Universal Studios Japan

My last day in Kyoto was reserved for Universal Studios Japan in Osaka, nicknamed USJ. USJ is accessible from Kyoto via train. Just be careful not to get on the Osaka loop train which doesn’t go to USJ. Instead there is a train that announces it goes to Universal Studios. The second train we boarded was unique to me because we stood on a platform marked Women Only and then boarded a car marked similarly. The seats were comfortable but, most of the seats on the trains I’d ridden during my trip had been comfortable. This train car also smelled really nice but wasn’t particularly different except for all the passengers were quiet and seemingly busy women.

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After exiting the train we made our way out of the station and it was a bit of a shock. Just a road filled with shops and american restaurants like the hard rock cafe, Wolfgang Puck pizza bar, Red Lobster, Bubba Gump just to name a few. There was also a takoyaki museum and so many little shops and restaurants. We made note of what we wanted to check out afterwards and headed straight towards USJ to wait in the first of many lines. Tickets for adults are 7,400 yen (~$74) for the day.  Our main goal for the day was The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. My friend dressed in her Ravenclaw tie and I had plans to buy a Hufflepuff one. First we headed to the Harry Potter Ticket Machines. For these you scan the bar code on your park ticket and receive a timed entrance card for Harry Potter. This is the time frame in which you can enter that part of park. Luckily it’s close to the entrance.  Ours started at 10:50 which wasn’t too long so we went to the entrance and waited.

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We ended up spending about 4 hours at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. First taking a few pictures then heading straight to the castle for the Forbidden Journey Ride. The line was about a half hour which was perfectly fine in order to drop our stuff off in a locker and wander the castle. After that we headed to Flight of the Hippogriff, the line for it was a bit longer and with less interesting things to entertain us while we waited. We watched the Triwizard Spirit Rally and had lunch at the Three Broomsticks where I finally got a nice cold butter beer.

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pumpkin juice and butterbeer

I also ordered cottage pie with a side salad and my friend got pumpkin juice and fish and chips.

We wandered through the shops, I bought Bertie Bott’s Every-flavor Jelly Beans to inflict on my students and after a lot of debating bought my tie (everything was expensive). Though for both my friend and I it is a bit more difficult to find Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw things unlike Gryffindor and Slytherin. Even amongst all the official things at the park there was still noticeably less.

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I’ve been to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Florida, I went during a summer break in college before they updated and a lot of the things in USJ is similar. Jonko’s is a lot smaller and there’s a magic show and a special magical wand event throughout the park that kids and adults can participate in but a lot of the rest is the same. It was fun to watch the performances on the stage and in Olivanders’ be bilingual. The actors speaking in both English and Japanese, giving my friend whose studying Japanese at University in Kyoto an intense desire to work there. It was a lot of fun and we did almost everything there was to do, even listened to Moaning Murtle whine in Japanese in the bathroom.

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After leaving Harry Potter we found ourselves right in time for the Universal Re-BOOOOOOOORN parade which celebrates USJ’s 15th anniversary  with floats, a ridiculous amount of colorful confetti and dancing in the streets. It was a lot of fun to watch before we headed off to check out other rides like Back to the Future which was an intense retro American feel and I was surprised by the extra film shot with the original actors, dubbed over of course in Japanese, then we went on the Spider-man ride before heading down to Cool Japan to ride the Kyary Pamyu Pamyu XR Ride which had the longest boring wait we encountered the entire day. It was our last ride and the only one in which we were disappointed in. Kyary Pamyu Pamyu is a Japanese musician who we both like, a sort of cutesty creepy style might be the best way to describe her. So when a friend mentioned there was a ride we were both interested, but a good twenty minutes in a line that didn’t move after running around not just the whole day but for four days prior made exhaustion suddenly hit us hard. Before we could even get in line we had to stow all our stuff in a locker (and use a 100 yen to get the key, but we got our coin back later) so we didn’t have anything to amuse ourselves like the guys in front of us playing card games or other people reading books. It was almost a 2 hour wait that barely moved.

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First we had our picture taken which was cute but neither of us were willing to spend 1,400 yen on it to have it printed at the end. There are tons of warnings along the way, mostly about how to properly wear the googles. The ride is a roller coaster merged with virtual reality, like the occulus rift you put on googles, adjust the straps and make sure the image your seeing is clear enough and even. I had to take off my glasses and stow them in a case attached to a spiral wrist coil that I had to fit over my body like a seat belt. It wasn’t comfortable. The XR ride is a high speed roller coaster that I think was re-purposed for Cool Japan’s Kyary Pamyu Pamyu ride. The googles were uncomfortable and the virtual reality was headache inducing. A simple story of monsters attacking a factory and having to stop it. Not really any Kyary Pamyu Pamyu music. Oddly, out of all the stuff showcased in Cool Japan- Evangelion (action anime), Attack on Titan (action anime), and Resident Evil (game), Monster Hunter (game)- it was the musician that got the ride. For the other things set up for Universal Cool Japan were movies (anime), an escape game (Resident Evil) and an exhibition (monster hunter).  I think if you want to ride it double check to make sure you can (i.e. there’s a lot of rules, height, the googles have to fit you, there’s a ton of health warnings, ect) and get a fast pass for it or do it early in the day.

After Kyary Pamyu Pamyu we looked around in the gift shops then headed out. We hadn’t planned or expected to spend all day in the park but we had. We decided in line to go to Wolfgang Puck Pizza Bar for dinner, having both been craving corn free pizza. It was so nice to just sit down at a quiet empty restaurant and eat. Both utterly exhausted. We split a margarita pizza and it was delicious. After dinner my friend pointed out the bubble tea across the street at the Moomin Stand so I popped in and ordered a cold chocolate banana bubble tea (they have English menus inside at the counter) they also had a ton of stuff for sale if your a fan of the Finnish/Swedish cartoon/comics. They put a little character on my straw as well that I ended up taking home when I was done.

After getting my bubble tea we went to the shop that had caught my eye and doubled my excitement when we’d gotten there that morning. Sticking out of one of the buildings, past a giant gorilla was the Going Merry and aboard were several Shonen Jump characters, beyond the straw hats from One Piece. An actual Jump Shop. Open from 9:30-9pm it’s packed with Shonen Jump merchandise. Having grown up getting those heavy magazines in the mail every month and getting hooked on many of their series it was a bit intense. I looked around trying to see what all they had, wanting to buy a lot of things but running low on yen and unsure of how much weight I had in for luggage (spoiler I could have fit more) I decided to just pick up some surprises for friends and a mystery button for myself. I got to pick out a free gift from a box (a sticker of Shanks) when I checked out which was nice. I’m really glad there aren’t any in the US because I would have been so broke all the time back home. Stuff from household supplies to posters and figures it was a bit overwhelming and all together wonderful.

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