One of the coolest ways to enjoy Japan is to visit a theme park. Though you may have visited Universal Studios in the United States, it’s probably not quite the same experience as visiting it in Japan. While visiting Universal Studios Japan can make for an incredible day, it can also be a massive disappointment if you don’t do your research. So here is everything you need to know to help you plan your visit to Universal Studios Japan.
Is it worth it?
The most important question is: Is it even worth it to take a day out of eating and sightseeing in Japan to visit a fairly westernized amusement park? The answer depends on what you’re interested in doing at the park. Compared to Universal Studios Orlando and Universal Studios Hollywood, it’s much smaller, and there are some rides that are dated.
That being said, there are some things that are unique to Universal Studios Japan. For instance, even though the Jurassic Park area is far smaller than some of the other Universal theme parks, it also has a Flying Dinosaur coaster that the other parks don’t have, which is a lot more exciting than the child-friendly Pteranodon Flyers at Universal Orlando. So it may be worth it for you to visit even if you’ve visited one of the other parks.
If you’re visiting for the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, Universal Orlando is by far the better park since it’s bigger and has the Diagon Alley section at Islands of Adventure. If you’re visiting for Super Nintendo World, however, it has all the other parks beat. Super Nintendo World Japan is bigger than its newly-opened Hollywood counterpart and has an extra ride, Yoshi’s Adventure, which takes you up close through the adorable Mario world scenery. The food menu in Hollywood has also been called a downgrade, which is no surprise as no one does cute food quite like Japan.
Universal Studios Japan also has some attractions featuring manga series like Detective Conan or Doraemon, which may not be appealing for foreigners. And in case this might not occur to you, the rides are all in Japanese, so when Spiderman thanks you for saving New York, he will not be speaking English.
If you are visiting for the most popular attractions at USJ (Super Nintendo World and Harry Potter), you may be unpleasantly surprised to find that a ticket alone will not help you get into Bowser’s castle. That’s because the areas themselves, not just the rides, are accessible only with Timed Area Entry tickets to avoid overcrowding.
There are two ways to get a Timed Area Entry ticket; one is by buying an Express Pass and the other one is by getting a free Timed Area Entry ticket on the day of your visit. Getting one of these at the park is like winning the lottery. You need to arrive as early as possible and apply in person for timed entry at a kiosk or at the ticket machines inside the park. If you don’t win that lottery, you can sign up for a standby ticket on the USJ app or at the park which will get you in if someone cancels their ticket. You will be notified about an hour before your entry time.
Obviously, if you’re visiting from another continent and your main reason to visit is to go to Super Nintendo World, you’ll probably want more certainty than that. In that case, you can buy an Express Pass which includes a Timed Area Entry ticket.
How the Express Pass works
You may be used to a theme park express passes that gives you access to the faster line at every eligible ride. At USJ, the Express Pass works a little differently. There are several different options that bundle certain rides and restricted areas together. For instance, if you want express access to both rides in Super Nintendo World and Harry Potter, you’d probably be best off with Express Pass 7. The different versions of Express Pass 7 vary according to which other rides are part of the pass (i.e. Spiderman vs. Jurassic Park).
The downside of the Express Pass is that it costs more than double (¥10,800) the cost of a one-day ticket (¥8,600) to the park. On the other hand, this is less than $140 combined, which is almost the cost of going to Universal Orlando without a fast pass. So if it’s that or not getting to do anything you want at all, the Express Pass is worth it. I recommend buying it online at least two weeks in advance because they do sell out and the best times will sell out even faster.
The other slight downside of getting an Express Pass is that it’s only good for a specific day. So while you can use your USJ ticket any day in a three-month period, your Express Pass will limit you to the day you booked it. Which is how we ended up at USJ the day that a typhoon was skirting the south of Japan. It was miserable and somehow still packed, but it’s better to have gotten to see Super Nintendo World in the pouring rain than not at all.
Why should get tickets from the official USJ website
When I was doing research for my own visit, I saw a lot of people recommend using Klook or other travel agencies officially licensed to sell USJ passes. However, the official USJ ticket website is the only place where you can choose the time of your entry from all available options. This means you could end up with a horrible schedule like a visit to Super Nintendo at 9 am and a visit to Harry Potter at 7 pm.
Getting to Universal Studios Japan
The park is conveniently accessible by public transport on the JR Yumesaki Line in Osaka. If you’re staying in Osaka, you can be at USJ in less than 15 minutes. We visited from Kyoto, and it still only took about an hour. From the Universal City station, you are dropped off at Universal Citywalk which is just a few minutes from the entrance gates to the park.
Another good reason to buy tickets in advance is that you’ll skip the long lines to buy tickets. You just need to go through a brief security check and scan your ticket, though that usually has a line of its own.
The Express Pass Timed Ticket Entry in practice
The great thing about the Timed Ticket Entry is that the system works flawlessly. You can enter the restricted area about 20 minutes before you can ride the first timed ride, which gives you enough time to walk around, do some shopping, and generally enjoy the atmosphere. It’s important to note that once you’re inside a Timed Ticket Entry area, you can’t exactly get kicked out. So you can theoretically stay as long as you like, but if you leave, you won’t be able to get back in.
Your Express Pass is a digital pass which is accessible via email link on your phone’s web browser. You’ll need this to get into the Express line at every ride included in your pass and to get into timed entry areas. The park staff will scan the QR code at the entrance of the ride, at which point, you won’t be able to use the pass for the same attraction again.
Super Nintendo World tips
As the newest and best part of USJ, this area is a huge draw even during a typhoon. While I don’t want to spoil any of the rides or experiences, you’ll want to plan ahead before you go to get the most out of the area:
- The line for Timed Area Entry will be pretty long. We started lining up about half an hour before our entry time and got in just in time.
- However, if you make the line too early, you will be asked to come back, so don’t waste your time getting to the front until your entry time is very near.
- Entry to Kinopio’s Café is also time-restricted, but the only way to get in is by going in person and getting a timed ticket. The wait will probably be at least an hour, so the best thing to do is go there first and get a timed ticket, and then do the rides. By the time you’re done, it’ll be close to your visit time. Don’t miss it. The food is an attraction in and of itself.
- The most immersive way to enjoy the Super Nintendo area is to buy a power-up band and play the mini-games. There are three mini-games that give you keys necessary to unlock a special Bowser Jr. Challenge. Note that this can also take a while as there will be lines at each mini-game. You can also use your power-up band to collect coins at the yellow blocks around the area.
Enjoy the Mushroom Kingdom and all the other exciting areas of Universal Studios Japan!