Universal Studios Japan Tips & Strategy

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In this guide to Universal Studios Japan, we’ll offer tips & tricks for visiting this very popular theme park in Osaka. Due to its location, size, and the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, USJ is an incredibly busy park. In other words, these tips for visiting are essential for avoiding crowds at Universal Studios Japan…so you don’t wait in a 240-minute long line. With the strategy and tips here, you’ll be able to see and do nearly everything at USJ in a single day.  (Last updated December 3, 2017.)

We’ve made several trips to Osaka, Japan over the last few years, updating this guide regularly with our visits. One common thread throughout our visits has been the crowds. We are not exaggerating with that 240-minute long wait time above. On a busy day, we have seen posted wait times of 300 minutes for the Flying Dinosaur, Hollywood Dream, and Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey.

That’s the bad news. The good news is that it’s possible to avoid crowds and long lines by arriving early in the morning, having an efficient touring plan, and following these handy tips. With our strategy, it’s not even necessary to purchase Express Pass (although that doesn’t hurt).

Let’s start these tips with the obvious issue first, crowds…

Crowds

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The single biggest piece of advice I have is to arrive early–you should be getting off of the train nearly an hour before park opening. Universal Studios Japan was under-built given the attendance numbers it sees, meaning that every popular attraction can see serious waits, even on weekdays.

These wait times can make Tokyo Disneyland’s headliners look like relative walk-ons.

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Because of this, you want to arrive early, with a plan of attack, and hit the attractions that will later have long waits first-thing. After you get the big attractions out of the way, you’ll have more time to explore the park, see shows, shop, and eat, but your first 2-3 hours in the park should be calculated and maximum efficiency.

No matter the day of your visit, you’re looking at peak wait times of at least 3 hours. The day I visited, both Forbidden Journey and Hollywood Dream Backdrop maxed out at 300 minutes. The above waits are early in the day, so you can see I’m not exaggerating the importance of efficiency and arriving early. Don’t even stop for bathroom breaks, just wet your pants like a real theme park badass.

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Alternatively, if wetting your pants doesn’t sound super-cool, you might want to purchase Express Pass. On the day I visited, Universal Studios Japan was already sold out of Express Pass an hour before park opening.

This wasn’t a big deal to me, as I’m too cheap to pay for that, anyway. Express Pass selling out in advance is relatively common–the rule, rather than the exception.

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With the strategy below, I was able to accomplish a lot without Express Pass. However, this required using the Single Rider line extensively.

If you want Express Pass, the easiest way to purchase it is by adding it to your tickets when purchasing them. To my knowledge, the only way to purchase Universal Studios Japan tickets with Express Pass in advance is via Voyagin. We’ve used Voyagin for other things in Japan, and have found them to offer reliable and friendly service.

Unfortunately, there’s no easy way to purchase tickets directly on USJ’s English website. The other alternative is finding tickets at a Lawson’s convenience store kiosk once you arrive in Japan, but navigating the menus in Japanese is a real challenge.

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The first time I visited Universal Studios Japan, I arrived an hour before park opening, grabbed a quick breakfast in CityWalk, and bought my tickets at the ticket booth.

Universal Studios Japan does sell out of tickets on busy days, so if you don’t purchase your tickets in advance of your trip, I’d highly recommend showing up an hour before parking opening to buy them if you’re going during the summer, on a weekend, or a national holiday. Regular weekdays should not have any issues with tickets selling out.

Lines to purchase tickets were short, but the line to get in the park was already long. I was met later in the day by Sarah and the Selgas, all of whom purchased after 4 p.m. Twilight Passes.

We all stayed until the bitter end, wandering out around an hour after the park closed…

When to Visit

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Most of you probably have are reading this after already having booked a trip to Japan, and are trying to figure out when to slot Universal Studios Japan into your itinerary. For you, our strong recommendation is to visit on a non-holiday weekday. You should absolutely avoid weekends at Universal Studios Japan. Friday, Saturdays, and Sundays–particularly Saturdays, are insanely crowded.

If you have more flexibility in your schedule and are wondering which season is best, we tend to favor Halloween and Christmas, but that’s true pretty much with every theme park. In addition to better weather, there are seasonal events.

