Harry Potter’s black, yellow and red Griffydor robes flutter in the wind as he zips past the turrets of Hogwarts Castle on his Nimbus 2000. He’s leading me away from Dementors and dragons back to the Quidditch field. Suddenly, he turns to face me. I see his lightning bolt scar, his round spectacles. And then he starts speaking … in Japanese.
It’s a little weird. But I don’t care. He could be speaking gibberish and I would still love this ride.
I’ve even dressed up in my Hogwarts robes thanks to the Universal Studios Japan guide who’s showing me around the park. (I’m Griffyndor for the day – but I secretly think the Sorting Hat would probably have put me in Ravenclaw)
Universal Studios Japan is the only Universal Studios outside of the USA to have a Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Each Harry Potter world has something unique. At the Osaka theme park, it’s the Black Lake, home to merpeople, Grindylows, and a giant squid (in the books at least). Dozens of tourists line up on a bridge for their turn to take a photo of the castle reflected in the water. Our tip – go out the back of the Three Broom Sticks for the full view.
The Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey ride is inside Hogwarts Castle. USJ updated the ride in 2018 so guests no longer have to wear 3D glasses. The visuals are stunning. I can’t tell you too much about it, as that is a park secret.
But I can say that it will make you feel like you are in Hogwarts fighting evil forces as part of Dumbledore’s army. You will feel the chill of the Dementors and the heat of the dragons. You will swoop around Hogwarts on a broomstick and you will see all your favourite Harry Potter characters. If you’re a Harry Potter fan, you will love it.
I wanted to jump on for a second time. But Butterbeer is calling.
We make our way to the Three Broomsticks inside Hogsmeade village for a hearty meal of roasted chicken and pork, huge kernels of corn, veggies and, of course, Butterbeer.
What does butterbeer taste like? Butterscotch. It’s fizzy and sickly sweet and the cream on the top is kind-of like licking icing. If you’re not a big sweet tooth, I’d suggest sharing a mug. If you want to try Butterbeer, but it inside the Three Broomsticks rather than waiting in the huge lines at the barrels on the street. You don’t have to wait half as long inside the pub.
The second ride in Harry Potter Wizarding World Japan is the Flight of the Hippogriff. This gentle roller coaster takes you swooping over Hagrid’s pumpkin patch.
Only little kids scream on this one. It’s a lot of fun and a great way to introduce kids to rollercoasters.
Hogwarts village is filled with shops you will recognise from the film – Honeydukes, Zonko’s, Ollivanders and the Owl Post. The roofs are covered in snow, which seems appropriate since I am here in the winter.
At Honeydukes you can buy chocolate frogs and Bertie Botts every flavour beans. The vomit-flavour beans are truly disgusting. Be warned – the Bertie Botts packets are written in Japanese. Unless you cheat with Google Translate you will not know what flavour you are about to eat.
If you buy a wand at Ollivanders you can practice your magic around the world. I’m not allowed to tell you what will happen. But I can tell you that helpful Hogwarts students will show you how to do a spell – then it’s your turn. The magic will only happen when you get the precise movement right.
You’ll also find loads of Harry Potter clothing in the shops. My one gripe was that it was hard to find children’s sizes.
At the entrance to Hogsmeade, you can have your photo taken next to the Hogwarts Express.
The flying Ford Angelina can be found on the path in the woods. It’s easy to spot. It’s where everyone has stopped to wait for a photo.
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter has two shows: the Frog Choir and the Triwizard Spirit Rally. The shows are in English and you can have your photo taken with the performers afterwards.
In the past, you had to get a timed entry ticket for the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios Japan. This is no longer the case. You can go in anytime.
However, you will want to get an Express Pass for the Forbidden Journey unless you have time to wait in line for an hour and a half. The Universal Studios Express Pass system allows you to bypass the line at any ride. It will cost you more money – but with kids, it is totally worth it. Some lines can be more than an hour.
You can check the wait times on boards, like the one below, dotted around the park.
Universal Studios is home to the world’s largest minion area. This new section of Universal Studios Japan is the reason why you no longer need a timed ticket to Harry Potter World.
Minion Park opened in August 2017 and immediately became one of the most popular attractions at Universal Studios.
As you walk through the park, listen closely to the minions. They all talk. “Banana, banana”.
Last year USJ added a new ride – Freeze Ray Sliders. You jump into a train cabin and whirl around (slowly) as the minions try to shoot you with their freeze rays.
