier of Express Pass grants you access to a number of select attractions – with the notion being that the higher tiers will grant you front of line access to some of the park’s most popular attractions. Be warned, because Express Passes do sell out (typically in advance).
Is is also important to note that as an international traveler, you’re not going to be able to purchase tickets online, at least easily from Universal’s official website. This is perhaps indicative of a larger trend at Universal Studios Japan – that overall, the park does not appear to be geared towards international travel. While this certainly isn’t a knock on the park itself, it stands in direct contrast to Tokyo Disney Resort’s mode of operation. While Disney cast members are usually able to communicate in English, the majority of team members at Universal Studios Japan are not, and you’ll need to brush up on some basic Japanese in order to get by or be prepared for some light faux pas during your trip. That being said, tickets are always available at the main gate or at partner hotels.
One other note – tickets do not grant reentry on the same day. In other words, once you exit the park, you’re out.
In short, tickets are cheap but the Universal Express is incredibly expensive. Tickets – at least for international travelers – cannot be purchased online, and Universal Studios Japan operates more like a local park than its larger peer in Tokyo.
That does it for this initial tour of Universal Studios Japan and Universal CityWalk Osaka. In the next segment, we’re going to be taking a closer look at Hollywood, which includes Hollywood Dream – The Ride, Universal’s Monsters Live Rock and Roll Show, Shrek and more. Stay tuned!
Jon Fu is the editor-in-chief of Inside Universal.
Jon originally founded InsideUniversal.net in 2006 as a summer hobby aimed at providing families and fans a resource for all things “Universal Studios Hollywood.” Since then, the website has taken him throughout the United States and around the world – including to places like Universal Orlando Resort, Universal Studios Japan and Universal Studios Singapore.
Jon currently resides in Los Angeles, California. You may reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.