Osaka

The ultimate guide to Universal Studios Japan (2024)

Universal Studios Japan (USJ) is an absolute must-visit for any theme park enthusiast. With its exciting attractions, unique experiences, and famous characters, it’s a destination that promises fun for all ages. From thrill-seekers to Harry Potter fans, there’s something for everyone. To help you make the most of your visit, we’ve put together this ultimate guide filled with tips and insights from our adventure at Universal Studios Japan!

Before your actual visit

Buy tickets in advance

One of the first things you’ll want to do is purchase your tickets ahead of time. This not only saves you time but also guarantees your entry on your chosen day. There are two main ticket types. Park entry tickets are called Studio Passes, whereas Express Passes can be bought additionally to shorten the waiting time for attractions. You do not need both, as the Studio Pass alone will give you access to all the rides and attractions – you just might have to queue for a while. Both passes go on sale two months prior to the date of use, and we highly recommend checking from the day they become available.

Studio Pass

The Studio Pass gives access to all rides, but there’s one major exception to this statement: entry to Super Nintendo World (SNW). Paid options to get access to SNW are an ‘Area Timed Entry Ticket: Advance Booking’ or a ‘Universal Express Pass with an Area Timed Entry Ticket: Advance Booking’. If you did not buy any of these two passes, you can still get in by obtaining an ‘Area Timed Entry Ticket’ on the day using the official Universal Studios Japan app. This was a bit confusing to us at first, too, so we’ll try to make it a bit more clear. Whilst the Studio Pass does give you access to all the rides in SNW, you can’t enter the area without any of the passes mentioned.

Universal Express Pass

The Universal Express Pass shortens your waiting time for designated popular attractions. Some Express Passes also include a timed entry ticket to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter or Super Nintendo World to guarantee your entry on the day. Express Passes can only be used to access the Express Pass Lane once per ride, no multiple rides allowed. And remember: Express Pass is an add-on only. You’ll need to buy Studio Passes for general access first.

How to buy tickets

We used the official Universal Studios Japan website for our ticket purchases, but there are also reliable third-party sellers like Klook and GetYourGuide. Prices between the official websites and third party sellers are generally consistent, so choose the platform that suits you best (and one that still has availability for your dates). Because we heard that USJ can get quite busy, we went for the Express Pass 7. We paid around 30,000 yen each (€ 175), a splurge but very much worth it for us! Also, we read that some people encounter issues with foreign credit cards on the official site, similar to what happened to us when buying tickets for DisneySea. If this happens to you, official partners like GetYourGuide and Klook are safe alternatives.

Interested to know how much we spent during our trip to Japan? Check out our Japan Budget Breakdown for three weeks in Japan.

Download the official USJ app

Just like with any major theme park, the official USJ app is a game-changer. It provides a park map, real-time wait times for rides, show schedules (if applicable), and dining options. The app also lets you access Express Passes and you can use it to obtain an ‘Area Timed Entry Ticket’ for Super Nintendo World and the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Our Express 7 Pass included timed entry to both, although we never had to use the one for Harry Potter. Super Nintendo World, however, was a completely different story! If you don’t plan on buying any Express Passes, then make sure to arrive at the park early in order to get your hands on a Timed Entry Ticket for Super Nintendo World. These tickets are limited and become unavailable in no-time!

Plan your route to USJ

Knowing how to get to USJ from your accommodation will save you a lot of hassle on the day. If you are staying in Osaka, the journey to the park is quite straightforward. From Osaka Station City, take the Osaka loop line to Nishikujo Station. Then take the Sakurajima line (also known as Yumesaki line) to Universal-City Station. Once there, Universal Studios Japan is under a 5-minute walk. The whole trip takes less than 15 minutes, and several trains run per hour. Another bonus is that the whole trip is fully covered by the JR Pass. If you don’t have one, the train tickets will be about 180 yen (€ 1).

We made the mistake of buying tickets for USJ when we were in Kyoto instead of Osaka. Luckily, getting to Universal Studios Japan from Kyoto wasn’t that bad. The whole trip took us around 45 minutes and was fully covered by the JR Pass (bar one Kyoto metro ride). So, if you find yourself in Kyoto rather than Osaka before your trip to USJ, don’t panic! It only takes about half an hour longer to get there compared to when you’re departing from Osaka.

