Getting the Most Out of your Trip to Universal Studios Japan

Selena Hoy
Universal Studios Japan

Universal Studios Japan, or USJ as it’s known for short, isn’t exactly a cheap day out, but it is a major destination for a lot of people, with hordes making the pilgrimage to visit Harry Potter’s Wizarding World along with Shrek, Snoopy, Woody Woodpecker, Sesame Street, and the rest of the gang (and now, the Minions too—more on that in a bit). There’s a lot to enjoy, whatever your taste in entertainment.

In 2017, for the third year in a row, the theme park is running a Cool Japan Zone (until June 25), where hits from Japanese anime and cinema are turned into attractions of varying thrill levels. You can get your nerd on with the Evangelion XR Ride, play-hunt things in Monster Hunter the Real, and check out a show at Osaka Castle (at an extra cost, be warned), among other activities. Most of the standard features of USJ are up and running too—don’t worry.

If you are a fan of the cheeky yellow characters from Despicable Me, you’ll be thrilled to hear that they’re going to be a feature of the park from April 21. At the rather 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. There are even Minion-themed rooms at the USJ hotel, for seriously serious fans.

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. 

Sleep with one eye open
Sleep with one eye open

Package deals

If you’re going to be making the trip from Tokyo, a package deal like this 2-day tour with shinkansen, hotel, and USJ day pass is a great idea, considering that buying a one-way bullet train ticket from Tokyo to Osaka at the station costs around 14,000 yen alone. Also, if you take the shinkansen to Osaka, USJ is within the boundaries of Osaka City, so you won’t need to buy a new train ticket—you can use JR lines. Yay!

Discount tickets for Universal Studios Japan

A number of reduced-price 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 a one-day pass quickly and easily here. Every 10th booking wins free VIP wristbands for early access to USJ, and admission to Osaka’s Harukas 300 Observatory, which is pretty cool. You can also book a one-day pass here for a bit cheaper, as well as get a quick peek at what rides are temporarily closed, and until when (Space Fantasy is one of them). Note that both of these re-sellers are fully authorized (not all of the ones you’ll find online are).

monster hunters
Monster Hunters

When to go and what 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.

If you’re a hardcore cheapo, you may be too stingy to spring for the Express Pass (I certainly am), 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 slobs at the most popular attractions often ranging from 1-3 hours. But with a bit of planning, you can still fit in all the rides on a regular entry pass.

Plan 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 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 here and there.

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 the park 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.

All the better to eat you with
All the better to eat you with

Bring your own food, or eat outside the gates

The food at Universal Studios Japan is seriously expensive. You could spend 2,650 yen for a food cart sandwich, or a cheaper 1,200 for an extremely lackluster, under-flavored pre-made cafeteria sandwich. A better way to go is to discreetly bring in your own food for basic sustenance (we said nothing) and save your splurging for specialty items that you really must try (Butterbeer anyone?), rather than calories to cure your hanger.

There are also oodles of regularly-priced restaurants right outside the gate, including convenience stores and fast food restaurants. Be warned, though, that USJ tickets are single-entry: once you leave, you can’t re-enter on the same pass.

Neighborhood ticket shops

As we’ve written elsewhere, discount ticket shops (called kinken) are a good place to save a few yen, 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 about 500 yen off the regular price. 

Oh, and while you’re in the area, don’t forget to spend some time in Osaka, a fabulous city in its own right.

This post was last updated in April 2017 by Carey Finn.

Name: Universal Studios Japan
Pricing info: 7,400 yen one-day pass for adults
Address: 2-1-33 Sakurajima, Konohana-ku, Osaka-fu, 554-0031
Location(s): Osaka,
Phone: 0570-200-606 0570-200-606
Business hours: Varies by season
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