The Ultimate Universal Studios Japan Trip Planning Guide 2018
Universal Studios Japan (ユニバーサルスタジオジャパン) also known as “USJ” is one of the four Universal Studios theme parks in the world. USJ opened on March 31, 2001, in Osaka, Japan.
The park offers unique attractions like The Flying Dinosaur and select attractions from the other Universal Studios theme parks such as Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey.
In recent years, USJ has stepped up its game in terms of special events such as Cool Japan and invested in new attractions (Super Mario World in 2020 and a brand new nighttime parade in 2018). It’s now one of the “must-dos” in Japan.
In this guide, I’ll show you the best times to visit (and when not to), what to eat, how to experience all the best attractions, score discount tickets, and save yourself money. If you’ve read our guides for the Disney Parks in Asia (Tokyo, Hong Kong, and Shanghai), then you know you’re in for a treat.
To start off, download the latest park map (scroll to the bottom of that page) to get familiar with the layout of the park.
Table of Contents
- Essential Items
- When to Visit
- Park Tickets
- Getting There
- 1-Day Itinerary
- Shows & Entertainment
- Wizarding World of Harry Potter
- Universal CityWalk Osaka
- Other Resources
Before you head to the park, here’s a list of items that are essential both for the park and for travel within Japan and Osaka. Use offer code KLKTDREX to save $4USD off your first order through Klook.
- Universal Studios Japan 1-Day Pass
- Universal Studios Japan 1.5-Day Pass
- Universal Studios Japan Express Pass 4
- JR Rail Pass
- Wi-fi Rental (Osaka or Tokyo Airport Pickup)
- Unlimited SIM Card (Review)
- ICOCA IC Card (Osaka Pickup)
- Anker External Mobile Battery
- Universal Studios Japan Guide (Japanese)
- Wait Times App (iOS & Android)
It’s worth noting that USJ does not offer free wi-fi in the park. You’ll have to rely on your wi-fi device or get a SIM card for your smartphone.
The JR Rail Pass is worth it if you’re traveling between Tokyo and Osaka on a round-trip. It’s the perfect way to save money on transportation if you plan on visiting both Tokyo Disney Resort and Universal Studios Japan in a single trip.
The written guide to USJ is only in Japanese but has a ton of photos, which makes it fun to browse through before your trip (Google Translate on your smartphone works well). More importantly, there are photos of the food and snacks. It also makes for a unique memento of your trip.
For more items, refer to my packing guide for theme parks in Japan.
When to Visit
Just like Tokyo Disney Resort, there are excellent and not-so-excellent times to visit the park. If you apply our advice from Tokyo Disney Resort to Universal Studios Japan, then you’re in good shape. But let’s recap, shall we?
As a general rule, you’ll want to avoid weekends and Japanese Public Holidays. The best days are Tuesday through Thursday. The reason for not going on a Monday is to avoid the chance of running into school groups, which is a popular day to do so.
This is the best crowd calendar for Universal Studios Japan. While it’s only in Japanese, you can use Google Translate to translate this page for you. I have translations for the Tokyo Disneyland version which follows the same format.
Best Times to Visit
The best times to visit takes into account the crowd levels, weather, and Japanese Public Holidays.
- Anytime starting after the second week of January (this is after the New Years Holiday and everyone goes back to school and work)
- Lower crowds
- It’s cold so better bundle up
- Average temperature: 6°C (43°F)
- Anytime before the end of April, so you can avoid Golden Week (which is one of the biggest holidays in Japan)
- Average temperature: 15°C (59°F)
- The weather is the most comfortable all year
- Visit after Golden Week after everyone goes back to school and work
- Average temperature: 20°C (68°F)
- Back to school for kids
- Halloween starts this month
- The summer humidity begins to fade away and leaves cooler weather, but still relatively warm
- Average temperature: 25°C (77°F)
- Christmas begins at the park
- The weather is nice and cool
- Average temperature: 14°C (57°F)
If you have to choose one time to visit, then I’d go with the first-half of April or the second-half of May. You’ll miss Golden Week and experience some of the best weather in Osaka. This also works with Tokyo Disney Resort (if this is part of a bigger trip) as this is also one of the best times to visit Tokyo.
