UNIVERSAL STUDIOS JAPAN
Universal Studios Japan (JR Universal City Station) is second largest drawing theme park in Japan after Tokyo Disneyland and DisneySea and is the fifth largest in the world. Opened in 2001, it features rides and attractions as well as animated stars like Snoopy, the Pink Panther, Hello Kitty and Winnie and Woody Woodpecker, and is modeled after the two other Universal Studios, the one in Hollywood, which opened in 1964, and the one in Orlando, Florida, which opened in 1990, and have attracted hundreds of millions visitors.
Universal Studios Japan (USJ) was built on a 54-hectare (130-acre) site in the waterfront area of Osaka at a cost of $1.4 billion. Owned by Universal, which is part of the French conglomerate Vivendi, the Osaka government and a group of 44 businesses, it boasts 18 television- and film-inspired attractions, 21 restaurants and 24 stores. Among the 3,000 employees that work on given day are 300 mostly American stuntmen and actors who shout out English lines. The attractions are arranged in nine areas, with a tenth area, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, added in 2014.
Universal Studios spent a great deal of time and money trying to figure out what Japanese audience wanted and as a result toned down the violence in some of the live-action shows, dressed Snoopy in a kimono, made sure the water rides didn’t get people wet and gave people raincoats anyway, wrapped gifts in the Japanese way and provided snacks like bean-paste sweets shaped liked dinosaurs for people with Japanese tastes who want an American experience.
Organization of Universal Studios Japan: Universal Studios Japan is divided into sections, which are based on U.S. cities or popular Universal movies. In the San Francisco section you can see the Empire Hotel from “Vertigo” , where Scottie was haunted by his memories of Madeline. In the New York section of the park you can see the offices of the Daily Planet, where Clark Kent and Lois Lane worked; the balcony from “West Side Story” , where Maria was romanced by Tony; Louie's restaurant from “The Godfather”, where Michael Corleone avenged the assassination attempt on his father. In Los Angeles and Hollywood you can visit Rodeo Drive and order and a burger and shake at Mel's Dinner from “American Graffiti”.
Universal Studios Japan Business
Universal Studios Japan was a big success its first year. It attracted 11 million visitors, or about 25,000 a day, three million more than had been projected. The second year the number of visitors fell to 3.4 million as the park suffered from word of mouth that it was last year’s thing. It was also hurt by reports that the water in the water fountains was contaminated, that the restaurant food had expired ingredient and illegal amounts of fireworks were used in the “Hollywood Magic” show. In an effort to turn things around the president was fired and surveys were taken that showed that women and children were most likely to be repeat customers, not teenagers, and the parades and attractions were altered to be oriented towards them. USJ turned a profit in 2007. It had 8.7 million visitors and revenues of about $650 million in 2007 and around 8 to 9 million visitors in 2008-2012.
About 14 million people a year visited Universal Studios Japan in 2016, 2017 and 2018. In 2014 the number of visitors exceeded 11 million for the first time since 2001. The popularity of attractions in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter area, which opened in 2014, was credited with the rise in visitors. The yen’s depreciation helped bring in tourists from abroad and special tickets sold in a tie-up with West Japan Railway Co., or JR West also helped.
As of early 2009 USJ was 40 percent owned by a Goldman Sach’s holding company. In March 2009, the remaining 60 percent USJ was sold to a consortium led by Goldman Sachs for $1.2 billion. The deal gave Goldman Sachs 61.2 percent of USJ and its partners MBK Partners, 23.6 percent and Owl Creek Asset Management 15.1 percent. Website: USJ Official Site usj.co.jp
In 2004, a 35-year-old woman injured on the ET attraction was given a $14 million out-of-court settlement. The woman suffered from damage to her nerves in her arm muscles and wrists when her wrists got caught in safety bar pulled down by an employee.
