JAPAN 2015: Day 9 - Universal Studios Japan.

This is my favourite post to prepare in the Japan 2015 series because, pictures! Such beautiful pictures! Not because of my photography skills but because of the sceneries themselves. This was my second Universal Studios visit, the first one being Universal Studios Singapore. At the end of the post, I will share some tips and resources for a better Universal Studios Japan (USJ) experience.

April 15th, 9.30AM - Universal Studios Japan (ユニバーサル・スタジオ・ジャパン®), Osaka.
The theme parks in Japan are always crowded, especially in spring and summer. So even if you get there half an hour before the park opens (USJ's operation hours are usually from 8.30AM9.00PM or 10.00PM), many lines would have already been formed in front of the gates. 

If you didn't buy tickets in advance, try to reach the ticketing counter half an hour before the park's opening time — it usually opens half an hour before, sometimes even earlier.

April 15th, 10AM - The Wizarding World of Harry Potter area.
Once inside, you must make your first area to visit The Wizarding World of Harry Potter because then you'll get to enter that area directly. Otherwise, it will fill up (usually after just half an hour) and once it becomes congested, the area will be blocked off. You will then need to take a Timed Entry Ticket from a machine right outside the area — or the main ticketing booth outside the park — and wait for that time to come before you're allowed to enter. All in all, you have 3 choices:
  • Go there first thing in the morning for direct entry
  • Get a Timed Entry Ticket on the day itself and go there again at your assigned time
  • Get a Timed Entry Ticket in advance through the purchase of Universal Express Pass
  • If you missed out on all the above, you can try your luck with a Lottery Ticket which is issued when Timed Entry Tickets run out. Like the name suggests, it doesn't guarantee an entry

The walk to TWWHP itself is already magic on its own. A forest area is recreated, and the entire area is surrounded by fir trees that never seem to end. You really feel like you're being transported into another world. Also, the Harry Potter theme song and sound effects are played throughout, so there's just no way you don't feel immersed.

First, let's go crazy at Hogsmeade. TWWHP in USJ is divided into 2 areas: Hogwarts and Hogsmeade. Even though there's no Diagon Alley area like in TWWHP Orlando, Florida; you can still find most of Diagon Alley's shops in the Hogsmeade area. 

Gotta have that Butterbeer! Muggle Butterbeer is non-alcoholic and is supposed to remind you of shortbread and butterscotch.

If it's winter, hot options are available too. I'm good with a chilled one for now. I would call it butterscotch rootbeer. A ¥600 (MYR 24) butterscotch rootbeer.

They also have frozen ones that are available only during warmer climates. I kind of like the Frozen Butterbeer better, but of course it had to be slightly pricier at ¥700 (MYR 28) a cup.

Drag me away from that cart before I get more of those please. Besides that cart, you can also buy a Butterbeer from the Three Broomsticks — a restaurant with an unobstructed view of the Great Lake — or the Hog's Head — an actual pub that serves alcohol. Tip: The fastest way to get your Butterbeer is to buy it from Hog's Head.

After getting refreshed, it was time to shop for school supplies!

Let's see.. First and foremost, uniform. I went for Gryffindor because it's the most iconic. However, like a typical Cho Chang, I'm a Ravenclaw at heart. House robe costs ¥12,000 (MYR 479) while a scarf costs ¥4,800 (MYR 192). Pricey but totally worth it. 

"Just Ollivanders left now — only place fer wands, Ollivanders, and yeh gotta have the best wand."

You can find wands of all the key characters. See if you can recognise any.

You can get a wand of your choice from as low as ¥3,500 (MYR 140, quite a steal!), but that's just a regular wand — literally a piece of wood. The wands have been upgraded since, I'll keep the updates for 2016's visit.

I've always thought that I'm a Hermione-wand kinda gal so I kept using her wand for photos. Well, I ended up with Fleur Delacour's wand — a 9.5", Rosewood, Veela hair core wand. It's really just wood but I really liked how it looked and felt in my hand. (I know how it sounds, let's not go there 乁| ・ ・ |ㄏ)

If you're a Quidditch fan, you can buy the shirts and stuff. Not this chest of moving balls though!

