USJ is Japan's second largest theme park, behind only Tokyo Disney Resort. Sprawling across 54 hectares, it is also the oldest and largest Universal Studios theme park in Asia, with eleven themed areas. These include 1 Super Nintendo World, unique to USJ, and a large Wizarding World of Harry Potter area.
|Universal Studios Japan|
|Climate chart (explanation)|
As in much of Japan, spring is the best time to visit: temperatures are temperate and if you're lucky you'll catch the cherry blossoms too. A brief rainy season around June gives way to blistering heat and humidity in July and August, three months that are best avoided. By late September things start to cool down, and while typhoons occasionally come barreling down, in Osaka this rarely translates to more than a day or so rain and it's unlikely the entire park will close (although some outdoor rides may stop). Winters are chilly but often clear, and snow or subzero temperatures are rare, so this can also be a good time to visit.
When to visit
USJ is very popular and weekends in particularly are packed. Visit midweek if at all possible, and consider investing in an Express Pass to beat the crowds. The ticket price calendar (see Tickets) gives the park's own forecast of how busy that day will be: "A" days are both cheapest and quietest, while "C" days are busiest and more expensive.
Osaka is well connected to all of Japan and the world, see Osaka#Get in for details. If you're in Tokyo and planning a visit, beware that Osaka is 450 km east, so even by Shinkansen/plane attempting a visit as a day trip would be a very long day.
The rest of this section covers only travel from Osaka to USJ.
Most visitors arrive by train directly to 2 Universal City Station (ユニバーサルシティ駅) on the JR Yumesaki Line, a 5-minute walk from the park entrance. There are frequent through trains every 10 min or so from the JR Osaka Loop Line, passing through Tennoji, Kyobashi and Osaka/Umeda stations in that order on their way in, and the trip from JR Osaka station takes only about 12 minutes. If arriving by Shinkansen bullet train, you'll first need to transfer from Shin-Osaka to Osaka.
There are numerous direct bus services from Japanese cities around Kansai and even further to USJ. The direct shuttles from both Kansai and Itami airports are particularly useful, since you would otherwise need to transfer at least two times to get to USJ by train.
Ticketing for USJ is complicated and it's worth taking your time to research your options in advance. All tickets can be purchased from the official site or via various resellers like JTB and Klook.
The easy part is the basic ticket or Studio Pass, which comes in 1, 1.5 and 2-day versions from ¥8,400/5,400 adult (12+)/child (4-11). Pricing is dynamic, with three types of ticket (A/orange, B/pink and C/blue) entitling you to enter on any A, B or C day, and you'll definitely want to aim for the A/orange days since these are the cheapest and least crowded option. Regardless of the price, all tickets entitle you to access all areas and all rides.
The problem is that USJ is extremely popular, meaning that most popular rides have waiting times of 60-120 minutes throughout the entire day. To shortcut this, USJ also offers a complex scheme of Express Passes which let you shortcut the queues once per ride, with 4 ride (¥7,800) or 7 ride (¥10,800) options available. There are several catches:
- Unlike the basic Studio Pass, an Express Pass is locked to a specific date and cannot be changed or cancelled.
- You cannot pick and choose, you have to buy one of around 10 preselected sets of rides.
- For the most popular rides in the Nintendo and Harry Potter zones, you will be randomly allocated a fixed entry timeslot.
- If a selected ride is not available due to maintenance etc, you can freely choose another ride instead.
Bring a pair of good walking shoes, because the only option to get around is to walk. In addition, USJ is laid out around a large lake, meaning that the shortest route is often quite circuitous.
Access to the most popular areas, Super Nintendo World and Harry Potter, is gated with time slots. You need to prebook a slot either via the official app or by buying an Express Pass covering one or both of the areas. Access to Super Nintendo World is strictly controlled, with around 15 minutes leeway tops, while the more spacious Harry Potter area is more on a scout's honor basis.
The official app is worth the download: in addition to the area access slots, you can prebook some attractions, make restaurant reservations, and see real-time wait times for all attractions.
USJ is heavily geared towards the local Japanese market, but everything is signposted in English and critical information like safety instruction sheets is also available in Chinese and Korean. Staff are used to dealing with non-Japanese visitors and can handle basic situations in English.
One catch to beware of is that the rides and shows themselves are in Japanese, which can be somewhat discombobulating. On the other hand, if you've never heard Gru speaking in a flawless Kansai accent, here's your chance!
