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I know what brought you here. You want to know how to get inside The Wizarding World of Harry Potter (WWHP) attraction of the Universal Studios Japan, Osaka. But, this guide isn’t just for Harry Potter fans. I myself am somewhat indifferent to Harry Potter, but, I know there’s more to this attraction than simply being a magical place.
The Wizarding World attraction took over 3 years to build, and I’ve always wondered what could have caused the construction to go so long. Especially when you consider that Japanese construction companies are known for their speed. Well, it’s because everything was made with real materials, rather than just plastic and concrete. The pine trees and those huge rocks that you see from the entrance are all real. Thee Hogsmeade village itself has a real lived-in look and feel, utilizing materials such as artificially aged bricks, real wood, and rusty metals, these additions create a feeling of a living, breathing world rather than a simple attraction. My entire time spent in the Wizarding World felt as magical as the books/movies it’s based off of. The Hogsmeade Village was just so mesmerizing that I didn’t really want to leave.
I will try and stop talking about the WWHP attraction now. This guide has much more to get to after all. The guide should give you a good starting point in which to plan the ultimate USJ experience with your friends or family.
To use this guide you can navigate using the Table of Contents below.
- Timing Your Visit
- Common Terms Used
- Why you should not buy at the Ticket Booths at the Entrance Gates
- Where to buy USJ tickets
- Where to buy Express Pass tickets
- Getting to Universal Studio Japan Park
- A Muggle’s Guide to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter™
- My Top Attractions in the Wizarding World
- Exploring other USJ Attractions
- My Recommended Rides/Attraction
- Family Friendly Attractions
- How to Save Money at Universal Studios Japan
- Closing Summary
Timing Your Visit
A few minutes of planning, which I believe what you are doing now, and timing is key to fully experience USJ park. As with any popular tourist attraction, you can’t simply walk-in with a crowd of tens of thousands of people and expect to see and do all you want. You should also keep in mind the price of admission, as it can cost an arm and leg, so you want to do all you can to maximize your experience.
I found a website where you can check the congestion forecast of USJ park. However, the website is in Japanese, and not updated as regularly as it once was. But if you don’t want to deal with navigating a Japanese website and their confusing charts, I’ll just summarize them for you.
It really boils down to avoiding the following dates:
- Official and non-working holidays (visit the Time and Date website to check Japan’s holidays)
- Summer school break: late July – late August
- Spring school break: late February – late March
- Winter break: December 26 – January 6
- Golden Week: April 29 – May 5 (Just avoid leaving the house during this week really)
Whew. That’s a lot?
So, what’s really the best time to visit Universal Studios?
It’s during the start of school year which is from early April to June (with the exception of Golden Week) where Japanese students are all busy. Aside from that, the least congested months are from October to January, (with the exception of Winter break of course), but be sure to bundle up because the weather can be very cold, especially at night.
But what if you can only go during weekends and holidays? Well, that’s the essence of this guide. I’ll show you how you can make the most out of your USJ visit, based on my own personal experience.
Common Terms Used
Before we proceed, it’s important that you get you familiar with the terms that you might encounter while reading this USJ guide.
USJ Tickets or Admission tickets: 7,600 yen (67 USD)
This is the general ticket that you get to enter the park. It’s very important for you to know that USJ tickets are nonrefundable, no matter where you buy them. Important: USJ does not issue re-entry tickets or stamps. There’s no going back once you leave the park! Read how to buy your Universal Studios Japan tickets in advance.
Express Pass tickets allows you to skip the lines at the attractions inside the USJ Park. I highly recommend getting these, especially if you want to experience top attractions like The Forbidden Journey, and The Amazing Spiderman, which have by far the longest waiting times of between 2 to 3 hours on average. The only reason you wouldn’t want to get this is because of the price, which, for a family of 3 or more, can really add up. That said, I still feel that the price is worth it, because you don’t have to wait in hours long queues to experience the 5-10 minute 3D ride.
Personally, I purchased an Express Pass (through USJ website), and I can tell you it’s really worth it. Here’s the price for each Express Pass. There are two ways to buy Express Pass tickets.
