- Getting to Universal Studios Japan (USJ)
- Best way to get your tickets and getting through the massive crowds
- How to get to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter
- Dinner at the famous street Dotonburi
Tips for Universal Studios Japan (USJ)
If you only plan to do one day at USJ, you must plan in advance, particularly if you want to ride on as many rides as possible and not be stuck in places.
I highly recommend you do the following:
- buy your tickets in advance – we bought our tickets on Klook. We made sure we bought the correct ticket as well, because you can’t get in if the ticket is only for ticket B holders and you hold ticket C.
- plan your adventure in USJ thoroughly – we planned each ride from first to last. In the heat of the moment, and there will be heat if you don’t plan, you will waste time thinking about your next destination and those valuable moments at the start of the day make all the difference.
- do not bring food or drinks – the ticket gate people will check your bags for food and drinks. Say goodbye to the fancy potato chips or that bottle of water you had in your bag. You could bring an empty bottle to refill with water.
- bring gear in case of wet weather – I’ve been to USJ three times now and got drenched the first time and the second time I had a flimsy umbrella that was near useless. Bring a rain coat and a good umbrella, you just never know what will happen.
- bring comfortable shoes – we walked a ton when we were in the park.
- do not bring jewelry or precious things with you – you will be riding many rides where things that are loose will just fly away. That necklace from X designer brand isn’t going to find its way back to you when you were riding the roller-coaster, Hollywood Dream, and fly off your neck. There are also storage space for most rides, but these spaces are small so don’t bring your Nintendo Switch with you.
- wear clothes with zips (velcro or zips are okay) – you will be carrying paper tickets, maps, passport, etc when you are in there, just make sure your shorts have zips as it will make your life so many simpler.
- instructions and voices are primarily in Japanese – there will be some English signs and instructions, but there will be many times when you won’t get proper translations of things. I say just go with the flow and enjoy your time, there is nothing at USJ that really requires you to know Japanese.
Be patient. You are a foreigner in a country known for its patience and tolerance. Don’t be that foreigner who thinks the world revolves around him/herself.
You will have a great time, even when you are in the queues. The vistas and level of immersion is spectacular.
Getting to Universal Studios
It was an exciting day. The weather was good and there was only a small chance of rain. Late June and early July is also the rainy season in Japan, except the north in Hokkaido, and the locals often say on any even day there is a 40% chance it will rain. Best to bring a rain jacket or umbrella. It’s not fun walking in the theme parks all soaked and cold. It rained unexpectedly in the afternoon when I was at USJ in August 2015 and again in May 2017. Lucky for us, it didn’t rain much on this day.
If all goes well theme parks are always great fun. It’s an opportunity ride on as many rides as possible by just paying the entrance fee or to immerse yourself in many fantastical worlds. For us, it was a chance to explore our inner child and do things we couldn’t do when we were young.
We got up at 7 AM for Universal Studios Japan (USJ), because I’ve been to USJ on two previous trips and remember just how busy it was. If you have ever been to any Asian country with a theme park, particularly Shanghai Disneyland or Tokyo Disneyland/Sea, you know how ridiculous the lines can get and how long you may need to wait. USJ is no different, there were already huge crowd by the time we got to there at 7:30 AM. In Japan, in particular, the people are willing to wait a long time. I remember waiting in August 2015 for the ride Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey for 4 hours, which was worthwhile in the end but it was only a 10 min ride! If you are not patient, I highly recommend buying the limited Universal Express Pass to cut lines.
From Osaka Station, we took platform 1 on the Osaka City Loop towards Nishikujō Station. At Nishikujō Station, we needed to catch another train on the Sakurajima Line to University-city Station.
When we arrived, I thought it was strange that the next train we caught was literally on the adjacent platform with its doors open on both sides.
Sometimes you might also be lucky to catch a Osaka City Loop train from Osaka Station that changes into a train that takes you to Universal-City Station.
Ticket and entrance gates
I highly recommend anyone going to USJ to buy the tickets in advance. We bought our tickets at Klook and claimed the cashback. You can buy the 1 or 2 day tickets. Also, you need to select whether you are buying ticket A, B or C and refer to the calendar to see which days you can enter the park with your ticket.
