Today was probably one of the most exciting days for me since I have been in Japan: I went to Universal Studios Japan (USJ)!! I have wanted to go to USJ since week one of being here, but I needed it to be warm enough to actually enjoy walking outdoors all day. It’s been excruciating waiting so long because USJ is only one stop further on the train I take to work every than my stop, and so I see all the tourists coming and going with their giddy children and geared up minion apparel (USJ is known for their minion park from Despicable Me).
We set out (me and the other intern, Anna) just like it was any other day commute to work, leaving bright and early at 7:30 AM to get to USJ at a bit past 8:30 AM, taking the exact same trains as we take to work. When we arrived, a sea of tourists threw themselves onto the train platform and we all walked in unison to the gates of USJ. There were hundreds, if not thousands, of people already waiting at the gates but the park didn’t open until 9 AM! I took this waiting time as an opportunity to freak out a little that I was finally here and take some pictures.
Once the gates opened, the flood of people entering USJ had made initial ride wait times at least 50 minutes. My first impression was just being overwhelmed by all the people and surroundings; I felt like I was transported to another world that took all the classic pieces of Hollywood movies into one place. I have been to other Universal Studios in California and Florida and, while bigger, USJ seemed to go all out on the decorations. Other Universal Studios do have extravagant restaurants and stores like USJ, but USJ also has so many additional, full sized buildings that were solely used as props. It also has a whopping three man made lakes in a much smaller park size than the other Universal Studios of America: one in the center of the park, another as part of the Jaws exhibit, and a third in Harry Potter World.
The first stop needed to be Harry Potter World because all of the English bloggers and reviewers that have been to Japan warned you needed to reserve a time slot to enter Harry Potter World the day of. When we arrived, however, we were told by two very friendly USJ workers (all the USJ workers seemed to be constantly smiling and waving and giving high fives) that it was not busy enough today to merit needing reserved time slots. This isn’t busy? There were as many people in USJ at 9:15AM as there have been mid afternoon in other Universal Studios I have been in!
The entrance to Harry Potter World was this ominous stone circle taken right out of the books where Voldemort and his cohort gathered. Eery, booming music played to signal your arrival into an enchanted, mysterious place, enough to get your heart racing, and I followed the crowd down a mystical path lined on both sides with dense pine trees and old fashioned lamp posts. It was a solid five minute walk before you reached the Weasley’s old car which was the first obvious Harry Potter reference, and then just around the corner was the entrance to Harry Potter World!
On the other side of the archway was the Hogwarts train and Hogsmead. Almost all the tourists to USJ are Asian, but interestingly all the actors I saw pretending to be students at Hogwarts were Western and speaking English! While there were many shops such as Olivander’s wand shop or Zoinkos that allowed people inside, there were also many full sized stores simply as props. To the best of my memory, this Harry Potter World has the same basic layout as in other Universal Studios, but it was expensive to an entirely new height than all the others. $18 for a small anything flavored jelly bean box, $24 for a mug, $140 for a hogwarts cape and $50 for a stuffed owl. Yet this seemed to deter no one from buying these products! Later I would see that this expensive trend continued beyond just souvenirs and included food as well with a single piece of pizza starting at $12 or fried rice at $15.
I got a celebratory butterbeer, and then proceeded into the Hogwarts castle and a roller coaster around Hagrid’s house!
These rides were exciting, but not overly scary, so when we walked into Jurassic Park and saw a roller coaster called “the Flying Dinosaur”, I thought it was nothing I couldn’t handle. (Pro Tip: take the singles lane whenever it is offered because you cut a line of 1-3 hours down to a 10-30 minutes wait just by agreeing you are okay not riding with your friends.) Ten minutes after getting in line, I was seated horizontally and buckled in, all ready for the ride to begin! 11 minutes after getting in line, the ride finished, I unbuckled and face planted into the ground. I was so dizzy that in order to pick up my bag, I had to sit cross legged on the ground; I couldn’t even walk in a straight line. As soon as I was able, I found the first curbside to sit down on and directed all of my energy into stopping the ground from spinning. I kept thinking how come no one else leaving this ride looks as bad as I do? Everyone coming out was just smiling and laughing! After one hour of sitting down, I thought I could handle walking so I got up and walk over a bridge only to feel light headed and queasy all over again. I find the nearest bathroom, and then thirty minutes later I am back out, only feeling slightly better, to sit on a new curb. This new area, just a bridge away from the ride, and I finally saw all the other people who looked like they were dying from the ride, just like me. I was not alone! I didn’t want to feel this miserable and dizzy all day, and I knew to make myself better I needed food. I had brought snacks, but I needed something more substantial than just sugar. Despite my commitment not to buy the mega overpriced food at USJ, I realized it was inevitable to make me feel better. I found pizza advertised as New York pizza, and, although it obviously was not authentic, at the time I felt confident saying it was the best piece of pizza I had (likely a combination of how sick I felt and how expensive it was played a significant contribution into me labeling it as such).
Feeling not yet 100% but many times better than two hours ago when I stepped off the flying dinosaur, I cautiously continued on to Minion Park.
Here I bought so many Minion designed goodies including a Minion shaped popcorn holder and the popcorn was banana caramel flavored!
I love the Despicable Me movies, and especially the minions, so I was thoroughly enjoying just walking around the park and recognizing the different buildings from each movie! Then we decided to brace the 140 minute wait time for the Minion Mayhem Ride thinking that, from our experience, the line couldn’t be as long as they suggested! It was longer. 1.5 hours in we got to the entrance of Gru’s house thinking that this must be the entrance to the ride, only to see another large room full of people queing. 2.5 hours and we are finally all divided into one of three lines either leading up, straight or down. This new line only brought us to a room where they played a 5 minute nonsense video in Japanese about how Gru will turn us into minions. We are then ushered into yet another room to watch another nonsense video this time with Gru’s adopted daughters saying they will lead the transformation, again in Japanese with English subtitles. Finally we are moved into a room with an 8 seated vehicle and instructed to get it and sit. We sit there, not moving, for another 5 minutes and I notice that you can hear noises from other rooms that people must be in, all coming from above us where there was no ceiling. As a video on a large IMAX screen above us begins, our vehicle is lifted up to fill the space in the empty ceiling, and I can see 11 other vehicles in this same, large IMAX room. For a little over one minute, the IMAX screen mimicked a roller coaster (similar to the minion game application you can get for your phone) with our vehicle making slight tilts to accompany the video. And then, just as abruptly as the video began, it stopped and we were lowered down. I could not believe I had waited for three hours for this! But, honestly, I am happy I did wait just for the fact that now I know that ride is not worth all the fuss!
From there, I went on a couple more rides, avoiding all roller coasters like the plague. As darkness neared, I ventured back into Harry Potter World briefly to see it lit up at night, and ended the 11 hour day at McDonalds (just outside USJ) for some normally priced food.
USJ lived up to everything I had hoped and dreamed! Just, unless you are very good at not getting dizzy, don’t go on the flying dinosaur.