The first is at the ticket booths at the entrance. This option isn’t recommended as they sell out very quickly, so arrive very early (around 6 a.m.) if you chose this option. The second is, from online travel websites like Voyagin. Voyagin sells all USJ’s Express Pass so be sure to check their Express Pass website here.
The downside to this is that it’s not an ‘unlimited’ Express Pass.
Example, if you’ve already used the Express Pass on Forbidden Journey, you can not go to the Express Pass lane of Forbidden Journey again. You will need to line up on the regular lane if you want to ride it again. If you want an Express Pass with Unlimited rides, consider getting the Royal Pass Ticket which is 24,100 – 36,700 yen (213 – 324 USD) per adult. Price varies depending on the day (still too expensive for me to ever want to buy) and can only be bought through Voyagin. YES It’s UNLIMITED RIDE!
Timed Entry Tickets
What is Timed Entry Tickets?
Because the Harry Potter attraction gets very crowded, USJ came up with a procedure to control the crowd. So visitors need Timed Entry tickets to enter the Harry Potter attraction. Without this ticket, you cannot enter the Harry Potter attraction. There are two ways to get Timed Entry Ticket. The first is, to get it from the Harry Potter ticket booth located at the Central Park of USJ for free.
Second is, by buying an Express Pass ticket (except for ‘Express® Pass 4 The Flying Dinosaur’ as it doesn’t include entrance to Harry Potter World) that includes Forbidden Journey ride. Buying an Express Pass will allow you to choose a time to enter the Harry Potter World.
The VIP wristband allows you to enter USJ park before the opening hours. VIP wristbands also allows you to enter The Wizarding World of Harry Potter even without the Timed Entry Tickets. But you have to be at the park as early as 8 a.m. VIP wristbands always comes with entrance ticket to Harukas 300 observatory tower. You have to go to the Harukas 300 to buy the VIP wristbands. Harukas 300 is on the 16th floor of Abeno Harukas building located in Tennoji Station. Buy your VIP wristband here.
Why you should not buy at the Ticket Booths at the Entrance Gates
The traditional way of getting the USJ tickets is also (unsurprisingly) the worst option — going on the day of your visit and buying it at the ticket booths at the entrance gates. I wouldn’t recommend you go through this. The entrance to USJ is always packed with people, no matter what time or day it is. Depending on the season, Universal Studios Japan opens at 8:30 a.m. – 9:00 a.m. and a pool of people will usually be in line as early as 7 a.m. just to buy the tickets. When I got to the park at around 8:15 a.m., the photo above was what I saw at the entrance.
It was only 8:15! I was surprised that in a country where everyone is perpetually connected to the internet, so many still rely on ticket booths. So, since the ticket booths are out of the equation, where should you buy your tickets?
Where to buy USJ tickets
Attention: For first-time users of Voyagin, you can save 10 USD when booking through Voyagin. Use coupon code: BOOTSVOYAGIN10OFF. Ends on 12/31/2017.
I actually created a separate blog post that is dedicated on how to buy your tickets. If you don’t want to open another page, I’ll just summarize it for you. For those who live overseas, you can buy your tickets either from the USJ website (an english version is available, but you can’t buy tickets from it), or from English travel concierge websites like Voyagin. Or, if you want a complete Universal Studios Japan package with hotel accommodation for the family, I recommended checking out Japanican. If you don’t want to deal with language barrier, and/or lack computer skills, buy your USJ tickets with them.
Regular lane with 2 hours waiting time.
No line at Express Pass lane of Jurassic Ride.
Where to buy Express Pass tickets
Again, there are two options. You can buy it through the Japanese website of Universal Studios or through Voyagin. Watch this video on how to navigate the Japanese USJ website and buy the Express Pass. On the video, instead of clicking the first icon, click the second with “PASS 365” for Express Pass.
Which Express Pass should you choose?
It depends on your preference and your budget. Here’s the price as of June 25, 2017.