The advantage of buying your tickets in advance is that you can head straight to the ticket gates and enter the park once the gates open. If you didn’t buy in advance, you will need to wait in line at the ticket booth and then wait in line at the ticket gate. You will probably be mad at yourself if you arrive and see people just waltzing straight past you while you are still waiting in the ticket booth line. I want to stress that the lines and wait times in Japan are long.
If you buy the wrong ticket, eg, ticket B for a ticket C day, you will find yourself not being able to enter the park. You must check the USJ calendar to ensure you can enter the day you plan to enter, otherwise you will be the poor saps and family who waited in line for 45 mins at the ticket gate and couldn’t get in because their bar code wouldn’t scan.
I remember waiting in line while a couple were holding up the queue because their ticket wouldn’t scan and this was followed up with a family of five that had the same issue. The attendant was confused and couldn’t help either group, because of the language barrier. The groups were frustrated that their tickets wouldn’t let them in and the attendant just couldn’t help them other than tell them to go to the ticket booth. Mind you, the line at the ticket gate was already 1 hour long and they were being told to go to the entrance ticket booth. I was next in line so the attendant called for me to scan my bar code. Before I scanned my bar code, the couple said that the machine wasn’t working and that we were wasting our time. I showed them our bar code, which looked the same as the two other groups. I was a little worried, but when I scanned my code I was given the green light and me and my wife went through the gate. We left the two groups in shock. Let that be a painful lesson that you won’t have.
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is to the east of the entrance. We’ve been to USJ enough times to know that it is literally is the best world and even has the best ride, Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. I highly recommend this ride. It’s only 10 mins, but it takes you into Hogwarts Castle and its just amazing.
We made a mad dash to the entrance of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, past the car from the Chamber of Secrets, into Hogsmeade. As you walk in, the music, the vista and the costumes are amazing. It’s like walking into another world altogether, it’s magical. I think hearing the music the first time really made my body tingle with excitement.
There are an abundance of things you can do in this world. You can buy the merchandise to dress up like a student of Hogswarts, you can buy some lollies like the famous Bertie Bott’s Beans or drink some butter beer, which is just caramel, vanilla soda.
We had a goal, so we dashed to Hogswarts in the distance and lined up for the ride. Luckily for us, the park had just opened, so we were able to just clear most of the queue in 10 mins before jumping on the ride. There are lockers you can use before getting on the ride and you will be given a wrist band to wear. These lockers are not very big and can get pretty crowded.
Once you drop your things off, you basically walk through the halls of Hogwarts. You will come across Dumbledore’s office and the grand hall. You will know you are close to the start of the ride when you see the Sorting Hat.
The ride was fantastic. You sit in chairs, but you are whizzed around as though you were riding a broom. Your ‘broom’ will rotate left, right and upside down. One moment you will be trying to catch the snitch, next you will be in the forest with all the scary creatures and then you will be up against the Dementors before flying back into the safety of Hogwarts.
Make sure to grab the card an attendant hands you when you get off the ride. This card allows you to buy the photo they snapped when you took the ride. Hopefully yours looks pretty.
Along with being able to buy a photo, you can only shop for merchandise in the store. This store won’t have everything, such as the robes, but there are some nice things like the house scarf and the characters’ wands. A lot of the merchandise is really well made but are on the expensive side.
We also took the Flight of the Hippogriff ride. This was a very tame ride around Hagrid’s home. It was fun, but doesn’t really compare to the twists and turns on the main attraction. It is very possible to take photos on this ride.
On leaving The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, I wanted to go on another roller-coaster so I opted for the Hollywood Dream. There are two types of the roller-coasters here, the traditional one where you travel forward and the other one where you are travelling ‘backwards’. I didn’t know there was a difference until I was about to get on. It seemed that I took the traditional roller-coaster and this would be a 40 mins wait since my wife wasn’t keen and I took the Single Rider queue.
I thought the roller-coaster was good, but was showing its date. It definitely had its twists and turns, but there wasn’t a moment that I was scared for life or had the adrenaline pumping. It was a ride that was popular with the local school kids.