Worst Times to Visit
Universal Studios Japan can get busy, and by that I mean The Flying Dinosaur reaches 4-5 hour waits at peak times and Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey up to 3-4 hours, which is arguably worse than Tokyo Disney Resort.
To help avoid that, here are the worst times to visit.
- Any Japanese Public Holiday
- Avoid the days on either end of a holiday, especially if it lands on a weekend (meaning Friday and Monday are likely busy, too)
- End of December into January
- New Years is a huge holiday in Japan
- Rainy season
- Average temperature: 24°C (75°F)
- July & August
- The hottest time of the year
- Summer vacation for students
- Obon Week
- Average temperature: 29°C (84°F)
- February & March
- Cold weather
- Spring break for students in March
- Average temperature: 6°C (43°F)
How Many Days
If you have the Express Pass, you can easily get everything done in a single day. I recommend buying the Express Pass to maximize your one day at the park (it’s doable without, but more on that later). I’d only recommend two days (or 1.5 days) if you are visiting during a busy period.
I recommend buying your park tickets in advance through Klook, which is pretty simple and saves you valuable time and stress. Use offer code KLKTDREX to save $4USD off your first order. Make sure to bundle this with your Express Passes (more on this below). The official USJ website only offers tickets online in Japanese.
You can buy the tickets right at the park gate if you prefer, but that’s valuable time you’re wasting. Head to the gates with your e-ticket (no need to print) and you save time. They’ll often open the park a little earlier than the posted time.
Another option is the Royal Express Pass, which is the best way to experience the park if you don’t want to wait. It’s not budget-friendly, however. For the cost of ¥20,000 ($180USD) you’ll get:
- Park ticket
- Skip the line for 6 popular attractions (includes The Flying Dinosaur, Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, and Hollywood Dream – The Ride – Backdrop)
- Skip the line for other classic attractions in the park (means no waiting)
- VIP seats for WaterWorld and Universal Monsters Live Rock and Roll Show
- Free Parking (most probably won’t need this, but good to know anyway)
The Express Pass allows you to bypass the standby line for select attractions once (depending on the ticket option you select). This is crucial for saving time in the park. You’re able to buy these at the park (or online in Japanese only from the official website), but there is a limited number per day. To avoid disappointment, I recommend buying them in advance.
I prefer the “Universal Express Pass 4” as it covers Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey (comes with your assigned timed entry) and The Flying Dinosaur. I’ve saved over 3 hours without having to wait in the standby lines. The extra cost is worth it, without question. Unless you want to ride every major ride in the park with no wait, the Express Pass 4 is a more viable option.
It is possible to do the park without any Express Pass if you go on a weekday, are vigilant in the morning, and take advantage of the single rider lines. Throughout the year USJ offers Express Pass for their Cool Japan and Halloween Horror Nights attractions.
Universal Studios Japan offers official, alliance, and associate hotels, which cover every type of budget.
The official hotels are right on property and are only a couple of minutes walk from the park. The hotels offer ticket sales, easy access to/from the park, the latest park information, and merchandise available in the gift shops.
- The Park Front Hotel (newest hotel which opened in 2015)
- Hotel Universal Port (offers Minion-themed rooms)
- Hotel Keihan Universal Tower
- Hotel Keihan Universal City (cheapest)
- Hotel Kintetsu Universal City (offers Sesame Street-themed rooms)
These hotels are not on property but offer easy access to the park via the train or free shuttle service. I recommend staying at these hotels if you plan on experiencing more of Osaka before or after Universal Studios Japan. You’ll find the full list on the official website.
- Regal Hotel (Free shuttle to the park)
- Osaka Mariott Hotel
- The Ritz Carlton Osaka
If you’re on a budget, then I recommend Hotel Keihan which is right on property and only a two-minute walk from the park. While the hotel is a bit dated, it’s clean and comfortable. Another option is the cheaper Airbnb properties nearby.
