Tips for Christmas at Universal Studios Japan

“Wonder Christmas” is a holiday event at Universal Studios Japan celebrating the holiday season, running from November 9, 2018 until January 6, 2019. The festivities at Universal’s Osaka park include a nighttime show, one of the most spectacular Christmas trees in the world, and plenty of holiday treats. In this post, we’ll share tips for Universal’s Wonder Christmas, plus our experience and photos from the event. (Last updated November 25, 2018.)

Perhaps it sounds odd, but the highlight of the event is the Christmas tree itself. Prior to our visit last year, I recalled reading a press release a few years ago that called Universal Studios Japan’s Christmas tree “the World’s Most Illuminated Tree” a crown it earned from the Guinness Book of World Records by virtue of having 350,000+ lights. (This year, the tree was officially recorded as having 580,806 lights as of October 23, 2018.)

I was thus a bit surprised to learn that they got an all-new Christmas tree last year. Honestly, surprised and apprehensive. I’m a little sensitive to theme park changes that are steps backwards, and I worried that maybe the old tree was too expensive to operate or Universal didn’t want to pay for maintenance…or something.

Fortunately, I don’t believe any of those things were the case. I don’t know why the previous Christmas tree was replaced, but the new one is absolutely entrancing. It took our breath away when we first saw it illuminated, and even later in the night when we rounded a corner and saw it again, we stopped in our tracks and both said “wow” at the same time.

Without question, this tree is the highlight of Wonder Christmas at Universal Studios Japan. Sure, it’s over the top and ostentatious, but in the most awesome way possible. It manages to be eye-catching and beautiful, without crossing the line into “too much” territory.

Here’s a quick phone video, because photos truly do not do this Christmas tree justice (then again, neither does video):

The Christmas tree stays lit until after park closing, but the dancing lights on the tree stop just before park closing. We’d recommend avoiding this area until the end of the night.

Watch the last projection show in Wizarding World of Harry Potter (more on that below) and then head to Gramercy Park to finish out the night there.

Aside from the Christmas tree itself, the main draw of the holiday season at Universal Studios Japan is “The Gift of Angels III: The Voice of an Angel.” This award-winning show is truly spectacular, and is the kind of elegant, sophisticated, and grandiose entertainment that I’d love to see Tokyo DisneySea embrace for the holidays (or anytime, for that matter)…

The highlight of the show is the performers who have (naturally) angelic singing voices, and perform traditional Christmas songs. It also features projection mapping, fireworks, and some other effects that we won’t spoil.

Here’s a video of last year’s version of the show:

In case you didn’t watch that show because you want to avoid spoilers, I’ll point out that the songs themselves are in English with some dialogue in between that’s in Japanese.

My guess is that the dialogue is simply a way to segue from one musical number to the next, but perhaps I’m wrong. In any case, I don’t feel like I missed anything by virtue of not understanding the dialogue.

Now, for some Gift of Angels III: The Voice of an Angel viewing tips. The first thing you should know is that it’s incredibly popular. We visited Universal Studios Japan on an off-season weekday–otherwise, it was the least busy we’ve ever seen the park. Nevertheless, people were camping out for this show over an hour in advance. On a busy day, I can only imagine how early people arrive to claim prime spots.

Speaking of prime spots, you’ll want a clear view of the stage. While the show serves as the de facto Christmas tree lighting ‘ceremony’, having a clear view of the tree is not essential. Sure, it’s nice to have a view of both, but if you have to choose a dead-on view of the Christmas tree or the stage/building facades, you should absolutely choose the stage.

To that end, we recommend sitting in the vicinity of Gramercy Park (near the Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man). The best view will be in Gramercy Park, but that’s paid reserved seating, and unless you can figure out how to use Universal Studios Japan’s site, it probably won’t be an option. You might be able to purchase same-day Special Viewing Area tickets, or buy them as part of a special Winter Express Pass package, but we did not attempt that.

The night we watched Gift of Angels III: The Voice of an Angel, there were a ton of people–more people than along the path by Spider-Man and Finnegan’s–sitting along the entrance corridor that faces the Christmas tree. This is essentially parallel to the stage where the performers and projections appear, and is not a good view. (Don’t make this mistake!)