Rides at Universal Studios Japan
Rides and Attractions at at Universal Studios Japan include: 1) Hollywood: Cinema 4-D Theater, The former E.T. Adventure, Shrek 4-D, Sesame Street 4-D Movie Magic, Universal Monsters Live Rock and Roll Show, Hollywood Dream – The Ride, Space Fantasy – The Ride; 2) New York City: The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man: The Ride, T2-3D: Battle Across Time; 3) San Francisco; Backdraft, Minion Park, Despicable Me Minion Mayhem, Freeze Ray Sliders; 4) Jurassic Park and Jaws: Jurassic Park: The Ride, The Flying Dinosaur, Amity Village, Inspired by Steven Spielberg's Jaws. The “Jaws” boat ride, like the one at other Universal Studios, through is model of the bay where the film was set with a large shark popping up at unexpected places. Universal Wonderland is a section aimed at children and families. Opened in March 2012, it contains three themed sub-zones including Snoopy Studios, Hello Kitty's Fashion Avenue, and Sesame Street Fun Zone with Snoopy's Great Race, The Flying Snoopy, Hello Kitty's Cupcake Dream, Hello Kitty's Ribbon Collection, Elmo's Bubble Bubble, Abby's Magical Party, Moppy's Lucky Dance Party, Big Bird's Big Nest and Grover's Construction Company.
Also worth checking out are “Backdraft”, a live action show with firefighter-stuntmen and a lot of fire and explosions; “Waterworld”, another live action show, with stuntmen fighting each other on jet skis and diving from great heights. “Jurassic Park” is a boat ride past with computer-operated dinosaurs that finishes with 25-meter drop into a lagoon. For a long time Terminator 2-3D in New York was the park's most popular attraction. It is a live-action and 3-D film show featuring takes offs of scenes and characters from “Terminator 2: Judgement Day”. Set in a future wasteland, the Swarzenagger cyborg saves humanity from a company intent on blowing up the world. It is the first attraction of its kind in the world, and was one the most expensive. It cost $70 million. Every night there is a fireworks show above the lagoon. To attract repeat customers the park sponsors special events like a Hollywood-style Christmas celebration and a Halloween parade for kids.
The rides and attractions have changed. Popular attractions that are now gone include ET Adventure, Motion Picture Magic, with scenes from Universal's most famous films shown on three large screens and narrated by Steven Spielberg; and “Back to the Future”, a high-speed virtual reality trip in a souped up DeLorean;
Harry Potter Theme Area at USJ
The US$400 million Wizarding World of Harry Potter, featuring a unique recreation of Hogwarts Castle and the Black Lake, opened at Universal Studios Japan in 2014 with the hope it would bring an additional 2 million visitors to the Osaka theme park When it opened Julian Ryall wrote in The Telegraph: “The Wizarding World of Harry Potter opened at Universal Studios Japan, with stars of the Harry Potter films taking part in the opening ceremony. Tom Felton, who plays Draco Malfoy, and Evanna Lynch, who is Luna Lovegood in the big-screen productions, welcomed the first 300 specially selected visitors to the attraction by casting a spell. "I'm glad that the excitement of Harry Potter is not stopping," Ms Lynch said. J.K. Rowling, the author of the Harry Potter books, reportedly visited the park the day before the official opening with her family. [Source: Julian Ryall, The Telegraph, January 24, 2014]
“The £260 million attraction covers nine acres within the theme park...The Wizarding World of Harry Potter includes a vast recreation of Hogwarts Castle, complete with talking portraits on the walls, the Flight of the Hippogriff roller-coaster, which dives past Hagrid’s hut, and The Three Broomsticks tavern, a favourite with teachers at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.”
The village of Hogsmeade has an array of shops selling Harry Potter-themed souvenirs, including wands, chocolate frogs and Hogwarts school uniforms. The attraction also has a recreation of the Black Lake and live owls.The Harry Potter books have been hugely popular in Japan, while the first movie in the franchise – Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone – is the fourth-highest grossing movie of all time in Japan. It took around £117 million at today’s exchange rates and was only recently overtaken for third spot on the list by Disney’s Frozen.
Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey was named the the world’s number one ride for five consecutive years, and received the Golden Ticket Awards for "Best Dark Ride" and the Thea "Outstanding Achievement Award". The ride takes guests through scenes and environments in and around Hogwarts Castle from the Harry Potter series of books and films. It begins with a dousing of Floo Powder from Hermione Granger, who asks the guests to say, "Observatory" and the enchanted bench flies off through the Floo Network to the Astronomy Tower and guests leave the room of requirement through its fireplace and enter the Observatory, where they look out through the open arches to the hills and lake outside Hogwarts' boundary. As the guests fly out of one of the Observatory's arches, the ride smoothly switches to a wrap-around projection screen and they follow Harry Potter and Ron Weasley around Hogwarts' buildings. Later, The riders descend into a set of the Forbidden Forest where they encounter a figure of Aragog, a large, sentient spider who spits water at them. As Hermione tries to help the riders away from Aragog and towards the castle, encountering many spiders on the way, they encounter an animatronic Whomping Willow which swipes at them, The ride ends when the guests fly over the Black Lake, back into Hogwarts and through the Main Hall and Grand Staircase, where they are cheered on by a series of onscreen characters from the movies who appear three-dimensional.
Flight of the Hippogriff is a junior roller coaster. he cars then travel over a track, to the top of the lift, where riders have a full aerial view of The Wizarding World, and then dropped through various dips and turns around Hogwarts Grounds. At Hogwarts castle you can explore the classrooms and corridors of the school and see Dumbledore's office and the Defence Against the Dark Arts. At Wand Magic You can really cast spells at the window, the stone walls and even at the back alley! Speak slowly and wave your wand. Suddenly snow will start to fall and water will overflow from a large cauldron It may not work at first, but if you keep practicing, you're sure to see results.
Tickets, Shopping and Getting to Universal Studios Japan
A full day pass is ¥7,800 with tax for adults and children 12 and over, ¥5,400 with tax for children 4 to 11; and ¥6,445 for seniors. A two day pass is ¥15,400 with tax for adults and children 12 and over, ¥10,400 with tax for children 4 to 11; and ¥6,445 for seniors. There are discount passes for groups and people with disabilities. There are also yearly passes.
The waits for some of the attractions — including a replica of a great white shark that people like to be photographed next to — can be long. To help speed things along, Universal Express Passes, that allow people to enter attractions at a designated time with a minimum of waiting, can be obtained at kiosks for selected attractions. The only problem is that you have to wait at the kiosks to get the Universal Express Passes.
Universal Studios Japan can be reached by a direct JR train from Osaka Station, or the JR Osaka Loop Line or Aqua buses from Tempozan. There are plenty places to buy souvenirs and purchase mainly American style food. Universal CityWalk Osaka is a shopping arcade between the subway station and the Universal Studio entrance. It features an HMV, Bennetton, and Wolfgang Puck's Café.
Osaka Aquarium (five minute walk from Osakako Station of the subway Chuo Line) is one of the world’s largest aquarium. It is a vast modern facility with a huge tank containing the world's only pair of captive whale sharks, and 18 smaller tanks, arranged accord to areas, like the Great Barrier Reef and Sea of Japan, with 35,000 sea creatures of 580 different species. The giant crabs are awesome. Other stars are the ocean sunfish, sea otters, penguins and dolphins. There is an indoor tropical rain forest and presentations in both English and Japanese.
The male and female whale sharks, named Kay-kun and Yu-chan, are impressive sights but it is little sad seeing them living in such a small place. Efforts to mate the whale sharks have been unsuccessful. The male shark is 4.5 meters long, weighs about a ton and is believed to be about nine or ten years old. He was caught in a net off the coast of Tosashimizu.
The tour begin with a walk through the 11-meter-long Tunnel Tank filled with reef fish and some small meter-long hammerhead sharks. After that you take a long escalator ride to the seventh floor and being working you way down stopping at tanks and aquariums themed by geographical location, starting with 1) the Japan Forest with otters, giant salamanders and trout; followed by 2) the Aleutian Islands, featuring sea otters; 3) Monterey Bay with harbor seals and California sea lions; 4) the Gulf of Panama, with porcupine fish and red-footed tortoises; 5) the Ecuador Rain Forest with capybaras, piranhas and giant freshwater fish such as the piraruca.
