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Universal Studios Japan: We Went Before it Closed

A recap of our experience before the park closed — it reopened on June 19, 2020.

We’ve now visited all six Universal Studios theme parks worldwide. I can say that it’s easy to add Universal Studios Japan to an itinerary, thanks to efficient public transportation, if you are in the Kyoto or Osaka area with kids (or without).

This is a full guide to Universal Studios Japan (USJ), covering transport, opening hours, hotels, tickets, rides, and everything else in between based on our visit prior to the park closure and the resources I have as a travel advisor.

USJ has since reopened on June 19, 2020 with new health and safety measures in place including face covering and temperature check requirements.

About Universal Studios Japan

The park is one of the six Universal Studios in the world and located in the Osaka Bay area. It opened March 31, 2001, and has since seen an average of over 8 million visitors a year.

Universal Studios Japan was the first Universal Studios theme park to be built in Asia (followed by Universal Studios Singapore). It has eight themed sections: 

  • San Francisco
  • Jurassic Park
  • Amity Village
  • The Wizarding World of Harry Potter
  • Universal Wonderland
  • Hollywood
  • New York
  • Minion Park

If you have visited Universal Studios Hollywood or Universal Orlando Resort, you might notice a little bit of overlap. A Super Nintendo land is slated to open in 2021.

Getting To Universal Studios Japan

There are a few ways to get to USJ from Osaka and nearby airports.

Train

The Osaka train system is the easiest and most efficient way to get to the park, it’s fast and regular. The entrance to the park is a five-minute walk from Universal City Station.

There is a direct train from Osaka Station to Universal Studios Japan. You can also take the Osaka Loop Line (also known as Osaka Kanjo Line) to Nishikujo Station. From there, take the JR Sakurajima Line to Universal City Station.

A JR Pass is the easiest way to use Osaka’s transportation system. The pass includes trains, metros, and buses. It comes in a 7, 14, and 21-day pass option for modes operated by the Japan Railways Group only (Nozomi and Mizuho shinkansen trains not included). We used it quite a bit during our last trip.

Top Tip: If you are purchasing a one-way train ticket, and are unable to figure out the price of your fare due to the language barrier, simply put in the option with the least amount. When you get to your destination, check your ticket in the ticketing machines and pay the excess, if necessary.

Read my Japan travel guide for more tips.

Bus

Buses run to the theme park from both Kansai and Itami airports. From Kansai Airport Terminal 1, the trip is about 75 minutes long and costs ¥600, and from Itami airport, the bus trip takes about 45 minutes and costs ¥650 – ¥950.

Ferry

A ferry, Captain Line, takes visitors from Osaka Aquarium to Universal Studios Port in 10 minutes. The price is ¥700/ adult and ¥400/ child one-way, and¥1,300/adult and ¥700/ child for a round-trip.

The Dream Suttle ferry route goes from Nanko Ferry Port to Universal Studios Port in 40 minutes. 

Fun fact: All of the Captain Line staff, including boat crew, are women. 

Universal Studios Japan Hours

Universal Studios has varying opening times. Generally, the park opens between 8:30–9:30 a.m. and closes between 7–9 p.m., but there are longer opening times on public holidays and over weekends.

Top Tip: Check the official USJ website for the opening times and up to date information the day before you’re planning to visit.

Universal Studios Japan Tickets

Right now, Universal Studios Japan is open to pass holders and locals. Tickets sales will resume shortly. I help people save money on theme park tickets so may be compensated if you book using the links in this post.

If you are buying tickets in advance they have to be done online via a travel agency such as Klook or Voyagin. Voyagin has tickets available for after August 1.

View of Hollywood down to the Universal globe.
View from Hollywood inside the park to the globe.

Buying Universal Studios Japan tickets online helps avoid queues and allows you to choose the package that best suits you. Theme parks in Asia can also sell out so I recommend buying early during peak season.