Super Nintendo World
Opened 2021, this is USJ's latest, greatest and most popular zone. Entering feels like stepping into Super Mario World, complete with animatronic mobs, so it's really a sight to behold, but unfortunately the area is also quite cramped. Entry is by reserved time slot only, and this is strictly enforced.
If you fork out an additional ¥3,800 for a Power-Up Band, you can interact with the set to collect three keys and a chance to battle against Bowser Jr. The watch-like band is yours to keep, so it's a good deal for repeat visitors like annual pass holders, but may not be worth the price for a one-day visit.
- 1 Mario Kart: Koopa's Challenge. Even wanted to play Mario Kart in real life? Here's your chance, complete with augmented reality goggles and shells to throw at the enemies.
- 2 Yoshi's Adventure. Ride along with Yoshi. Suitable for small children.
Wizarding World of Harry Potter
The second gated area of USJ, much larger and less congested than Super Nintendo World.
- 3 Flight of the Hippogriff. A fairly tame, family-friendly rollercoaster.
- 4 Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. One of the park's star attractions, this "robocoaster" combines robotic arms with a rollercoaster track to take you on a wild ride through the skies, forests and Quidditch arenas of Hogwarts.
An extremely detailed "backlot" replica of New York City circa 1940. Wander the streets and alleyways of this neon-covered land and peer in the shop windows to find interesting surprises. The Blues Brothers arrive in the iconic "Bluesmobile" and perform multiple times a day from their stage on one of the land's streets.
A small waterfront area that captures the feel of San Francisco's Embarcadero and Fisherman's Wharf.
- 5 Hollywood Dream (ハリウッド・ドリーム・ザ・ライド). A wild rollercoaster ride, set to the soundtrack of your choice from the speakers pumping next to your head. For an extra adrenaline kick, pick the Backdrop version, which sends you hurtling through the same ride backwards!
- 6 Cinema 4D Theater (シネマ 4D シアター). A rotating selection of 4D movies, mostly Japanese.
- 7 Space Fantasy the Ride (スペース・ファンタジー・ザ・ライド).
- 8 Amazing Adventures of Spiderman 4K3D (アメージング・アドベンチャー・オブ・スパイダーマン・ザ・ライド 4K3D).
- 9 Jurassic Park The Ride (ジュラシック・パーク・ザ・ライド). Meet your favorite dinosaurs up close and personal on a leisurely cruise where nothing could possibly go wrong. Hey, why is everybody wearing ponchos?
- 10 Jaws (ジョーズ). A quiet seaside village, a very large shark and you.
- Despicable Me Minion Mayhem. On this 4-D motion simulator ride, step into Gru's mansion as you prepare to become one of his Minions. Of course, things go wrong and a madcap adventure through his super villain lair ensues with Gru, Margo, Edith and Agnes at your side. As an only-in-Japan twist, Gru speaks pitch-perfect Osaka dialect!
- 11 Waterworld (ウォーターワールド). The movie may have been a flop, but this frenetic live-action show full of jet ski acrobatics, explosions and water is worth attending. Sit in the blue-seated Splash Zone at your own risk!
Gift shops are common across USJ. Below are some of the more-unique shops
- 1 Gladrags Wizardwear. Souvenir stores that sell Harry Potter-themed clothing, wands. It is right next to the Owl Post and Owlery which carries stationery products.
As typical at theme parks, dining options at USJ are crowded, overpriced and distinctly mediocre. The following is not a complete list, but merely a selection of the less bad options.
There are far better and cheaper eating options right outside the park gates, including conveyor sushi maestros Sushiro, but regular tickets do not permit re-entry.
- 1 Happiness Cafe. This Minions-themed cafe serves up only three dishes, namely burgers, fried chicken and curry, but at least you get a filling and reasonably tasty set meal for your ¥2000-2200.
Prior reservations are required for all full-service restaurants at USJ. Book ahead via the app!
Cold beer is sold from carts strategically located along long walks. Harry Potter fans will be tempted to splash out on a cup of sickly sweet non-alcoholic Butterbeer (¥600/800 regular/frozen).
There are half a dozen hotels located around Universal City station.
- 1 Hotel Universal Port, 1-1-111 Sakurajima Konohana-ku (3 minutes walk from JR Universal City Station.), ☏ .
- Hotel Keihan Universal Tower.
- Hotel Keihan Universal City.