In 6) the Antarctica ection there are Adelie penguins, King penguins and Gentoo penguins. In 7) the Great Barrier Reef there are dozens of different kinds of reef fish including butterflyfish and angelfish as well corals, sea urchins and sea anemone. In the 10) Sento Inland Sea you can see octopus and lobster. 12) The Coast of Chile features Japanese anchovies. In the 13) Cook Strain there are porcupine fish and loggerhead turtles. The 9) Pacific Ocean is the aquarium’s huge central tank. Here you can see the two whale sharks as well as manta rays, zebra sharks, bubble-headed maori wrasses, mola mola, spinetail mobula, snub-nosed pompano and at least a half dozen other kinds of sharks. There are special sections with tanks full of different kinds of jellyfish and clownfish. In Japan Deep there are dozens of giant spider crabs.
Near Osaka Aquarium is the Tempozan Harbor Village, a popular waterfront district embracing the restaurants and shops of Tempozan Market Palace. You can also find Tempozan Contemporary Museum, with displays of holographic art and optical illusions. Near the Aquarium is the Tempozan Giant Ferris Wheel and the Suntory Museum with a 3-D IMAX Theater, Sightseeing tours are offered in motorized Santa Maria, Captain Line shuttle boats connect the Aquarium area with Universal Studios Japan, Website: Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan Official Site kaiyukan.com
Osaka Expo City
Osaka Expo City (in Suita, Bampaku-kinenkoen Station on the Osaka Monorail) is one of the largest entertainment complexes in Japan. Among the first things that will catch your attention are big Pikachu statue in the Pokemon Gym and also two Gundam robots in fighting positions located right in front of the Gundam Café. Expocity is located on a site spread out over approximately 172,000 square meters and five minutes from Banpaku Expo Park.It is a large-scale, mixed-use complex fusing entertainment and shopping centered around Mitsui Shopping Park LaLaport. There are eight large-scale entertainment facilities and 305 stores.
Nifrel is the first building on the left as you arrived at the Osaka Expocity. This is actually an aquarium and the company managing this place is Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan. It displays land and sea creatures and features a white tiger. The entrance fee is 1900 yen, slightly cheaper than Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan, but still pretty steep.
Pokemon ExpoGym (next to Nifrel) is the first of its kind. You can enter the shop and cafe areas for free. The shop is similar to other Pokemon Stores, with an array of Pokemon stuff. If you are interested in working out in this gym, you must first purchase the Pokemon Gym Expo Pass which costs 500 yen (you only need to purchase this pass once) . In addition, you have to pay the entrance fee to visit the gym.
Anipo is a small outdoor animal-themed amusement area mainly for children. There are some rides for children and rides parents and children can do together. Osaka English Village is aimed at giving visitors an overseas experience without traveling overseas It includes a Dinosaur Park, Native American Village and Times Square area.
RedHorse Osaka Wheel houses the biggest Ferris wheel in Japan as well as the official shop and restaurant, Redhorse Marumie Plaza. The Ferris wheel is over 120 meters tall. Orbi Osaka is an entertainment area created by Sega, one of the well-known entertainment companies in Japan, in collaboration with UK’s BBC Earth. There are theater and entertainment exhibitions available to experience the wonders of nature. Orbi opened in 2016.
109 Cinema is a shopping complex with movie theater. The theater has 4DX motion chairs with multisensor effects. The IMAX theater has next-generation laser projection and superb sound quality as well as having the largest screen in Japan! The 109 shopping complex is inspired by the kawaii-cute mecca, 109 in Shinjuku, LaLaport ExpoCity is another shopping complex with a Tsutaya bookstore, EdiOn electronics store, popular clothes brands such as UniQlo, Muji, Zara, Daiso 100yen store and Kiddyland. There is a theme area dedicated to “Shaun the Sheep”. Here, you can enjoy the farm world of Shaun and his friends. There are two sections: Shaun Family Farm and Workshop area. Both sections require different entrance fees, so be careful when you pay for one.