Universal Studios Japan is right in the city of Osaka, which makes it easy to get to via train. The JR Rail Pass covers the routes to Universal City Station. Get yourself to Nishi-Kujo Station (西九条駅) then transfer to the JR Yumesaki line. There you’ll go straight to Universal City Station (ユニバーサルしてい駅).
I recommend using Google Maps to plan your route.
From Shin-Osaka Station
If you’re arriving via Shinkansen (bullet train) then this is the station you’ll arrive at.
- Shin-Osaka to Osaka Station
- Transfer at Osaka Station to the JR Osaka Loop Line
- Transfer to the JR Yumesaki Line at Nishi-Kujo Station
- Direct to Universal City Station
I recommend having an IC Card (Suica or ICOCA) to pay for the local trains. It’s easier than buying single tickets. If you’re arriving in Osaka (as opposed to Tokyo) then I recommend buying a pre-loaded card from Klook. For more ways to get there, consult the official website.
From Kansai Airport
Here’s a quick 1-day itinerary for Universal Studios Japan. This assumes you want to experience all the best attractions and entertainment. This itinerary also assumes you don’t have an Express Pass. I created this so you’re able to drop/add items as you see fit and adjust for the crowds.
If you do have an Express Pass, you’ll have assigned time slots to ride the attraction, so adjust accordingly.
Grab yourself breakfast at McDonald’s or Lawson convenience store before you get in line for the park. There’s also Starbucks when you exit the train station.
- Line up at least an hour before park open (even on weekdays)
- Standby for Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey
- Grab yourself a Butterbeer
- Single Rider for The Flying Dinosaur
- Single Rider for The Amazing Spiderman The Ride 4K3D or Jurassic Park
- Lunch at Louie’s N.Y. Pizza Parlor, Discovery Restaurant, or Mel’s Drive-In
- Catch the afternoon parade if there is one (Check the schedule)
- Watch the afternoon show of WaterWorld
- Single Rider for Jaws
- Single Rider for Hollywood Dream — The Ride
- Head back to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter to enjoy the atmosphere
- Dinner at the Three Broomsticks
- Single Rider for Space Fantasy
The best single piece of advice I’ll give you is: use the Single Rider lines. As fun as it is to ride with your friends and family, saving yourself hours is worth the separation for a short period. Let me reiterate that again — use the single rider lines.
Here’s my list of recommended attractions that you shouldn’t miss. The full attractions list is also on the official website. In addition to this, in 2018 the park offers a few limited-time attractions themed to Sailor Moon, Final Fantasy, and Monster Hunter.
The Flying Dinosaur
One of the best rollercoasters I have been on. And if you only ride one attraction, make it this one. I recommend the single rider or Express Pass option.
Universal Studios Japan takes safety seriously, and you’re asked to empty all your pockets and remove any loose articles. If you’re found with anything while the ride is in operation, you’ll be kicked out of the park. It’s happened to a few people already, so don’t be that person.
Harry Potter & The Forbidden Journey
It’s easy to take a pass on this one if you’ve done it before, but I recommend you don’t. The movie quality is higher and much crisper. Also, how can you resist being inside Hogwarts? Other than that, it’s a clone of the other versions, but with Japanese audio.
Space Fantasy: The Ride
I’ll admit that I thought about skipping this attraction because I knew nothing about it and the building is unassuming. There are times in my life I am glad I am wrong, and this was one of those times. This indoor coaster is — pardon the pun — out of this world.
You board your vehicle on a moving platform (think Haunted Mansion or Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters) and you’re off into the galaxy. Your vehicle spins and rotates almost every way possible (there are no inversions) with an ending that reminds me of this Pokemon episode. In other words, there are intense strobe and lighting effects.
This ride sometimes has an overlay during the Cool Japan promotions throughout the year.