Honeydukes, where you'll find sweets and stuff — especially the iconic ones from the books/movies! This place can get really crowded to the point that a queue to enter is needed.

A box of Bertie Bott's Every Flavour Beans is yours if you're willing to fork out ¥1800 (MYR 71). Soap, earthworm, rotten egg flavours anyone? These bestsellers run out pretty quick, usually in the first half of the day itself!

You can choose to dispense the beans yourself. I think these are normal jellybeans though.

A box of Chocolate Frog goes at ¥1200 (MYR 48). This must be purely psychological but after seeing the beans, I thought these chocolates were pretty cheap so I got 2 boxes. Indeed, there were collectible cards inside but the frogs didn't move.

Zonko's Joke Shop. Toys, plushies and the likes. You can even find the Weasley twins' Pygmy Puffs here.

Now that we're done shopping, I think it's time to head to the castle. And this is my Fleur-wand; pretty, isn't it? 

Oh wait! What's this? A fellow Slytherin! Let's not bring trouble back to the school and settle things this instant with a duel!

Ok I won. Here's one last look at Hogsmeade:

I took a photo with the conductor of Hogwarts Express and just when I was doing so, steam appeared behind us — perfect timing!

Welcome to Hogwarts. This is really one magnificent structure. The attention to detail is amazing! 

In the castle is where you'll find one of the best rides in the park — Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey in 4K3D. I absolutely loved it. Everyone else obviously loves it as well because the queue for the ride can go up to 3 hours or more, not unusual for Japanese theme parks. I got an Express Pass in advance so it took me only 10 minutes or less.

If you had to wait in line though, it wouldn't be such a bad thing because then you'd be able to enjoy the castle interior. 

Some of the portraits are actually screens so the characters do move around, like in the movies/books.

"Sherbet Lemon."

Whose memory was I viewing using the Pensieve?

I'm sure there are more areas to explore in the castle but unfortunately, I skipped most of them because I was too excited for the Forbidden Journey ride. For those who are really interested in exploring the castle, you can take the Hogwarts Castle Walk which covers the entire castle!

Besides the shops mentioned above, you can also explore and buy more stuff from Wiseacre's Wizarding Equipment, Owl Post and Owlery, Dervish and Banges, Gladrags Wizardwear and Filch's Emporium of Confiscated Goods. I got myself a few other things — Time-Turner necklaces, postcards, folders, clipboard (I love stationaries), keychains etc.

What's the most expensive thing you can buy at TWWHP? A Nimbus 2000 broom at ¥50,000 (MYR 2,000).

If you kind of went overboard with the shopping, remember that you can always store them goods in coin lockers. Convenient!

 April 15th, 1PM - San Francisco area.

A much smaller area compared to TWWHP, but charming in its own way. The main attractions in this area are Back To The Future ride, Backdraft fire effects show and — if it's your thing — the silly yellow Minions

I didn't plan to try any of those but in the end, I went for the Back To The Future ride — only because the wait time was bearable. It was alright, I didn't particularly like it. Probably because I didn't watch the movies to begin with? (Please don't kill me.)

I don't even know the name of this car I'm sorry.

Tip: Boards that show wait time for rides are placed at the central area in the park and are updated real-time. So, if you don't have a plan and simply just want to go for a ride that suits your patience, decide there and then with their help. This is a better alternative than to make your way to a random ride only to realise that the wait time is terrible.

 April 15th, 3PM - New York area.

Here's where you can find The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man 4K3D Ride which was awarded the Best Dark Ride for 7 consecutive years. It's the equivalent of The Transformers Ride in Universal Studios Singapore, but some claim that Spider-Man is better. I'm greedy so I like both.

Other than that, it's a pretty chilled area. There's nothing else here besides a Terminator 2 theatre show and the occasional musical performances or parties.

From this angle you can see where the cardboard cutout ends.

Great area to take a breather because it's usually not as packed as the more popular areas.