- Express Pass 7 – 7,400 yen (65 USD)
- Express Pass 4 – 5,000 yen (44 USD)
Personally, I got the Express Pass 4 Standard because I was only interested in the Forbidden Journey Ride and The Amazing Adventures of Spiderman Ride. When I went there early this year, it was only 4,500 yen as opposed to the Express Pass 7 which is 6,900 yen. And because I live in Japan, I know that I will be back in USJ again. :-) If you’re simply visiting Japan, or just want to make the most out of your USJ experience, then get the Express Pass 7.
Please review all types of Express Passes here and click ‘more’ button for details.
Should you get Express Pass, VIP Wristbands, or both?
Again, it really depends on you and your budget.
Get the Express Pass if you want to skip the lines to ride attractions. If you are visiting during weekends and holidays though, it’s basically a requirement.
Get the VIP wristband if you have an extra day before your USJ visit (because you will have to go to Harukas 300 to get it) and if you are going to USJ park before its opening hours. Otherwise, it’s useless.
If I were to go to USJ again, I would just get an Express Pass without the VIP wristband, because I don’t really like waking up early. Besides, I’m not a youngster who likes running around just to get to an attraction. I’m getting old. I just want to relax. Buy your VIP Wristband here.
Getting to Universal Studio Japan Park
Traveling to Universal Studios Japan is super easy. Just get off at Universal City Station through the JR Yumesaki Line (which is covered by JR Pass). You will know that it’s the right train when it’s covered in Universal Studios Japan advertisements.
As I got out of the train station I walked through Universal CityWalk, which is sort of an entrance plaza to the Universal Studios Japan park. Although I haven’t been to Universal Orlando Resort, I felt like I was transported there for a short period of time. Several restaurants from Universal CityWalk Orlando can also be found here, such as Wolfgang Puck Pizza, Bubba Gump Shrimp, and many others. These restaurants look intimidating to go inside because you’ll know what price to expect. But, after a short walk I was transported out of Orlando, and back to USJ.
Since I already had the USJ tickets, Express Tickets, and VIP wristband, I proceeded to the Special Entry gate. The staff simply scanned the ticket on my phone and I was able to get through. It was only 8:15 a.m. and there were already large crowds of people inside. I believe they had VIP wristbands as well.
If you don’t have tickets, just to proceed to the ticket lines, and good luck.
A Muggle’s Guide to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter™
If you have an Express Pass
As I mentioned above, if you have an Express Pass ticket (with the Forbidden Journey Ride), it automatically gives you a time to enter the Harry Potter attraction. So when you finally enter the park, DON’T go to the WWHP yet. Just wait until it’s your turn to go inside.
Here’s a tip for you Harry Potter fans out there. While you are waiting to enter the Harry Potter world, go to the Timed Entry Ticket area, located in the Central Park, and get a second Timed Entry Ticket (if they’re available). You’ll want to do this so that you have another pass to enter the WWHP should you leave for any reason.
For example, say your Express Pass time to enter the WWHP is 10:30 – 11:20 am. While waiting for that time, you go get a second Timed Entry ticket for the afternoon or evening. This allows you to enter the WWHP twice. The first time you can go through and enjoy the Forbidden Journey ride, followed by a short jaunt around Hogsmeade Village. Afterwards, you can go enjoy the rest of USJ while waiting for the initial crowds to die down a bit, then return later in the afternoon, when (hopefully), it’s a bit easier to get around in the Village, and you can better enjoy your time there.
If you don’t have Express Pass
For those who don’t have Express Pass, that’s okay. Going to the WWHP attraction and riding the fantastic Forbidden Journey Ride is still possible, but isn’t guaranteed. Just remember this for next time, and book your USJ tickets in advance.
Once the gates to the Wizarding World are open, move quickly to the Forbidden Journey attraction as fast as you can. I know Hogsmeade is magical, but don’t fall into its spell yet. Don’t take photos, don’t buy butterbeer, don’t stop, just keep running. Run. Run to Hogwarts immediately and line up for the Forbidden Journey Ride. The waiting times can be 2-3 hours (or more) but that’s what you get from not getting an Express Pass. When you’re done with the Forbidden Journey Ride, that’s the time that you can start exploring the entire WWHP attraction. Go back to Hogsmeade, take photos, buy a wand at Ollivanders, check out some souvenirs from the Owl Post, buy a butterbeer at Hog’s Head Pub, etc.