Our first visit to Universal Studios Japan was in October, which meant Halloween Horror Nights in the evening. Other special events occur throughout the year, including Cool Japan. For our most recent visit, we returned to USJ during the “Universal Wonder Christmas” celebration. You can read that in our Tips for Christmas at Universal Studios Japan post.

We’ll have a Christmas at Universal Studios Japan post very soon; I’ve already done a separate post on Universal Studios Japan’s Halloween Horror Nights, so I’m not going to be covering that or any other special events here. Just be aware that the park does special events, so you should consult their calendar before you visit to determine how to incorporate them into your day.

Single Rider Lines

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The second biggest piece of advice is to take advantage of the Single Rider lines, which is a way to bypass excruciatingly long waits on the headliners. Here’s a full list of attractions at Universal Studios Japan that have Single Rider Lines:

  • JAWS
  • Space Fantasy – The Ride
  • The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man – The Ride 4K3D
  • Hollywood Dream – The Ride Backdrop
  • Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey
  • The Flying Dinosaur
  • Jurassic Park – The Ride

That’s only 7 attractions, but the good news here is that these are 7 of the most popular attractions at Universal Studios Japan. Having this on the Flying Dinosaur–the newest and most popular attraction at Universal Studios Japan–is a pretty big deal and can save you a ton of time.

I don’t care how much you love your family and enjoy riding together, you need to use the Single Rider lines at USJ. This is an every-man-for-himself, kill-or-be-killed type of thing, and there’s no room for weakness like a sense of family togetherness. Okay, that’s a little harsh, but I’m only partially kidding.

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By taking advantage of the Single Rider line on these attractions, you’re looking at saving 3-6 hours of time waiting in line over the course of the day. The Single Rider lines are not popular with the Japanese, meaning that even on attractions with 200+ minute waits, the Single Rider line will likely be a 20 minute or less wait.

The Single Rider lines on these popular attractions also means that you don’t need to prioritize them, as you otherwise would. Instead, you can race to attractions that will have moderately long waits later in the day and don’t offer the Single Rider option.

One thing to know about the Single Rider lines at Universal Studios Japan is that they aren’t always open. This was the one curveball I encountered, as I faced a dilemma as I strolled up to JAWS to find the Single Rider line closed and a 120 minute wait. Being a huge fan of the old school Universal Studios attractions, I did it anyway.

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Later in the evening, the Single Rider line was open and our group did it again with a <5 minute wait. I don’t regret waiting 2 hours to experience it (the queue has tons of details that weren’t in the Florida version), but obviously, I would’ve preferred to experience it with a 5 minute wait.

If you find yourself faced with a similar dilemma, just remember that the Single Rider line might be open later.

Attractions & Strategy

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Assuming you’re using Single Rider lines, my recommended attraction order for a normal day at USJ is as follows if you want to maximize efficiency:

  • Despicable Me: Minion Mayhem
  • The Flying Dinosaur (via Single Rider)
  • Hollywood Dream – The Ride Backdrop (via Single Rider)
  • Wizarding World of Harry Potter Entrance Ticket (if being distributed)
  • Space Fantasy – The Ride (via Single Rider)
  • The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man – The Ride 4K3D (via Single Rider)
  • Backdraft
  • JAWS (via Single Rider)
  • …and so on…

Note that if you’re attending for a seasonal event, you should strongly consider prioritizing those attractions. This is particularly true with whatever the particular “The Real” attraction (which is a live action role playing game, typically one that has you battling in groups against some sort of monster). Same goes if a VR coaster is running during your visit. Theater shows, stage shows, or parades during special events typically do not need to be prioritized to the same degree.

If you’re a Universal Studios regular in either Florida and California, you might prioritize differently. For example, you might care more about extinct US attractions or unique Japan attractions than clones that presently exist stateside.

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In terms of extinct attractions, JAWS is unquestionably the main draw (Back to the Future – The Ride closed last year; if you see it listed on another site, that is now out of date).

JAWS is largely the same as the US version, with slight differences in the pre-show. and outside the building. Amity Village where JAWS is located is larger than its Florida predecessor, and the queue is significantly better (at least to my memory).

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Make sure to stop in Amity Landing Restaurant for some fried chicken and shark cake! I also dined at Discovery Restaurant in Jurassic Park during my last visit, and was incredibly underwhelmed by the meal.

Way smaller than pictured, and nothing special. Next time, I want to try HAPPINESS Cafe.