A one- or two-day studio pass can be purchased at the following prices:

  • One-day pass: ¥7800/adult and ¥7540/child (including tax)*
  • Two-day pass: ¥15400/adult and ¥10500/child (including tax)*

*prices vary on different days of the week and during different times of year.

While you can see and do a lot of the park in one day, two days is ideal. There is less pressure to rush through things, you are able to break regularly for your children to rest, and can give yourself more of an opportunity to experience as much of the park as possible.

Top Tip: Ticketing booths open up an hour before the park does but planning ahead will save you time. I suggest you book online. To book online, you’ll need to use a Travel Agency. I bought our tickets through Klook.

Japan Universal Studios Skip-The-Lines Passes

If you’re visiting the park during its most popular days of the week (Friday-Tuesday) or busiest times of the year (June-August), skipping lines will save time and help you out tremendously.

Express Pass

The Universal Studio Japan Express Pass is a separate ticket that allows you to skip queues on selected attractions. There are three ticket options available.

  • Pass 3
  • Pass 4
  • Pass 7

The number (3, 4, 7) of each pass is the number of Universal Studios Japan attractions you can use it for. It can be a little confusing because there are multiple options for each pass and they each include different ride options. You’ll need to do a little research in advance to see which Universal Studios Japan rides you would like to include.

Buy your Express Pass online and print it out to take with you, or keep it on your mobile to be scanned at the park’s entrance

Remember that there are limited numbers of Express Passes sold each day so it’s a good idea to buy one beforehand. Keep in mind the prices vary day-to-day.

Royal Studio Pass

Another way to skip the lines at Universal is with a VIP experience. The Royal Studio Pass (only 200 sold per day) comes with amazing benefits – if you’re willing to pay for it.

Some of the most noteworthy extras are:

  • Unlimited queue jumps on classic adventures 
  • Skip the queue of six popular park attractions/rides
  • Best seats at Universal Live Rock And Roll and Waterworld shows
  • Guaranteed timed entry into The Wizarding World Of Harry Potter

Japan Universal Studios Lands

There are eight separate lands within the park. Each one has its own theme, rides, attractions, restaurants, shops, and shows.

San Francisco

People walk down the street through San Francisco Land at Universal Studios Japan.

Remodeled buildings that look like a San Francisco warehouse give this area an American east coast feel. Part of the area imitates the Chinatown found in the real San Francisco. There is also a cute candy shop for the kids. 

Rides and attractions:

  • Backdraft

Jurassic Park

The ultimate jungle experience brings out feelings of discovery and adventure. There are two epic rides amongst the tropical trees, one of which is on the river.

Rides and attractions:

  • Jurassic Park: The Ride
  • The Flying Dinosaur

Amity Village

This land is modeled after the port town, Amity Village, in the movie Jaws. Wooden cladding buildings and the Jaws themed ride will make you feel like you’re on the movie set.

Rides and attractions:

  • JAWS

The Wizarding World Of Harry Potter

This land really is full of magic, surprise, and wonderment. The World of Harry Potter has every famous and loved detail from the movies and books. It’s very similar in layout to the ones at Universal Studios Hollywood and Universal Studios Florida.

From the Hogwarts castle to Hogsmeade to Three Broomsticks, you’ll be flicking your wrist shouting wingardium leviosa in no time.

Rides and attractions:

  • Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey
  • Flight of the Hippogriff

Universal Wonderland

The entrance to Elmo's Little Drive and Sesame's Big Drive at Universal Studios Japan.

Modeled on bright, cheerful colors and the cutest cartoon Universal Studios Japan characters, like Hello Kitty, Snoopy, and Sesame Street. Universal Wonderland has lots of rides for the littlest visitors.