While we did Wonder Christmas on a day with only one showing of the Gift of Angels III: The Voice of an Angel, I’m 99.9% sure that the second show would be less crowded. This is pretty much a universal truth when it comes to theme park entertainment, and is especially the case in Japan due to people needing to catch trains home.

There’s also a daytime Christmas parade, but it’s atrocious. Some of the costuming is cute and it has Minions (which seem to be a huge deal in Japan), but the floats remind me of what you’d see in some small town Christmas parade. It was really pathetic; surprisingly bad given the quality of Gift of Angels III: The Voice of an Angel.

It’s like the budget for holiday entertainment at Universal Studios Japan was $20 million, so they created Gift of Angels III: The Voice of an Angel first, and then only had $20 left over for the parade. I’d hazard a guess some guests don’t even bother with Gift of Angels because they see the crumby parade first and figure the “other” entertainment isn’t worth the hassle. (Trust us, it is!)

The Christmas parade has two show stops, but they do nothing to elevate its quality. If your kids are dead-set on seeing this parade, watch it from the beginning of the parade route where there is no show stop. You can arrive right as the parade starts and claim a front row spot. By contrast, people camp out for the show stop areas. That’s just a recipe for disappointment, so we wouldn’t recommend it.

Pictured above is Bruce the Shark decked out for Christmas. This shark is not part of the Christmas parade. Watching this shark for 15 minutes would probably be more fun than the parade, though.

Winter in Wizarding World of Harry Potter is the other main draw for Universal Studios Japan this holiday season. Since this isn’t exclusively a Christmas event, it runs until the end of February. (It does feature traditional Christmas elements…like garland and trees, but we aren’t complaining about the longer timeframe!)

While the decorations and Christmas tree in Hogsmeade are neat, the unequivocal highlight is the projection show. This show is called “Hogwarts Magical Nights – Winter Magic” and is a must-see. While it’s only a few minutes long, it transforms Hogwarts Castle beautifully, and makes Hogsmeade feel like a winter wonderland. It’s one of the best uses of projection mapping I’ve seen anywhere.

Hogwarts Magical Nights – Winter Magic is performed intermittently from 30 minutes after sunset until 30 to 60 minutes before park closing. There’s a schedule for it in Japanese, but we didn’t bother–if you spend any amount of time in the Wizarding World, you’ll see it.

In addition to the projection mapping, there are live performers on a small stage by the bridge that leads out to Black Lake. While the projection mapping component of Hogwarts Magical Nights – Winter Magic is visible from anywhere you can see the castle, you’ll need to be pretty close to the stage to see what the performers are doing. (We didn’t think they added much to the show, but Harry Potter fans might disagree.)

Hogwarts Magical Nights – Winter Magic is incredibly popular, particularly earlier in the evening. If you can, we’d recommend watching one of the last shows, as they are far less crowded and offer a bit of breathing room. If ticketed entry is being utilized on the day you visit Universal Studios Japan, be mindful of this when selecting your entry time.

Last but most definitely not least, there are a variety of holiday snacks at Universal Studios Japan for Wonder Christmas. Just about every restaurant has a Christmas dessert, along with some hot seasonal drinks.

There’s also an entire corridor of food trucks serving a variety of over-the-top “holiday” comfort foods (I’m not sure what a hot dog covered with bacon has to do with Christmas, but I’m willing to start a new tradition!).

Minions are most definitely the flavor du jour at Universal Studios Japan right now, and this is reflected in their many snacks and merchandise items, some of which have holiday variants.

Overall, Wonder Christmas at Universal Studios Japan is a fun event. The parade is a colossal disappointment, but Winter in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, the Voice of Angels, and the brilliant Christmas tree offer enough to make for an incredible experience–arguably better than Halloween Horror Nights at USJ. Decorations and music add to the festive atmosphere, and various food and merchandise offerings also help complete the experience. Of course, the standard lineup of attractions are the main draw, but the holiday component certainly enhanced our visit.

If you’re visiting Osaka and thinking about doing a day at USJ, be sure to read our comprehensive Universal Studios Japan Planning Guide. USJ is one of the busiest theme parks in the world, and we offer tips & tricks for beating the crowds, and saving time & money!

Your Thoughts

If you’ve visited Universal Studios Japan during Wonder Christmas, what did you think of the experience? Have you done any other seasonal events at USJ? Any additional tips to add? Does Universal Studios Japan interest you? Hearing your feedback about your experiences is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts or questions below in the comments!

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