 April 15th, 4PM - Hollywood area.

If you're a roller-coaster kinda fellow, this is the area for you. Hollywood Dream — The Ride and Hollywood Dream — The Ride Backdrop both ride on the same track, the difference being the latter rides backwards. Both equally scary. I feel nauseous just by watching POV videos of those rides. Yeah, I'm not one for extreme rides. Just hand me the VR stuff that I can deal with.

This is my preferred area to dine at because I can watch people flailing their arms on the Hollywood Dream rides and listen to their sweet sweet screams. Theme park food is neither delicious nor cheap, but here (Hollywood area) at least the choices are decent. There's a diner, a burger place, a French cafe and a dessert cafe. The other areas have other stuff like Chinese, Italian etc. You can see all available food from the map and go to the area it's in, but it's probably not worth it anyway. 

Bumped into Easter Cookie Monster. Must have been on his way to the Universal Wonderland — a.k.a. Kiddyland — next door. I didn't bother stepping into that area.

 April 15th, 5PM - Universal Cool Japan: Attack on Titan (Shingeki No Kyojin) area.

I fell in love with Shingeki No Kyojin 進撃の巨人 (SNK) the first time I watch the anime. How can anyone not love something so intense and grotesque?? I decided to not continue reading the manga because I enjoy the anime more (SOUNDTRACK MAN, SOUNDTRACK). Season 2 anime faster release please!

I'm obviously not the only one who loves this franchise, people are hardcore fans here in Japan. Most of them came to USJ dressed up in SNK clothing and some even took the effort to cosplay as their favourite characters. Survey Corps cape can be bought here at USJ but it was sold out during my visit. Meh. Next time!

Besides having photos taken by your digital camera, you can also get a commemorative 4R print framed in a SNK trifold card on the spot — at a fee, of course.

There was no ride for SNK — not in 2015 anyway. All they had at that point was a walkthrough + exhibition, which was cool in its own way especially if you understood Japanese.

3D Maneuver Gear. All fun and games until a titan grabs the wires.

Poor Marco. It was during this moment that I went, "Yep, these guys aren't afraid to kill named characters."

Remember this? The wipeout of Levi's squad.

My heart almost couldn't handle it during that scene.

A PETRAfying scene. Some may even say PETRAdying. Hahaha hahaha. Sorry. 

There was no Eren yet that time I visited. I didn't mind too much anyway, he's not my favourite character. Guess who is? It's an easy one..

Notice me, senpai!!

If you're tired from an expedition or getting ready for one, try the Survey Corps' meal.

You can buy the meals from this truck in the area. The queue was pretty long! Here, have a look at the menu: 
Survey Corps' Meal for Regular Soldiers (potato, bread, soup) @ ¥850 (MYR 34)
Survey Corps' Meal for Captain (bacon, potato, tea-flavoured bread, soup) @ ¥1,100 (MYR 44)

WHAT? I must have the latter la because well — captain. But seriously, that much for just bread and stuff? According to this review by Kotaku, those are some pretty damn good bread and stuff.

 April 15th, 7PM - Universal Cool Japan: Monster Hunter area.

Okay I have no idea what Monster Hunter was but since I had access to the area, I went and checked it out. So.. I can't really describe the coming photos. If you're a fan of MH, enjoy!

This lifesized Zinogre (I had to Google the name) animatronic was pretty cool though! Look at the effects!

There was also an area for players to gather and play the game. Apparently there were some exclusive quests and competition here. I won't be surprised if some hardcore gamers come to USJ just to participate in those.

April 15th, 8PM - Souvenir area.

More more more more MORE shopping! If you didn't manage to shop much in the separate areas, you can just shop right before you exit. I'm sure they have almost everything here but it might take more time to look for the stuff that you want. The lines are longer too — especially at the end of the day — because you're not the only one with last minute shopping in mind. 

Great area to shop for tin biscuits (I collect those) and bulky things that you don't want to lug around the entire day. I even bought a Harry Potter blanket here.

Then it was goodbye.