Are you looking into the JR Pass? Check out our comprehensive guide to the JR Pass to find out if the JR Pass is still worth it for you in 2024.

The day of your visit: without Universal Express Pass

We’ll first discuss the optimal itinerary for people that don’t want to spend money in this Universal Studios Japan Guide. Then, we’ll discuss the order of rides we went on with our Express Pass 7, which allowed us to go on all Super Nintendo World and Harry Potter rides without waiting times.

Arrive early

Universal Studios Japan guide

Arriving early is key to making the most of your day at USJ. The park officially opens at 9 AM, but in reality they open the doors way before that. Even though we had Express Passes, we still wanted to be there early so that we could make the most of our time. We arrived around 7 AM, and there were already a lot of people queuing up. Whether you’ve purchased Express Passes or not, try to arrive before 7.30 AM. Being early means you can head straight to the most popular attractions with minimal wait times. The gates open between 8 and 8:30 AM, which means you’ll be able to enter the park an hour before the official opening time.

Head to Super Nintendo World

Universal Studios Japan guide: Super Nintendo World

As soon as the gates open, make a beeline for Super Nintendo World. This area gets incredibly busy, and it’s best to experience it early in the day. By doing it this way, there’s a (small) chance that you don’t even need Timed Entry tickets. Of course, it’s still wise to check the app for Timed Entry tickets so now would be the time to do that. Remember, these tickets run out fast!

If you’re a fan of Mario and other Nintendo characters, this area will blow your mind. But even casual enjoyers will have tons of fun in this place. You’ll feel like you’re in an actual video game! And about the rides, we absolutely loved Mario Kart: Koopa’s Challenge! Yoshi’s Adventure is a very slow kids ride, we only recommend going on the ride if (1) you have children, (2) are big Mario fans, (3) it’s included in your Express Pass, or (4) when waiting times are reasonable (under 45 minutes).

There are also power-up bands available for purchase that allow you to interact with the park. Think of collecting digital coins and keys, or completing challenges. Also, try to get a reservation for Kinopio’s Cafe. It’s the absolute restaurant hotspot of the park!

Disclaimer
When we visited Universal Studios Japan in May 2024, Donkey Kong Country was not yet open to the public. When this happens, make sure to set away even more time to explore all Mario has to offer.

Add some magic to your day

Wizarding World of Harry Potter

Next up is Harry Potter, our favorite area of the whole park! You can already feel the magic when you’re walking up to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. You’re completely surrounded by trees on the way there, and at one point you’ll even come across the baby blue Ford Anglia!

The main attractions here are Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, and Flight of the Hippogriff. Our favorite out of the two is definitely the Forbidden Journey, so we recommend queueing up for this one first. You won’t regret it! The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is, of course, much more than just its rides. That’s why we took some (a lot of) time to explore Hogsmeade, try butterbeer, and check out the many performances they do throughout the day. Also, now would be the time to buy some souvenirs and candy. Lastly, make sure to go to the toilets here at least once as they are in true Harry Potter fashion.

Lunchtime

SAIDO

It’ll probably be lunchtime by now, preferably even some time before lunchtime. Reason for this is that wait times for the most popular rides drop down a lot between noon and 2 PM. By having an early lunch, you can enjoy the rest of the rides without waiting (too long). Want some recommendations? Louie’s N.Y. Pizza Parlor sells great… pizzas, and SAIDO is the perfect place if you’re looking for a Japanese lunch.

Dinosaurs and thrills

Next on the list is Jurassic Park, where you can find the most thrilling ride we’ve ever been on. The Flying Dinosaur is the fastest, most exciting ride of the whole park. Oh, did we forget to say you’ll be hanging laterally for the whole three minutes of the ride? We were so nauseous when we got out! Still worth it though. 😉

Pro tip
If you don’t mind riding separately from your group, single rider lines can significantly reduce your wait times. Single rider is available for tons of rides, including “Hollywood Dream – The Ride” and “The Flying Dinosaur”.

In this area you can also find Jurassic Park: The Ride, although when we visited USJ in May 2024 it was still under construction. Construction for this ride is scheduled for completion in 2025, so until then you won’t be able to go on it. You can always check the official website regarding temporary or even permanent closures of rides and shows.

