Universal Studios Japan, or USJ as it’s known for short, isn’t exactly a cheap day out, but it is a popular destination in Osaka, with thousands making the pilgrimage to visit Harry Potter’s Wizarding World along with Shrek, Snoopy, Woody Woodpecker, Sesame Street and the rest of the gang (including the Minions). There’s a lot to enjoy, whatever your age or taste in entertainment.
First off, we’ll give you a quick idea of what to expect at USJ. Then we’ll get you ready to roll with our tried and tested tips and tricks to save money and time on your visit, and have the most fun possible.
The Minions and other major attractions at Universal Studios Japan
If you’re a fan of the cheeky yellow characters from Despicable Me, you’ll be thrilled to hear that they are a feature of the theme park. At the aptly named Minion Park, you’ll be able to see shows, buy Minion-themed stuff, eat Minion-themed food, and try out the “Despicable Me Minion Mayhem” ride.
Of course, you can also enjoy the usual suspects like The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, Hollywood Dream, Jurassic Park, Spider-Man 4K3D, Space Fantasy and more.
Universal Cool Japan, Halloween Horror Night and other seasonal specials
You might have heard about the Cool Japan Zone, where hits from Japanese anime and cinema have been turned into attractions of varying thrill levels for six years running. This part of the park is only open in the first half of the year, and the 2020 instalment wrapped up on July 5th.
But come fall, you can experience terror, screaming and other good fun as part of Universal Studios Japan’s annual Halloween special. Zombie mobs, manic mazes and other dark delights add an extra element to evenings at the theme park.
And on New Year’s Eve, you can party the night away at the USJ Countdown Party.
How to stretch your yen at USJ
Whether you’re going for Potter, the Minions or another attraction, the fact that you’re reading this tells us you’re all about saving those yens. So here are a few suggestions to reduce the impact of a USJ excursion on your billfold and stress levels. And we’re not just talking about discount entry tickets—though those are a good start.
Package deals for Universal Studios Japan
If you’re going to be making the trip to USJ from Tokyo, a package deal like a round-trip bus + studio pass, with a night at a hotel as an optional add-on, might prove most economical. It’s worth having a look at the options when planning your trip.
Pro tip: If you’re keen on checking out the Harukas 300 Observatory in Osaka too, read our guide on how to save with a cool combo deal.
Discount tickets for Universal Studios Japan
A number of reduced-price entry tickets are available for Universal Studios Japan, notably for birthday boys and girls (of all ages) and differently-abled visitors. You can scoop special passes for the latest attractions, as well as multi-day tickets, on the Japanese website. If you’re looking to book in English, you can get tickets quickly and easily from Voyagin, an official USJ partner.
Neighborhood ticket shops
Discount ticket shops (called kinken) and vending machines are a good place to save a few hundred yen on your Universal Studios Japan entry pass, but can be complicated. Usually you can save 5-10% off the retail price, but some Japanese ability is needed. You probably won’t save enough to warrant making a special subway trip, so if there isn’t a ticket shop near you, it’s probably not worth it. If you’ve noticed one nearby though, it could be good for as much as ¥500 off the regular price.
When to go and what USJ pass to get
First off, try to go on a weekday. Monday through Friday tends to be slightly less hectic than weekends and holidays, though still crowded.
Universal Studios Japan Express Pass
If you’re a hardcore cheapo, you may be too stingy to spring for a USJ Express Pass, which costs almost the same price as the entry ticket, thus doubling your outlay. Granted, the Express option can save lots of time, with waits for regular folks at the most popular attractions often ranging from 1-3 hours. But with a bit of planning, you can still fit in most of the rides on a regular entry pass.
During special seasonal events at USJ, like Halloween Horror Night, an Express Pass is recommended to make sure you can enjoy all of the limited-edition attractions.
Pro tip: Read our full guide to buying and saving on Universal Studios Japan tickets.
Planning your day ahead of time
If you choose to save your dosh and forego the Express Pass, you may need to spend some time planning your itinerary. If you’re doing a full day and haven’t bought tickets in advance, it’s best to show up early, as long queues can form at the ticket gates, which open an hour ahead of the park’s opening time. And the 4D shows, meaning moving seats and spurts of water and air among other things, run on strict timetables, so if you’re interested in seeing a few, it’s best to plan your day around them. Note that the movies are mostly only in Japanese, with a few subtitled bits.
Additionally, several attractions (like the Wizarding World of Harry Potter) have timed entry tickets or numbered entry tickets that you have to obtain (for free) in advance. Between the shows and the timed attractions, it’s best to plan when you are going to visit each one, then go and enjoy other attractions in the meantime.
There’s an app for USJ if you read Japanese; otherwise you might want to spend some time with a map familiarizing yourself with the layout and what you want to see. Finally, the attractions and most of the restaurants close before the souvenir shops, so if you want to maximize your ride time, you may want to leave your shopping until the end of the day.
USJ opening hours
The operation hours for Universal Studios Japan vary depending on the season and day, but generally speaking are from 9am to 7pm, give or take an hour or two. In spring and summer, the park is usually open a bit later, until 8 or 9pm. Check the official website before your visit. Any COVID-19 updates will also be posted on the site.
Eating outside the gates
The food at Universal Studios Japan can be seriously expensive. You’re looking at something like ¥2,500 for a food cart item, or a cheaper ¥1,200 for a pre-made cafeteria sandwich (and let’s not even talk about tea and other beverages). You might want to splurge on a few specialty items (Butterbeer, anyone?), but it’s good to keep in mind that there are regularly-priced restaurants right outside the park gates, including curry spots, sushi go-rounds, and the typical fast food joints. There are convenience stores too for a rice ball fix.
Be warned, though, that USJ tickets are single-entry: once you leave, you can’t re-enter on the same pass. Our advice? Fill up before you go in, or chow down before you take the train home. Note: you can take bottled water into the park, but no other beverages or food.
Where is Universal Studios Japan?
USJ is in the Konohana ward of Osaka. It’s a short walk from Universal City Station on the JR Sakurajima train line. If you have a JR Pass, you can use it to get there. USJ is 10-15 minutes from Osaka Station, making it easily accessible from the city central. It’s also just under an hour from Kyoto Station.
Hotels near USJ
If you’re wanting to spend the night near Universal Studios Japan, The Park Front Hotel and Hotel Keihan USJ are convenient, comfortable options. You can also try these other Osaka accommodation ideas if you don’t need to be that close to the park.
Exploring the rest of Osaka
Don’t forget to spend some time in Osaka proper, a fabulous part of Japan in its own right. From castles complete with samurai stuff to some of the best food you’ll ever eat (okonomiyaki, ramen, gyoza and much more), as well as massive green spaces (think Expo ’70 Memorial Park in Suita City) and 24/7 hot spring theme parks (Spa World), Osaka has it all.
While we do our best to make sure the information provided here is correct, it is subject to change. This post was last updated in July, 2020 by Carey Finn.