Location: 565-0826 2-1 Senribampakukoen, Suita-shi, Osaka, Tel: 06-6170-5590, Fax: 06-6170-5591. Hours Open: most places 10:00-9:00pm. Getting There: You can the Osaka monorail and get off at Banpaku Kinen Koen station, or take the bus from JR Ibaraki station and get off at the Expocity Mae bus stop. Website: expocity-mf.com
River, Canal and Bay Cruises in Osaka
Osaka has many rivers and canals. According to one estimate they make up over 10 percent of the area of the city.Boyé Lafayette De Mente wrote in Japan Today: During the Tokugawa Shogunate (1603-1867), Osaka’s transportation needs were served by a fleet of river and canal boats that were owned and operated by families. The whole network was taken over by the city government in 1907 and turned into a public transportation system. During its peak the system had 31 piers in key areas of the city. [Source: Boyé Lafayette De Mente, Japan Today, August 7, 2011].
Today Osaka “is served by eight piers and a number of private riverboat companies as well as the public company. Passage on the city-operated river boats is free, and they average over two million passengers each year Each July Osakans stage the Tenjin Matsuri, one of Japan’s three largest and most famous festivals, that is designed to celebrate the city’s rivers and canals. Activities include huge fireworks displays, traditional dancing on the river boats and bonfires on river floats.
There are a number of water bus tours in Osaka and even a ride on an amphibious bus called the Osaka Duck Tours of the Okawa river in the area of Kemasakuranomiya Park are offered in this amphibious bus with tires for land and screws for water propulsion. According to to wow-j.com: “There's certainly a lot of merit in water buses especially for people who want to comfortably roam around the sightseeing area without struggling with a crowd of people. There are a lot of buses that you'd have fun riding on like amphibious water buses and dinner cruises while looking at the night sky. [Source: wow-j.com, February 8, 2016]
Osaka Duck Tour is a tour which uses an amphibious bus. Equipped with wheels and propellers, it can accommodate 40 people and can navigate in land or water. It departs from Tenmabashi's "Kawanoeki Hachikenya," passes by Osaka prefectural office and in front of Osaka Castle among others, and immediately rushes from Sakuranomiya Park, famous for its Sakura, to Okawa!! The moment when you get out of land and into water exudes a mysterious feeling. The bus goes on a round trip on water until "Kawanoeki Hachikenya." The tour takes about 75 minutes before it returns to its departure point passing by the Japan Mint via land again after returning to Sakuranomiya Park. You won't notice that the time has already passed from listening to the pleasant guide talk about Osaka inside the vehicle. Fees: ¥3,400 for adults; ¥2,200 for children (Elementary and below); ¥500 for Infants (2 years old and younger).
Captain Line is a 10-minute cruise one-way “that goes around Mount Tenpo and Universal City. The first floor seats are on three sides which is hidden by a large clear glass which makes it perfect for people who want to enjoy the scenery. The second floor is an open deck where you can enjoy the sea breeze and panoramic scenery. In addition, the cruise adopts a rare style with its crew members being the first all-women crew. The passenger ticket is really convenient as it comes with special discounts to Osaka Aquarium. One-Way Fee: ¥700 for adults; ¥400 for children (Elementary school age); ¥300 forsmall children (4 to 6 years old). The round-trip ticket for adults is ¥1,300.
Ofune-Camome is a sightseeing boat that offers from a number of itineraries, taking in sightseeing spots, urban architecture and bridges, night views and more. A once-weekly sake tasting course allows passengers to savor Japan’s national beverage while on board, while other seasonal courses feature cherry-blossom viewing, traditional tea ceremony and other uniquely Japanese experiences. For a river cruise in comfort, reserve online in English. Location: 60 Hachikenyahama 1-1 Tenmabashikyo-machi, Chuo-ku, Osaka-shi, Osaka Website: ofune-camome.ne Ofune Camome
Osaka Suijo Water Buses and Aqualiner
Osaka Suijo Bus conducts 60 minute river cruises from Osakajo Pier and other locations around the city, offering views of Osaka castle and Nakoanoshima, the city’s economic and cultural center. Boyé Lafayette De Mente wrote in Japan Today: Osaka Suijyo Bus Ltd is the largest of the privately-owned waterbus services. It offers a variety of regular cruises on boats of different sizes and amenities, as well as charter boats for individual trips that take in different areas and attractions in the city. [Source: Boyé Lafayette De Mente, Japan Today, August 7, 2011].