Showtime

A visit to Universal Studios is not complete without visiting WaterWorld. We discovered this amazing show, based on the 1995 movie with the same name, back when we visited Universal Studios Hollywood. It’s so unique and we’ll always make time for it on our itinerary. Even though everything’s spoken in Japanese, we still think this is a must-do in Universal Studios Japan. It’s also a great way to recover a bit from The Flying Dinosaur ride. 😉 Check the app for times, we went at 2:30 PM.

Follow waiting times to pick your next rides

Now that most (not all!) must-do’s are done, it is time to be flexible and use technology to our advantage. Use the USJ app to see what rides have the lowest waiting time, and go on those. Not sure what rides are available? Well, you can go on the JAWS ride, see the funny minions in action, or solve a mystery with Detective Conan. Out of these three, JAWS was definitely our favorite because it was the first time we’d gone on it. And if you want to take a break from going on rides, you can check the app for timetables of guest appearances. Time to meet your favorite movie characters!

More excitement to end the day

Now, if you thought we’d forgotten all about USJ’s exclusive ride, Hollywood Dream: The Ride, you’d be mistaken! It’s the perfect way to end your time at the park, especially because there are two different ways you can go on this ride. You have the option to go in normal fashion, or… backwards! Our favorite way was going backwards, but the one with the best views is the forward one. That’s why we suggest going backwards first, and finishing in style by going on Hollywood Dream one last, regular, time. Wait times for Hollywood Dream peak between 2 PM and 3 PM, so going at (or after, let’s say) 5 PM will give you the best waiting time experience. Bonus points if you go on this ride after the sun goes down!

Fun fact
You can choose between different songs for each ride (forwards or backwards). Apart from the Osaka Lover song that’s made specifically for USJ, the songs are different between the regular ride and Hollywood Dream: BackDrop (backwards ride). Make sure to choose wisely!

The day of your visit: with Universal Express Pass

As mentioned before in this Universal Studios Japan guide, we bought the Express Pass 7. This made our time in the park so much easier, and stress-free! We still arrived early (of course), but didn’t have to rush to the major attractions and areas of the park. Our Express Pass allowed us to go on both Super Nintendo World and Harry Potter rides, The Flying Dinosaur, Hollywood Dream or JAWS (we picked Hollywood Dream, waiting times for this ride can get crazy throughout the day), and Despicable Me: Minion Mayhem. If we were to buy Express Passes again, we’d probably go for the Universal Express Pass 4 ~ Variety Thrills. This includes The Forbidden Journey, Mario Kart, Hollywood Dream, and The Flying Dinosaur – the best rides in the park.

If you decide to purchase an Express Pass, your itinerary will be largely decided by the time slots you choose. We could enter SNW from 10 AM, and The Wizarding World of Harry Potter from 1 PM.

Our itinerary

We started the day by going on both Hollywood Dream rides without any waiting time – once backwards and once forwards. Then, we hopped on in the JAWS boat without having to wait again. Afterwards, we did The Flying Dinosaur, where we didn’t even use our Express Pass because waiting times were less than 15 minutes. Then it was time for Super Nintendo World, where we spent around one hour until we were hungry. After our lunch at SAIDO, we explored Hogsmeade until it was time to go on our Harry Potter rides. Then, we finished our day with a WaterWorld show, but not before going on Hollywood Dream one last time (by using our Express Pass we didn’t have to use early in the morning).

We were on our way back to the hotel around 4 PM, having spent around 8 hours in the park. We never had to wait longer than 15 minutes, which was a very nice experience to be honest! If you’re after a stress-free experience, we highly recommend buying Express Passes. However, following our optimal guide to Universal Studios Japan will ensure you make the most of your day. 😉

Things you need to try at Universal Studios Japan

Universal Studios Japan guide: butterbeer

We already mentioned butterbeer, which is a must buy in any Universal Studios. Our preferred butterbeer is the regular one (800 yen, € 4,65), although the frozen butterbeer (900 yen) might cool you down more on a hot day. Louie’s N.Y. Pizza Parlor is a great place for pizza, especially if you opt for one of their meals that include a drink and a side. And if you’re after a tasty hotdog, know that you can find them throughout the park and they’re surprisingly good! They’ll only set you back 650 yen (less than € 4), too. Lastly, if we can make one recommendation on what not to buy, then we’d say the pikachu pizza bun. It was 700 yen (€ 4), contained more dough than filling, and the filling wasn’t even good.

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