Rides and attractions in Snoopy Studio:

  • Snoopy’s Great Race
  • The Flying Snoopy

Rides and attractions in Hello Kitty’s Fashion Avenue:

  • Hello Kitty’s Cupcake Dream
  • Hello Kitty’s Ribbon Collection

Rides and attractions in Sesame Street Fun Zone:

  • Elmo’s Bubble Bubble
  • Abby’s Magical Party
  • Moppy’s Lucky Dance Party
  • Big Bird’s Big Nest
  • Grover’s Construction Company
  • Bert and Ernie’s Wonder-The Sea
  • Sesame’s Big Drive
  • Big Bird’s Climbing Nest
  • Abby’s Magical Tree
  • Abby’s Magical Garden
  • Water Garden
  • Cookie Monster Slide
  • Ernie’s Rubber Duckie Race
  • Elmo’s Little Drive
  • Big Bird’s Big Top Circus
  • Moppy’s Balloon Trip
  • Elmo’s Go Go Skateboard

Hollywood

Bringing in the showbiz atmosphere of the blockbuster legendary city, Hollywood. This land brings the big screen to you with its exciting rides and shows based on iconic movies like Beetlejuice.

Rides and attractions:

  • Shrek 4-D
  • Sesame Street 4-D Movie Magic
  • Universal Monsters Live Rock and Roll Show
  • Hollywood Dream – The Ride
  • Space Fantasy – The Ride

New York

New York is one of the most famous cities in the world. This area is full of Spiderman and Terminator entertainment, as well as delicious New York-inspired restaurants.

Rides and attractions:

  • The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man: The Ride
  • T2-3D: Battle Across Time

Minion Park

The famous yellow animated characters rule this area. Yellow is the color of pure happiness in this land with food stores dedicated to banana-flavored everything.

Top Tip: It is strictly prohibited to photograph and post about areas that are under construction in the park.

5 Best Universal Studios Japan Rides

There are over 8 rides at USJ. Below are the best and most popular rides at the park.

The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man

Front entrance to The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man at USJ.
Entrance to the Spider-Man ride.

The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man ride can be found in the New York land and journeys through a tale of newspaper journalism and Doctor Octopus, with all the Spiderman excitement in between.

This immersive experience is quite cool because it blurs the line between reality and imagination.

Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey

Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey is a must-ride at all Universal theme parks. You’ll fly through Hogwarts with your feet dangling through the air on a multisensory experience that includes everything from playing Quidditch to escaping Dementors.

Participants wear 3D glasses for the 360-degree experience but you’ll feel other effects like heat from a dragon’s breath, wind, and more.

Despicable Me Minion Mayhem

After learning about Minion recruitment, you’ll need to figure out if you’re up for becoming one. This 3D ride is taken in Gru’s car and includes a fast ride under a dome with clear projection images being displayed around you. It’s a fun, whirlwind ride into the lives of the Minions.

The Flying Dinosaur

Flying Dinosaur roller coaster at Universal Studios Japan.
The Flying Dinosaur is for roller coaster fans.

This fast-paced roller coaster is not for the faint of heart. With a whopping 1229 yard (1124 m) course length and 124 ft (37.8 m) first drop, adrenaline junkies will love this ride.

If you can concentrate on the views around you between screams, you’ll see the lush green Jurassic Park jungle.

Hollywood Dream – The Ride and Backdrop

Hollywood Dream roller coaster at Universal Studios Japan.
From this angle it looks like a tame roller coaster but it is fast.

The one thing you’ll want to make sure to do when entering the Hollywood Dream queue is know which roller coaster experience that you’re signing up for.

Hollywood Dream – The Ride is forward-facing roller coaster (what I chose) while Hollywood Dream – Backdrop hurls riders backward down twists and turns. Choose from several song choices that you can actually hear while you soar through the air with an increased heart rate.

Universal Studios Japan Food and Dining

Universal Studios Japan offers amazing themed restaurants and street food throughout the park. The dining experience is sure to be a real highlight of your overall time in the park.

The quality of the food is top-notch and you’ll find a delicious array of cuisines on offer. From Japanese food to Italian cuisine, there is something for all palettes and preferences. Many of the restaurants also have menus suitable for people with dietary requirements.

Here are some of the best places to eat in this Osaka theme park.