According to to wow-j.com: The gourmet and music boat "Himawari" is a similar water bus which operates in Osaka wherein you can enjoy dishes from the Imperial Hotel and live piano performances. The water bus departs from the OAP port, which is directly near the Imperial Hotel, and then it sails through Osaka's main river and returns to the same port. In this cruise, the water bus sails 3 times in 1 day during lunch (11:30 am-12:50 pm), afternoon tea (3:30 pm-4:20 pm) and dinnertime (7:00 pm-8:30 pm) . The course exudes a romantic feeling while enjoying the bridge with its lights turned on and the night view of Osaka during the dinner cruise.
The Aqua Liner offers a 60 minute boat tour on the Yodo River, which includes views of the Osaka Castle, Town Towers and Nakaonshima Park. It departs from Temmabashi Pier and Yodoyabashi Pier. Boyé Lafayette De Mente wrote in Japan Today: The glass-covered Osaka Aqua-Liner is one of its most popular boats for visitors because it takes in an impressive list of the city’s attractions, from shopping and entertainment districts and Osaka Castle (constructed in 1583) to the famous Nakanoshima [Interior Island] business district. Its home-base pier is near the huge castle[Source: Boyé Lafayette De Mente, Japan Today, August 7, 2011].
According to to wow-j.com: The course called "Osaka Castle / Nakanoshima Tour," which goes around Okawa (previously Yodogawa) wherein you can appreciate its seasonal appearance, takes about one hour and passes by several famous places and historical spots such as the Osaka Castle, Japan Mint and Central Public Hall among others. There are 4 riding points (Osaka Castle port, Hachikenyahama dock, Yodoyabashi port and OAP port) and regardless of where you ride, you can always return to your original port or you may get off at any port along the way. You can easily challenge it since it's just 1 hour away from each station. There's also a flower-viewing boat and an event cruise! Fee: ¥1,700 for adults and students middle school age and older; ¥850 for elementary school age children.
Story-Telling Osaka Bay Cruise on the Santa Maria
The Osaka Bay Cruise on the Santa Maria departs from Tempozan Harbor Village. Boyé Lafayette De Mente wrote in Japan Today: “One of Osaka Suijyo’s river boats is patterned after the Santa Maria that Columbus sailed to the New World in 1492. Entertainment on the Naniwa Tanken Cruise includes story-telling by a rakugo artists—a form of story-telling that goes back hundreds of years. Other sites on the river and canal cruises include famous temples including the Shitennoji, Japan’s oldest Buddhist temple and landscaped gardens that date from the 7th and 8th centuries, world-class museums, and an aquarium that houses denizens of the Pacific Rim waters.[Source: Boyé Lafayette De Mente, Japan Today, August 7, 2011].
According to to wow-j.com: "Naniwa Tanken Cruise," offered by Ipponmatsu Shipping Co., Ltd., is an authentic Osaka cruise because of its pro rakugoka on board, who combines both art and jokes while being a guide. You'd have fun listening to their clever and rhythmic narration even if you don't understand Japanese well. In addition you will be able to full enjoy Nankintamasudare and Shamisen among other Japanese performances which are rarely seen. Your fun will double if you download beforehand the English and Chinese version of their pamphlet from their official webpage. There are 3 boarding areas: Universal City Port near USJ, Minato dock near Nanba station and Tazaemonbashi. Fee: ¥3,000 for adulys and middle school students and older; ¥1,000 for elementary school age children) [Source: wow-j.com, February 8, 2016]
Image Sources: 1) 2) 5) Ray Kinnane 3) 7) 9) Wikipedia 4) 6) 8) Osaka Visitor's Guide
Text Sources: JNTO (Japan National Tourist Organization), Japan.org, Japan News, Japan Times, Yomiuri Shimbun, Japan Ministry of the Environment, UNESCO, Japan Guide website, Lonely Planet guides, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Bloomberg, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Compton's Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.
Updated in July 2020