Should you leave and want to enter the WWHP again, proceed back to the Harry Potter ticket booth located at the Central Park and get another Timed Entry ticket.
My Top Attractions in the Wizarding World
Ollivander’s Wand Shop
If you have children, go the Ollivanders Wand show and stand in front. Your kid may experience a familiar moment from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, when a wand chose Harry. A lucky guest (which is basically always a kid), is picked by Garrick Ollivander to receive his or her wand. After the experience is over, it’s up to the kid if he or she wants to guilt…eh, convince their parents into buying the wand that “chose them” for 4,000 – 4,500 yen. But really, how can you say no to their amazed face? When I was there to witness this experience, I couldn’t help myself, and found myself yelling, PICK ME, PICK ME! Along with all the children. Unfortunately it seems, the wand always choose a kid. :-(
Flight of the Hippogriff
I wasn’t able to try this ride because of the long line, and it wasn’t included on my Express Pass. But according to other blogs, it’s a really fun time. You’ll pass by Hagrid’s hut and follow instructions on how to engage with a Hippogriff before you are taken to the ride. A Hippogriff is a mythical creature that appeared in Harry Potter which was half eagle and half horse.
You need to buy a “Magical Wand” to cast spells in the village of Hogsmeade. A magic wand costs between 4,000 – 5,000 yen. You are also given a brochure on which locations you can use your wand to cast a spell. Usually, you can cast spells on stone walls, alleys, and shop windows around the Hogsmeade village. Casting a spell doesn’t always work so make sure to speak loud and clear when doing it. You can cast spells that create fire or levitate an object. Kids especially love this experience.
Forbidden Journey™ Ride
I can’t really put into words my experience with this ride. All I remember was having tears in my eyes throughout the 5-minute ride, because it was both scary and incredible. Harry Potter will guide you throughout the ride. You’ll tour the Hogwarts castle from the outside and also try to catch the Golden Snitch from the Quidditch match. Please don’t skip this ride. It was really awesome.
Photo op at Hogwarts Express
It’s really magical.
Get the cold butterbeer! Hot butterbeer is MEH. Also, it’s nonalcoholic :-(
Strange to hear them speaking Japanese live!
Combination of English and Japanese. But the two had fake British accents.
Exploring other USJ Attractions
After experiencing the WWHP, get out and explore the entire USJ area. You should download the USJ map here. It’s really up to you on how you want to prioritize your time within the park. Remember that Universal Studio Japan has only 8 mainstay attractions, and it is very easy to get around. It only took me 20 minutes to walk around the entire park. I was actually surprised to find out that it’s smaller than Tokyo Disneyland, since they pack so much into each of the attractions. These 8 attractions consist of:
- The Wizarding World of Harry Potter™
- Universal Wonderland
- New York
- San Francisco
- Jurassic Park
- Amity Village
There are also seasonal attractions called Universal Cool Japan, where 4-D and 3-D attractions are added to the park. For this year 2017, the Universal Cool Japan opens on January 13 – June 25 with the following attractions:
- Evangelion XR Ride
- Godzilla: The Real 4-D
- Attack on Titan: The Real
- Detective Conan: The Escape
- Monster Hunter: The Real
If you are visiting during the Universal Cool Japan period and plan on getting an Express Pass, make sure to carefully read on what’s included on your Express Pass to avoid disappointment. It’s also important to note that some attractions may be temporarily closed. You can check which attractions are temporarily closed here.
My Recommended Rides/Attraction
When you ride, you will always see sign boards with warning that it isn’t for people with heart problems and abnormal blood pressure. These rides are extreme and you should definitely heed the warnings before going. I really recommend the following 4K resolution 3D rides:
- The Forbidden Journey
- The Amazing Adventures of Spiderman Ride (New York)
If you like extreme rides:
- The Flying Dinosaur
- Flight of the Hippogriff
Family Friendly Attractions
Universal Studios Japan is a stroller-friendly and family-friendly place. For families with babies and small children, you are going to enjoy Universal Wonderland. This attraction has Family Service facilities where you can feed or breastfeed your babies privately. There are only two Family Service facilities in USJ. One is near the entrance gates, and the second one, is inside the Universal Wonderland attraction.
