Halloween is over this year, but that doesn’t mean you have to stop having fun with witches, wizards, and singing toads. A thirty-minute train ride from the heart of Osaka will get you to a fantastic world full of fantastic things. There’s even a few fantastic beasts if you know where to find them.
Getting to Universal Studios Japan
Universal Studios Japan (USJ) isn’t too difficult to get to by train. Just ride the Loop Line (which circles central Osaka) from whichever direction until you get to Nishikujo, then you can switch to a train bound for Universal City. Some of the Loop Line trains even continue all the way to Universal City, so you may not have to switch at all.
Once you arrive at Universal City you will see many different shops leading up a main road to the ticketing and entry booths. Just FYI prices here are very comparable to the shops inside the park, so there’s no chance of getting a better deal on souvenirs before you go in.
Ticketing for wizards
Once you adjust to the colorful kaleidoscope of amusement park lights, signs, smells, and sounds resonating from just about everything, you can brave the ticket booths. The ticket booths tend to have long lines on the weekends, so booking online is far less painful if you have the Japanese language ability (or use Google Translate). If you don’t need to purchase tickets, you can head directly to the entry booths where they scan your ticket or the digital QR code. If you are traveling without internet, make sure you save the QR code and ticket information to your photos. You will not gain entry without it.
To gain access to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, you will need to make sure you get a timed pass. There is a special kiosk used to issue the paper timed passes and you can change your entry time there if you need to. Enforcement is entirely dependent on demand. If there are many people, you will not be able to enter until the time on your pass. If there aren’t so many people, there won’t be gates up and you can just walk in. This helps keep the Wizarding World from turning into a stampede and makes the experience more enjoyable.
If you want to do as much as you can, you may want an Express Pass since most of the wait times exceed two hours at peak times. However, be careful of the time on your express pass and the specific rides it may be limited to.
A whole new wizarding world
Once you pass the standing stones, you end up weaving your way through the Forbidden Forest as various creatures can be heard rustling around and soundtrack music begins to swell. You will even see the Weasley family’s flying car in a clearing. Not too much further, Hogsmeade village breaks through the trees. Are you even in an amusement park? Nope, not any more. You are in the Wizarding World.
While the pub food isn’t particularly rare, the drinks are excellent. We tried both the pumpkin juice and the butterbeer. Pumpkin juice tastes like a mulled juice and not like straight pumpkin juice or a pumpkin spice latte. I was a bit hesitant at first but was pleasantly surprised.
Butterbeer tastes like cream soda with a buttery butterscotch flavor. Iced or hot, it’s delicious.
I bought a ton of souvenirs. There are many different shops, and while some have similar goods, there are some items unique to each shop. I was especially proud of buying some lemon sherbets in a nice collectible glass jar. It’s one of the more affordable choices that lasts quite a long time, in both shelf life and my ability to binge on it.
The entire experience is just as impressive as the rides. If you do buy a wand, you may want to invest in the interactive version. With it, you can go to designated sites and work with a staff member to cast the particular spell meant for that site.
Riding on broomsticks and hippogriffs
The rides were impressive, though if you’re prone to motion sickness, you may want to come up with a coping strategy for Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey in 4K3D. The ride alternates between 3D movie segments and animatronics while speeding, turning, and dropping you through each part of a condensed Harry Potter adventure. If you still want to go, as I did, you can always remove the 3D glasses or shut your eyes during the 3D parts. I was perfectly fine with being attacked by the very real Whomping Willow and so much more. Your milage may vary, but it is certainly an amazing experience, even if it’s just to get attacked by animatronic beasts.
Even if you decide that motion sickness isn’t worth the ride, you may want to go through the line anyway and ask to be let out. Why? The line takes you through the recreation of Hogwarts, and no fan would want to miss that. You climb stairs surrounded by animated portraits and walk by classrooms and the headmaster’s office. I wouldn’t have minded a longer wait in the castle.
Flight of the Hippogriff is also a great ride, though much tamer than the Forbidden Journey. It’s advertised as a kid-friendly rollercoaster, but that shouldn’t stop adults from enjoying it and the nice view of the park. It is especially good for adults who wouldn’t otherwise go on rollercoasters since the drops are not as dramatic as other attractions in the park.
During different times of the year, you can see all sorts of special events all over the park, but especially in the Wizarding World. For Halloween, they had trick or treating spells for the interactive wands. At night, Death Eaters attacked Hogsmeade. Expect even more fun for the winter holidays.
While the Wizarding World is now my favorite attraction, the rest of the park is a lot of fun, too. Feel free to run around and try everything!