Top Universal Studios Osaka Street Food

You are not allowed to bring your own food into the park. Security checkpoints at the entrances do bag checks to ensure that you don’t. The street food is a great option for snacks on the go for the whole family. 

Butterbeer in The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios Japan.
Butterbeer at The Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

Keep an eye out for these popular treats:

  • Fujiko Churritos
  • Popcorn (including banana flavor in Minion Park and turkey flavor in Jurassic Park)
  • Butterbeer (non-alcoholic)
  • Ice cream sandwiches 
  • Pizza slices

You can also stop into Honeydukes for chocolate frogs and other Harry Potter treats.

Top Universal Studios Japan Restaurants

Rest assured that there are many Universal Studios Japan restaurants and quick snack stops that feature a variety of cuisines. Many serve alcohol for parents who might need a cold one during the summer.

Menu posted inside Three Broomsticks restaurant at Universal Studios Japan.

Here are some of the top restaurants to look out for.

  • Happiness Cafe for curry and rice (San Francisco).
  • Discovery Restaurant for international cuisine (Jurassic Park).
  • Amity Landing Restaurant for fried chicken (Amity Village).
  • Three Broomsticks for The Great Feast and other Hogwarts favorite dishes like Beef Sunday Roast (The Wizarding World of Harry Potter).
  • Snoopy’s Backlot Cafe for burgers (Universal Wonderland).
  • Beverly Hills Boulangerie for French cafe sandwiches and confections (Hollywood).
  • Louie’s N.Y. Pizza Parlor for Italian food (New York).

Top Tip: Bring your water bottles to the park to fill up at the water coolers throughout the day. It gets very hot here in the summer.

Universal CityWalk Osaka

Step out of the Universal City Station straight into Universal CityWalk Osaka. This CityWalk isn’t as large as Hollywood or Orlando versions but it does have quite a bit of USJ merchandise and other conveniences like a GAP store and fast-casual and sit-down eateries that even include a Hard Rock Cafe.

The most notable is the Takoyaki Museum where you can enjoy different types of takoyaki — fried octopus dumplings that are a must-eat in Osaka — in one place.

Three Best Universal Studios Japan Hotels

There are 25 partner hotels near Universal Studios Japan. They are split into three categories; official, alliance, and associate hotels.

If you have been to a Disneyland Resort or Universal Studios before, you will know staying at a partner hotel has great travel benefits. They make your trip easy, time-saving, and hassle-free.

The Park Front Hotel entrance in CityWalk

Hotel Universal Port

This themed hotel adds extra fun to your vacation especially if you book one of the two Minions Rooms. The hotel offers family suites of different sizes including a party room that sleeps up to 6. The hotel is just a short four-minute walk to the USJ entrance. You can even check ride wait times from a monitor in the lobby.

The Park Front Hotel at Universal Studios Japan

The Park Front Hotel offers amazing benefits to its guests. You can buy your tickets for Universal Studios through the hotel, as well as receive advice and help with any inquiries you may have through a dedicated kids’ concierge.

It’s the closest hotel to Universal Studios Japan, located in CityWalk just a short one-minute walk from the park. This means that in addition to the Akala restaurant onsite, there are plenty of themed restaurants within steps of your room. Guests also have access to a large, free Universal movie selection in your room to enjoy upon returning from the theme park.

The Singulari Hotel & Skyspa at Universal Studios Japan

This luxury hotel offers a Universal Studios experience in style with its sleek decor. If your children are slightly older, you can head to the Sky Spa open-air bath for relaxation and epic views of Osaka. For younger kids, there are Snoopy-themed gifts to enjoy.

The onsite restaurant offers an amazing breakfast spread with both western and Japanese dishes. This hotel will definitely be the cherry (blossom) on top of an already memorable trip.

If you prefer to stay in the Osaka city center, I highly recommend The Ritz-Carlton Osaka which is where we stayed. I will review it shortly. And, if you’re basing your Japan family vacation in Kyoto, you’ll definitely want to stay at Four Seasons Kyoto — we loved it.

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