Families with babies or small children also benefit from the Child Switch System. The Japanese translation is a bit confusing, but basically, this system allows for parents or guardians with children too small for certain rides to “swap out” (one rides while the other waits, then swaps) without having to wait in line twice. Most ride attractions utilize the Child Switch System.
There are also Pram parking at each ride attraction so you are free to park your strollers. Don’t worry, Japan is ridiculously safe. You have a better chance of forgetting your stroller than someone actually stealing anything from it. In fact, if you did forget your stroller, someone would most likely return it to you at some point.
How to Save Money at Universal Studios Japan
You know that going to an amusement park like USJ is expensive. But there are several ways on how to enjoy USJ cheap.
Japanese amusement parks almost always have afternoon discount passes. With USJ, the afternoon pass is called Twilight Pass. Depending on the day, you can get the Twilight Pass for 1,300 – 1,500 yen less than the 1-day Studio Pass. This is a deal if you just want a glimpse of Universal Studios Japan at night; which is very nice by the way. This type of pass is not advertised on either the japanese or english USJ websites. So to get this, you just have to be at the ticket booth of the park by 3 p.m.
The Twilight Pass is a great option if you are visiting during the off-season, or less congested months. When I went on January 7th, I noticed the crowd started to thin in the afternoon as people started to go home around 4 p.m. Probably because it was getting cold. When I walked around the park I noticed that the lines to popular attractions like, The Amazing Spiderman and Backdrop, waiting times shortened to 1 hour or less. However, if you have Twilight Pass, you cannot use the Express Pass of some attractions because most close early. So, if you still want to go to WWHP with the Twilight Pass, just hurry to the Central Park and the Harry Potter Ticket Machine to get your Timed Entry Tickets to ride the Forbidden Journey. Hopefully there are still some slots left.
If have are registered to the Japanese website of USJ, register your entire family and their birthdates. The Birthday Discount is 500 less than the regular ticket, which is applicable to entire family. You can buy the Birthday Discount Ticket online, but again, it’s all in Japanese. The ticket is valid from your birthday month, until the end of the next month. Example, if your birthday is September 22, then your USJ ticket is valid from September 1 – October 30, and your whole family will get a discount too. If you need further help, I’d suggest asking for help from a Japanese friend.
Bring Your Own Food
Technically, bringing your own food inside the park is not allowed. But due to long lines at the entrance gates, staff don’t check many bags anymore. Just make sure to put your food on the very bottom of your bag, just in case the staff chose you.
I personally don’t like eating at restaurants inside amusement parks. It’s pricey and usually pretty bland. However, common amusement park foods like churros, turkey leg, and caramel popcorn are all very good. Be warned, I ate at the Happiness Bar restaurant, at Minion park, and the food was disgusting. Don’t order carbonara from them. The food looks cute because it has minion characters, but it was terrible. :-(
If I were to visit USJ again, I would probably bring onigiri or a bento and eat them at the benches scattered around the park, and just save money for a turkey leg and churros. For dinner, restaurants in the Universal CityWalk are worth trying which is outside USJ, but remember, unlike most American amusement parks, there’s no going back in once you leave the park.
Raincoats and Towels
Raincoats are preferred than umbrellas if you are visiting during rainy days. There are also several attractions that have splash zones, like Jaws, The Jurassic Ride, and the Waterworld Show. If you plan on taking those rides, buy a raincoat from 100 yen stores before you go inside the USJ. The raincoat from the vending machines inside USJ is 400 yen which can be expensive for the entire family.
To maximize your time inside the USJ Park:
- Plan when you’re visiting. Avoid weekends and holidays.
- Buy your USJ tickets and Express Pass tickets in advance. Buy an Express Pass ticket when visiting during congested months.
- Arrive at the park early.
- Visit the Wizarding World of Harry Potter™.
- Visit other attractions to use the rest of your Express Pass.
- Try turkey leg and churros!
Please leave your comments below if you have any questions.