Hollywood Dream — The Ride
There are two versions of this roller coaster called “Hollywood Dream — The Ride” and “Hollywood Dream — The Ride ~Backdrop~.” The coasters are on the same track and the only difference is “backdrop” is completely backward. Choose the version you want and get in line. It’s not an intense rollercoaster like The Flying Dinosaur but is a ton of fun. I recommend the “backdrop” version.
If time permits, then I recommend hitting these attractions up.
- Amazing Adventures of Spiderman The Ride 4K3D
The new Minions ride is not that great and was the former Back to the Future attraction. I only recommend it if you have children who are fans of the franchise or you ran out of options for your Express Pass. It’s the same ride system as The Simpsons in Orlando, Florida.
Single Rider Attractions
When using the single rider line, you are split up if you’re with multiple people. The single rider line isn’t always available due to crowds and high wait times.
- The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man – The Ride 4K3D
- Space Fantasy – The Ride
- Hollywood Dream — The Ride (Doesn’t include the Backdrop version)
- The Flying Dinosaur
- Jurassic Park – The Ride
- Elmo’s Go-Go Skateboard
Super Mario World
The most anticipated addition to Universal Studios Japan is Super Mario World (2020). I don’t know about you, but my childhood is screaming with joy and clutching my NES controllers. This new area features a Mario Kart attraction, Princess Peach’s Castle, and other elements that’ll make any fan of Nintendo (or theme parks) to book a plane ticket immediately (once it’s open, of course).
Shows & Entertainment
Take a break from the thrill rides and take in some of the shows and entertainment throughout the park. In 2018, the park has a brand new nighttime parade. The official website has an excellent list of what’s happening.
Here’s my list of recommendations.
WaterWorld is just plain over-the-top ridiculous fun. I don’t remember the last time I saw the movie, but the stunt show, while corny on the dialogue, is worth making time to watch. Just avoid the front rows if you don’t want to become drenched.
Terminator 2:3-D is quirky and cheesy fun, even though the beginning with the Cyberdyne Systems company hostess is all in Japanese. You can’t help but laugh when everyone else does, even if you don’t understand. As of 2017, this is the last version in any of the Universal theme parks.
The Frog Choir and Triwizard Spirit Rally in The Wizarding World of Harry Potter are definitely worth watching and are in both English and Japanese. Also, don’t forget to take part in the interactive wand areas with the wand you buy from Ollivanders.
Minion Hacha-Mecha Time and Greeting are a ton of fun for the kids or anyone who’s a fan of the Minions. I’ll admit that I am a closet Minions fan. I can’t help but smirk when they speak in their Minion gibberish.
Wizarding World of Harry Potter
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter opened on July 15, 2014, and is a themed area for the Harry Potter franchise. It’s the only area of its kind in Asia (the others are in Hollywood and Orlando in the US). Keep in mind that you may need a timed entry ticket (see below) to enter the area on certain days.
The entrance is a wooded path that builds up the anticipation into the area and is filled with music and a few recognizable elements from the movies. Once you reach the end of the path, you’re greeted with a grand reveal of Hogsmeade. The quality of the theming is easily the best in the park.
Hogsmeade has a number of interactive wand areas, where you’ll see other wizards trying out their wands (they also garner long lines). You’ll find a variety of shops that carry Harry Potter merchandise (wands, robes, candy, etc) and of course everyone’s favourite (mine included), Butterbeer, which you’re able to get frozen if you prefer, too.
Hogwarts Castle has both a walkthrough experience and the 4K3D attraction, Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. If you’re prone to motion sickness, you may want to skip this attraction. I am one who gets motion sick easily, but I found while I got dizzy, it’s not as bad as other attractions (the high air conditioning in the summer helps reduce motion sickness). Then you have the Flight of the Hippogriff, which is a fun family-friendly roller coaster.
I highly recommend doing the castle walkthrough to soak in all the gorgeous detail.