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As for unique attractions, Space Fantasy is far and away the winner here. This is like Space Mountain meets Crush’s Coaster set in the middle of a kawaii anime adventure. It is distinctly Japanese, so it’s unlikely to ever be cloned stateside, which is a real shame, because the experience is both beautiful and exciting.

This was far and away my favorite attraction at USJ. Unfortunately, it has an XR Kyary Pamyu Pamyu overlay for Cool Japan, so I won’t get to experience it on our upcoming trip. Here’s hoping the XR attraction lives up to the hype.

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There are a few other unique attractions that are noteworthy. The first is Hollywood Dream – The Ride Backdrop, which isn’t really all that unique. This is Hollywood Rip, Ride, Rock-It in Florida, except with a slightly modified track and ride vehicles that face backwards. The backwards-facing coaster is pretty cool, but not enough to justify the insane waits it sees.

Along with the Flying Dinosaur, this is an attraction that tends to draw a long line even via Single Rider. Speaking of the Flying Dinosaur, it’s really popular, and also pretty intense. It had been a while since I had done a “serious” rollercoaster, and I could barely handle this. You’re strapped up in a prone position (so, with your body parallel to the ground), and the coaster swirls you all around. I’d say you’re spending more time upside down than right-side up!

Next is Minion Park, which is really just the area around Despicable Me: Minion Mayhem. This attraction and the mini-land are really popular. Minions in general are like the Duffy (Tokyo DisneySea) of Universal Studios Japan. I was astounded by how popular all things Minions are at USJ: food, merchandise, even popcorn buckets. This attraction gets a long wait, and the entire mini-land is incredibly crowded until the evening hours.

Next is “The Real [Escape Game].” The game here rotates by season, but always has an incredibly limited capacity. In ‘The Real’ you solve puzzles within the time limit and escape from a room while battling zombies/monsters/whatever. This is a really cool concept, but unless you speak Japanese, you might consider skipping this. If you want to do it anyway, you should run here first thing to get a return time, as this is the lowest-capacity attraction in USJ.

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The other must-do is Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Even if you’ve seen it in Orlando or Hollywood, this Hogsmeade has a couple of unique draws. There’s a better lead up path into the land, and the sprawling Black Lake, which makes for a beautiful photo op in the evening hours.

Because of this, you should select a time around sunset for your ticketed Wizarding World entry. The Hogwarts Castle Walk-Through is also neat, and I was able to take my DSLR and tripod inside to take photos.

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Beyond this, there’s a to do that is unique to Japan that doesn’t qualify as a headliner. The entirety of Universal Wonderland, including Hello Kitty Fashion Avenue is unique, and quite kawaii.

Walking through these areas, doing some of the kiddie rides, and going in the shops is a lot of fun. Likewise, shopping at the park is fun in general, as there is a lot of Japanese merchandise, and neat things to see.

That’s it for now! By following our tips for the attractions that see high wait times, you can knock out the headliners early and spend more time exploring. Even going on a busy weekend day with Halloween Horror Nights in the evening, I was able to do every attraction that I wanted to do (some more than once) and wander around taking photos for quite a while during our first visit. Without a solid plan of attack and a willingness to use Single Rider, I would’ve accomplished 3-4 attractions the entire day. On subsequent trips, we’ve planned better and done even more. Hopefully these tips help you plan a better visit to Universal Studios Japan. If you have any questions, please post them in the comments below!

If you’re planning a visit to the Japan that includes Osaka and/or Kyoto, please check out my other posts about Japan. I also highly recommend the Lonely Planet Kyoto Guide to determine everything you should see and do while there.

Your Thoughts

Have any additional questions about Universal Studios Japan? If you’ve visited, what did you like and dislike about the park? Any additional tips to add? Does Universal Studios Japan interest you? Would you like to see more posts on it? Please share your thoughts in the comments!

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47 replies
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  1. siti noor aishah ajus
    siti noor aishah ajus says:

    hi, i just went to usj last thursday and managed to ride all attractions except backdrop due to my youngest kid was so hungry that we have to exit park as early as 8 p.m! thank you so much for the hints shared here. my older kids were managed to ride hollywood dream and forbidden journey twice using single rider lane.

    Reply
  2. Will
    Will says:

    I would say that while Hollywood Dream is functionally very similar to Rip Ride Rockit, it is a much better, smoother ride. Maybe not essential or all that unique, but definitely an upgrade from that terrible FL coaster.