No Universal Studios trip is complete without a photo with the globe — though this selfie was a lame attempt.

Much better.

Summary of areas in USJ according to me:
  1. The Wizarding World of Harry Potter - Best place ever. MUST GO.
  2. Jurassic Park - Rawwr! Back in 2015 there was no Flying Dinosaur yet so it was pretty meh for a non-enthusiast.
  3. Hollywood - Main area for extreme rides.
  4. New York - Spiderman + Terminator area.
  5. San Francisco - Back To The Future + Minions area.
  6. Amity Village + Waterworld - JAWS and water stuff.
  7. Universal Wonderland - Kiddy area (Sesame Street + Snoopy + Hello Kitty).
  8. Universal Cool Japan - Exclusive Japanese attractions which change depending on season, or annually. In 2015, it was Attack on Titan walkthrough/exhibition + Evangelion 4D + Monster Hunter exhibition. Resident Evil was supposed to be ongoing too but it was temporarily unavailable during my visit.

See you next year, USJ.

Tips and Things you should know:

1. Everything is in Japanese.
Everything means everything. Rides, walkthroughs, theatre shows, street performances etc. Even Harry Potter and friends speak Japanese here! Subtitles aren't available. Safety instructions and F&B menu though, are available in English. You'll still be able to enjoy your trip because most of the time you don't need to know what's going on exactly to do so. 

2. Staff members are helpful.
Don't get too worked up over point 1. The people here are extremely helpful and are used to non-Japanese speaking people. Of course they know basic English ok. The enthusiasm and friendliness of Japanese theme parks' staff are world-class. So please, instead of wasting time trying to figure something out, just ASK!

3. Wait-time for popular rides can go up to 34 hours. GET THE EXPRESS PASS!
So if you really want to cover most of the park, please get the Universal Express Pass. It's really not worth it to spend hours waiting in line for a 3-minute ride. USJ has several types of Express Passes, sometimes even special ones. Check here for the latest list.

If you don't want to get them through agencies, you can actually purchase online and print the QR codes right here right now in the comfort of your own home. It takes a bit of patience though. The trick is to purchase from USJ's Japanese site. Yes, ability to read Japanese helps because Google Translate screws up the site sometimes. Here's a good step-by-step if you intend to go this way. It is by far the clearest and most comprehensive guide I've come across.

4. Single Rider service is your friend.
If you decide to not get the Express Pass, I wish you luck my friend. You can try this luck with the Single Rider service. Most people underestimated this service — it can cut your wait time from an hour to 10 minutes if you're lucky. Who cares about riding with friends??? Friends??? What friends?

Just note that this service is only available for selected rides and can be unavailable on certain days or at certain hours.

5. Unavailable rides or areas.
Stuff happens. Maintenance happens. Revamp happens. To avoid too much disappointment, please check the list of "temporarily closed attractions" for the dates of your visit here.

6. Cheapest way to get tickets and passes.
Purchase online from USJ's Japanese site and print them at home. Refer to this step-by-step.

I can't think of what else to add at this moment. Leave a comment and I'll help if I can!

Day 0.5 - Getting There. And Tsukiji.
Day 1 - Ueno Park. “Hana Yori Dango”.
Day 1 - Sensoji. And an Adventure at Night.
Day 2 - All Things Ghibli (Museum).
What to do when you lose your JR Pass.
[SHORTS]: My First Airbnb Experience.
Day 4 - Hello Kyoto! (Intro).
Day 4 - Eastern and Downtown Kyoto.
Day 5 - Ryoanji and Kinkakuji.
Day 5 - Arashiyama and HORSE SASHIMI?
Day 6 - Fushimi Inari-taisha and Nishiki Market.
Day 7 - Gotta Catch 'Em All in Osaka (Pokemon Center) and Mint Bureau's Nighttime Sakuras.
Day 8 - Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan.
Day 9 - Universal Studios Japan.
Day 10 - Osaka Castle, Den Den Town, Dotonbori.
Day 11 - 10 Days Japan Itinerary (Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka).


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