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter uses a timed entry system on weekends and holidays, which means you’ll need a timed ticket (free of charge) to enter the area. Once you get into the park, head to the timed ticket area, scan all your park tickets and select the time you wish to enter. After you use the timed entry, you’ll have to get another one (if there are any left) to go back into the area.
- Weekdays you won’t need a timed entry (unless it’s a holiday)
- If you are using the Express Pass that has Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, you’ll be assigned a time on your Express Pass
- Some days the timed entry is not offered so you are able to enter the Wizarding World of Harry Potter as much as you like
Universal Studios Japan offers counter and table service restaurants, along with an abundance of adorable snacks. You’ll find a variety of cuisine that should satisfy even the pickiest of eaters. Burgers, fries, spaghetti, pizza, chicken, Japanese, and Chinese is just a sample of what’s available.
The official website has a full list of restaurants (no online menus in English) which you’re able to look up with ease. I’ll give you my recommended places and snacks to eat at the park to make things easier for you. Table service restaurants don’t require reservations, but you may wait a while if the park is busy.
Check the operating hours for each restaurant because they do vary. This avoids you becoming “hangry.” (Not that I have had that experience or anything.)
- Louie’s N.Y. Pizza Parlor (Pasta and Pizza)
- Discovery Restaurant (Chicken and Hamburgers)
- Amity Landing Restaurant (Fried Chicken)
- Three Broomsticks
- Mel’s Drive-In (Cheeseburgers)
- Studio Stars Restaurant (BBQ Roast Chicken & Minion-themed food)
- Happiness Cafe (Minion-themed burgers and dishes)
Similar to Tokyo Disney Resort, there is a variety of cute snacks that changes regularly. The ones I list here are regular menu items, which means they are available year-round. Of course, this could change, so keep that in mind.
- Minion Cookies (Delicious Me! The Cookie Kitchen)
- Banana Churro (Minion Park Area)
- Turkey Leg Popcorn (Jurassic Park Area)
- Soda Roll Cake (Amity Landing Restaurant)
- Butterbeer (The Wizarding World of Harry Potter)
- Elmo Steamed Bun with Teriyaki Chicken (Universal Wonderland)
There are a ton of shopping opportunities throughout the park. There’s even a small shop just outside the park gates (but with a smaller selection). The Universal Studios Store is where you’ll find the largest number of items, including Harry Potter. The stores in Minion Park is where you’ll find Minion-themed goods.
You’ll find t-shirts, key chains, accessories, and omiyage (souvenirs that are usually in the form of food), in a range of characters from Sesame Street to Hello Kitty.
The park doesn’t have external batteries to charge your smartphone. They do have charging stations, but they are a bit annoying to use. I highly recommend this external battery to make sure you aren’t left with a dead phone.
Universal CityWalk Osaka
Right outside the station is Universal CityWalk (you’ll walk through it as you head to the park) which has a variety of shopping, dining, and western franchises such as Starbucks, McDonald’s, T.G.I. Friday’s, etc.
The most important aspect is the large choice of Japanese and non-Japanese restaurants. You’ll find something here that everyone will enjoy.
I won’t fault you if you decide to eat at T.G.I. Friday’s, Red Lobster, Bubba Gump Shrimp Co., or the Hard Rock Cafe. Sometimes having something familiar is comforting. I do, however, recommend trying these restaurants for something different:
- Kushiya Monogatari (deep-fried skewer buffet)
- Osaka Takoyaki Museum (deep-fried octopus balls)
- Mos Burger (Japanese fast food chain)
- Daikisuisan Kaitensushi (conveyor belt sushi)
- Shabu Sai (shabu shabu)
- Fujin Raijin RA-MEN (ramen noodles)
- Saizeriya (cheap Italian food)
Supplement your trip planning with the excellent resources:
- TDR Now Podcast Episode 82: Universal Studios Japan
- TDR Now Podcast Episode 103: Halloween Horror Nights
- Halloween Horror Nights VLOG
- Universal Studios Japan Tips & Strategy by Travel Caffeine
Have any more tips to add? Share them in the comments!
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