If you like a little more action try Despicable Me: Minion Mayhem. The 4D computer simulated ride takes you into Gru’s lab for the process of transforming your body into that of a minion.
Of course, it doesn’t go smoothly. Under the supervision of Gru and his daughters, you can expect to fly through the air, and thud back to earth.
This ride is hilarious even in Japanese. When you are waiting in line – look up – you will see a translation in English.
Universal Studios Japan has popcorn stalls everywhere, but Minion Park is the only place where you can get banana caramel. It’s served in a minion. You should also try minion ice-cream.
If your kids love minions – you can book a Minion Experience. Expect loads of hugs and high-fives as you help the minion to build an artwork on the wall.
Jurassic Park Land
You will hear the screams even before you enter Jurassic Park. Most likely, they are coming from The Flying Dinosaur ride. This is one of the most terrifying rollercoasters I have ever been on.
The Flying Dinosaur is only for the bravest adventurers.
It starts normally enough. You line up at the loading bay ready to take your seat on the roller coaster. But when the ride arrives, you will notice that all the returning passengers are upside down, their hair is wild and their faces set in an expression of shock or laughter. Tie your shoelaces tight – this is one freaky ride.
Once you are strapped in, the Flying Dinosaur ride tilts the seats so that you are facing the ground. Then it slowly starts to climb. Up and up and up and up. You can see the people in the park getting smaller and smaller. There’s nothing between you and the ground except your seat belt. Then the screaming really begins as the ride twists and you begin to fall towards the ground.
The Flying Dinosaur goes backwards, through what feels like the smallest hole in the ground. It twists and turns like crazy. Don’t eat before this ride.
The Jurrasic Park ride is a river tour of the dinosaur park with a little surprise at the end. Yes, you may get a little wet. You board a boat and set sail down the river quite gently at first. Soon after the huge Jurassic Park gates open you’ll spot the dinosaurs eating by the side of the river. But of course, we know not all dinosaurs are friendly. The dark cave at the end may be a little scary and the splashdown exit could freak some little ones out. But teens and tweens will love it.
The Amazing Adventures of Spiderman
Head to New York to enter the world of superheroes. As you walk the street you’ll see loads of teenagers posing for selfies in front of brownstone buildings and New York cabs.
This section of the theme park is home to The Amazing Adventures of Spiderman ride. Spiderman is a 4D dark ride. It will take you into the underbelly of New York, fighting crime alongside Spiderman. You will need to be at least 120cm for this ride.
New York is also home to the Terminator 2 3D Ride.
Hollywood is the first themed land you see when you enter Universal Studios Japan. The rollercoaster here is called Hollywood Dream – the Ride. It will take you flying over the rooftops at Universal Studios. Kids will need to be at least 132 cm to ride.
Hollywood Dream – Backdrop is a little more freaky. It will take you through the loops and turns of the Hollywood Dream backwards. You can not see where you are going, or what will happen next.
Hollywood also has the legendary Avenue of the Stars, tall palm trees and LA-style shops. I loved seeing Mel’s Diner – a place I have been to in LA, replicated in detail here in Japan.
One thing we really loved at Universal Studios Japan was the number of guests who dressed up for the day. Groups of 20-something-year-olds had co-ordinated outfits and matching headbands. People watching here is great fun.
Universal Studios Japan facts you need to know
Where is it?
Universal Studios is in Osaka Japan. The easiest way to get here is to take the JR rail line to Universal City Station. From there it’s a short walk to the entrance.
Can you stay there?
Yes, Universal Studios has several hotels so you can stay the night just outside the park. However, the train ride is really easy. If you want to explore other parts of Osaka as well, you may be better off to stay around Osaka Namba or close to it. Then you can easily access everything in Osaka.
How long do you need?
You can easily cover Universal Studios Japan in one day. The park closes at 7pm with a light show on Hogwarts Castle.
Is it accessible?
For the most part, yes. Universal Studios Japan has a list of accessible rides on the website. The newer the attraction, the more likely it is to have easy access.
How much does it cost?
A one-day Studio Pass to Universal Studios Japan costs around $90.
How do I get a Universal Express pass?
Universal Studios Japan has a few different types of Express Pass. Here is a list of the Express Passes, the prices and what they cover.
Thinking about taking the train from Osako down to Hiroshima? Want to know if the Hiroshima Peace Memorial is Ok for kids? We went there. Here’s our full review of the Hiroshima Peace Memorial with video.
Click here to find out where the other Harry Potter World’s are.