    Reply
  3. Ben
    Ben says:

    Hi there,

    im going to Japan for 3 weeks in October, Will probably be heading to Osaka Universal on a Tuesday, not sure if thats a good day to go or not? Do you know if they will have any Halloween themes going on? i’ve seen a few websites that are selling tickets for the park at various different prices (all in English) not sure if they are reputable, but wanted to try book previous to us setting off.

    would you recommend getting to the longer queue rides straight away or leave until later on in the afternoon?

    thanks

    Reply
  4. David
    David says:

    We were thinking of taking our three daughters 16,14 & 10 in November/December next year. Would you recommend a) this time of year. b) the trip from Tokyo as Disneyland is our man in focus.

    Reply
      • David Smith
        David Smith says:

        Thanks so much for getting back to me. Just finished watching your review of Frozen Ever After, now I need to start planning the WDW trip from Australia. SOOOOO far away and with 3 kids not a cheap trip. Ah to be a Disney addict. Thanks for all the great reviews you have done. I love reading them and your photos are amaizing.

        Reply
  5. Silvani
    Silvani says:

    Do I need to purchase extra ticket to enter the Universal Cool Japan? I really want to visit the Attack on titans.

    For Harry Potter I must go get the time entry ticket instead of straight heading to the park. Am I correct? Can I enter twice? Like in the morning and night time? Because I want to watch Expecto Patronum Show which located at Black Lake if I’m not mistaken.

    Reply
  6. Naing
    Naing says:

    What is single rider mean ? I don’t understand sorry
    I bought a express ticket and ithe first one starts from 12!
    So what should I first ride when I go in before 12??

    Reply
    • Lacey
      Lacey says:

      Some rides have a single rider line that is quicker that the regular line because they use you to fill any empty seats that might be on the ride. Say a group of 3 is going a ride that seats 4 people, a single rider can be used in that last spot as most groups don’t want to split up.

      My friend and I use the single rider line even when together because it’s usually so much faster and we’ve never been more than a vehicle apart from each other. Often we’ve ended up in the same vehicle.

      Reply
  7. David
    David says:

    we are planning to visit the park on may and we are considering two options:

    1. arriving on weekdays – but then it’s only operating from 9:30 am to 8pm

    2. arriving on weekends – crowdede…but opn from 9am to 9:30 pm (1.5 hours more)

    what is the best option in your opinion?

    and to the park shops stays open for an extra hours after the park closes?

    Reply
    • Marc
      Marc says:

      Weekday weekday weekday weekday. You’ll wait that extra 1 1/2 hours in a bathroom line alone, let alone for rides. Unless you’re buying the Express pass. I think the stores near the exit do stay open after, yes, but keep in mind train running times.

      Reply
  8. Tricia Shimizu
    Tricia Shimizu says:

    How are the parks in April. I will be there on April 9th and 10th.
    Because we want to spend time at Harry Potter World…is two days enough time to see the whole park?

    Reply
  9. Christine
    Christine says:

    Hi.. we r planning to go to USJ this mid of May 2017 . if we want to hv lunch outside USJ (planning to hv lunch at Uni CityWalk) and come back again afterward , is it possible? or is it only just one time entry ticket?
    and if we r using Single Rides , like for the Flying Dinosaur , Harry Potter etc , would it be possible if my husband and I take turn to take care off our kids if they aren’t allowed to be in the ride (Child Switch) ? Both My kids are 5 yo.
    Pls advice and thanks 🙂

    Reply
  10. Etlin
    Etlin says:

    We, a grop of four, plan to visit USJ on April 12, 2017. Should we buy express ticket? Will it be crowded at the date? Thank you

    Reply
  11. Ashley
    Ashley says:

    I went last year to Cool Japan. I bough 2 different Express Passes (a bit $ but worth it as I got on everything) – 1 express pass was for mostly non-Cool Japan rides, and the other was for mostly Cool Japan rides (there was some overlap as I believe HP was on both). I had to be very structured since many of the rides had specific return times. All in all the most I waited was 10min. The longest waits were for the two 4-D Cool Japan shows (since you had to wait for the prior show to finish). Loved the rides – their coaster are so smooth. The 4-D shows – I knew nothing about Attack on Titan or Evangelion, but I got the jist, and it was just something very different to see.

    Reply
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