Universal Studios Japan, or USJ as it’s known for short, isn’t exactly a cheap day out, but it is a major 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 (and now, the Minions too—more on that in a bit). There’s a lot to enjoy, whatever your taste in entertainment.
If you are a fan of the cheeky yellow characters from Despicable Me, you’ll be thrilled to hear that they are a new feature of the park. 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.
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 three years running now. This part of the park is, however, seasonal, and closed from June 25th, 2017. Check back for updates to see when it will re-open.
Coming up from June 30th, you can instead enjoy special One Piece, Dragon Ball Z, Gintama and other manga-inspired events, as well as drumming and dances by cute little Japanese monsters (this is ongoing). Space Fantasy fans will be pleased to know that the classic ride will also re-open from June 29th, after being closed for six months for maintenance. Most of the other attractions will be open, too.
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 or tour packages—though those are a good start.
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 (from ¥32,680) 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 from this official ticket site.
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 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 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.
Bring your own food, or eat outside the gates
The food at Universal Studios Japan can be seriously expensive. You’re looking at something like 2,500 yen for a food cart item, or a cheaper 1,200 yen for a lackluster, under-flavored, pre-made cafeteria sandwich (and let’s not even talk about the tea and other beverages). A better way to go is to discreetly bring in your own food for basic sustenance (we said nothing, you read nothing) and save your splurging for specialty items that you really must try (Butterbeer, anyone?), rather than empty calories to cure your hanger.
You’ll find oodles of 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. 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.
Neighborhood ticket shops
As we’ve written elsewhere, discount ticket shops (called kinken) and vending machines 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.
Besides Universal Studios Japan, explore Osaka too
While you’re in the area, 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 (takoyaki, okonomiyaki, ramen, gyouza 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.
This post was last updated in June 2017 by Carey Finn.