The Cool Japan event for this time had Evangelion, Attack on Titan, Godzilla, etc. I wanted to get into the Attack on Titan one. There was a 60 min queue. The event took us into a dark room where we were treated to a live play on stage with 4D effects, for example at times we squirted on with water, our chairs would rock and shake and had heat blown on us.
It was a super cool event and we had a blast experiencing an original story.
We rode on The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man – The Ride 4K3D, which was fan. It’s pretty much the same as the Transformer one in Singapore.
We opted for lunch at Finnegans and paid for the Attack of Titan promotional meal. It was okay. There wasn’t anything amazing about the meal. It was ¥2,300. The meal came with sliced beef, sausages, salad, toast and soup. In Japan, beef can get particularly expensive.
Finnegan’s is one of the more popular diners at the park. If you go around lunch times, there will be a waiting list. You can join the shorter queue by sitting at the bar. On occasion, Finnegan will also run promotional things based on what’s happening in the park. For example, when the One Piece 2015 event was happening, most of the meals were themed around the One Piece anime.
From New York to Jurassic Park, you will walk across the Minion Park which looked like a lot of fun.
The crowd at the park was still big even though it wasn’t a weekend or holiday. It shows how popular these types of theme parks can be.
We went to Jurassic World and I decided to ride on the Flying Dinosaur, which turned out to be a really exciting ride, because you get strapped to a chair and hoisted so that you are a flying dinosaur soaring through the skies. My wife took one look and said if I wanted to do, it would have to be alone. I took the Single Rider line and this had a wait time of 45 mins.
I ended up riding with an African American family and they were absolutely amazing and were clearly having a great time with their laughter and screams. It was a worthwhile ride and I could see how popular it was.
We caught the last Water World show. There was some Japanese dialogue, but nothing too hard to work out. I didn’t need to translate for my wife.
The show was fun to watch. It had the fireworks, explosions and sound effects of a Hollywood set. It’s a must watch if you can catch it. The show goes on for about 30 mins.
We went back into The Wizarding World of Harry Potter to buy some souvenirs. My wife encouraged me to complete my attire with a scarf, which I haven’t worn to this date of this post.
We strolled through Universal Wonderland to catch a glimpse of Elmo and the other kid friendly characters. This part of the park is geared towards the youngsters and its the most colorful of all the lands.
We bought some things in the park, so before we left we headed to the Tax Free Shop to claim our tax refund. There was a 15 mins wait to process and receive our tax refund, but these generally can take longer if you do it closer to the closing time.
Before leaving, we needed to take a photo of the Universal globe outside the entrance.
Any day you pack USJ will be jammed pack with things. We were both tired but feeling happy at the same time.
Getting to Dotonburi
Dotonburi is a food mecca for anyone who loves food. You can find some gems along this long street of restaurants.
If you are in Dotonburi, you must try takoyaki, octopus balls, and below I will recommend a place for you.
Eating at Dotonburi
We knew there was a bit of rivalry between Osaka and Hiroshima with their respective versions of Okonomiyaki. We wanted to try both cities’ version one day apart.
Mizuno was highly recommended on various websites, so we opted to line up for it. When we arrived, there was already a line for it. It would take us another 45 mins before getting a seat in this small diner.
We ordered the following:
- Yamaimo-yaki, fried yam dish, with pork loin, sliced pork, scallop, shrimp and oyster for ¥1,620
- Mizuno-yaki with pork, minced meat, squid, shrimp and octopus (but no yam) for ¥1,405.
- Negi-yakin with fried green onion with pork and kimchi for ¥1,025.
The okonomiyaki was good. Each had their own unique texture. My favourite would have been the Yamaimo-yaki because the yam and meat made for a succulent dish with nice flavors.
In Dotonburi, you need to try the famous street food takoyaki, which is octopus balls or grilled octopus for those who know Japanese. The best place to it get it is here at Atchichi-hompo Dotombori for ¥500 for some pipping hot delicious takoyaki. You seriously have to try it. It is a must for any person in the area. As with all famous places, the line for this joint can be anywhere between 5 to 20 mins.
If you want to catch a landmark, you need to take a photo of the famous Glico running man at Ebisu Bridge. It’s an icon.
Stay tuned for Day 4 – Osaka to Himeji and Hiroshima: Himeji Castle, the shinkansen and the Atomic Bomb Dome.